Sunday, March 22, 2015

Shock (1977) aka Beyond The Door II (1979)

Alternate titles turn me on. I love the way movies used to be re-released and retitled, as if changing what the movie's called suddenly made it a brand new property, like when "God Told Me To" was re-released to theaters as a film called "Demon". Movies like "Don't Look In The Basement!" and "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things" had two or three different titles, sometimes more. Then there were some foreign genre films that were released to theaters in the United States and marketed as fake sequels, like when Mario Bava's "Twitch of the Death Nerve" was released to American theaters as "Last House On The Left Part 2". The other Bava retitle I'm thinking of is my feature tonight, Bava's 1977 final theatrical film "Shock". It was issued in the US in 1979 as "Beyond the Door II", despite it not being a sequel to anything, but never mind--David Colin Jr., the youngest son from "Beyond The Door" plays the role of a different little boy in THIS movie, too, so there's that slim connection. It's extremely uneven, and suffers greatly from a poorly acted dub track, not that the dialogue we hear makes matters any better.

But Bava's films are visual experiences, and "Shock" is rewarding if you're willing to tolerate the parts of the film that are slow and talky--and one of the people you'd have to blame for that is the director's son, Lamberto Bava, who is credited as a screen writer. Italian horror icon Daria Nicolodi stars as Dora, a woman who returns to the house she once shared with her deceased heroin-junkie husband, who everyone thinks committed suicide simply because his boat was found adrift at sea. Seven years after his disappearance, and supposedly recovered from a mental breakdown, Dora returns to the same house with her new husband and her nine-year-old son Marco, with only dim memories of what actually happened following her husband's suicide. The kid starts to channel the dead father's ghost and Strange Things Start Happening. Or is she just cracking up again?

Although it's not Bava's best by any means, there are a few transcendent moments to hang onto, and you also have to admit that even Bava's trash is interesting to look at. His camera wizardry is in full effect in "Shock" and does not disappoint. The lighting, usually garish and oversaturated, is instead strategically subdued.  There are a few mind-bending shots in the film, such as one that seems to have been created by strapping poor Daria Nicolodi to a rig and filming her face as she was spun upside down.

Another brilliantly imaginative scene follows the progress of a ghostly image that prowls the walls of the house's basement, circling the walls. The camera pans back to reveal Marco, holding a family photograph with his stepfather cut out of it; the prowling "ghost" is the light of a bare bulb shining through the cut out photograph. The most terrifying image in "Shock" is one that was unforgivably revealed in the film's trailer, a breathtaking gut punch as the little boy rushes toward his mother from the other end of a hallway, morphing into the adult-size corpse of his father just as he reaches her. I was also really creeped out by a scene where Marco gets into bed with his mother and caresses her sleeping body in a way that seems to threaten sexual violence, his hand appearing as that of the dead husband.

The thing that probably will make or break "Shock" for you is how much Daria Nicolodi you can take. She's the focus of nearly every scene in the movie, and a lot of what's on screen is either something that's supposed to be going on in her mind, or lingering closeups of her face. You might think Marco would be the focus of the film, since he's a possessed little boy, but the movie treats Dora as if she's more important, with Marco reduced to nothing more than a lurking presence throughout most of it. Although a lot of the time Dora's on screen she is freaking out and frightened, there's one great camp moment when she's having a hard time stashing a dead body with a giant pick axe sticking out of it and a rat runs up her dress and starts biting her.

John Steiner also appears in the film as Dora's new husband, Bruno. Steiner's been in a lot of things you've probably seen, such as Argento's "Tenebre", Ruggero Deodato's films "Cut and Run" and "Body Count", and "I Don't Want To Be Born" with Joan Collins. The score is done by Goblin-associated act Libra, and is heavy on the prog-rock themes, but is also reminiscent of Stelvio Cipriani's score for "Twitch of the Death Nerve" with a heavy bongo vibe going on in a few scenes.

I should acknowledge that even though this movie has nothing to do with "Beyond The Door", "Shock" still has one big thing going for it, and that's the artistry of Mario Bava. Both movies share the weird, disjointed atmosphere and claustrophobic sound design that movies get when they are dubbed, but there's a certain visual aspect too that links the two films. Bava's shots seem more artfully composed, but both movies feature typical "Exorcist" tropes such as furniture flying around by itself, doors and drawers flapping open, and moments with a very loud audio mix. Most importantly, even though "Shock" doesn't show quite as much influence from "The Exorcist", it is a freak show just like "Beyond The Door" was. If it had just been a little bit crazier, it might have made a bigger impression.

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