Thursday, June 17, 2010

Shock (1977)

Shock was legendary director Mario Bava’s final film before his death. That right there should be enough reason to get anyone to check this film out, but luckily it’s also a fine film that lives up to its title!

Shock is about a family – Dora (Daria Nicolodi), her son Marco (David Colin Jr.) and new husband Bruno (John Steiner) – who move into the old house Dora shared with her first husband/baby-daddy Carlo (Nicola Salerno). It seems that dear old Carlo was an unstable piano player and died under mysterious circumstances, leaving Dora very traumatized. When Dora and her new family settles into the house, strange things start to occur – furniture moves of its own free will, Dora suffers intense nightmares and little Marco starts to behave rather oddly. Is the move back to the house causing Dora to go a little mad or has Carlo come back from the grave to torment his ex-wife?

Surprisingly, I had never seen Shock before (I don’t know how it slipped by me since I’m a huge Bava fan!), but I’m so very glad I finally got around to watching it because Shock was everything I was hoping it to be! It is full of creepiness, scares, and yes, even shocks!

I loved how it blended the is-she-crazy-or-isn’t-she storyline along with the supernatural/haunted house theme AND the creepy kid bit. Not only that, but it blended these different sub-genres successfully. The film flowed smoothly and all these different storylines fit together very well.

There were also some truly memorable scenes, including one where a rotting hand strokes Dora’s cheek as she sleeps, some disturbing sexual advances young Marco makes towards his mommy, a nice scare involving a rotting hand bursting through the grass, razors hidden between piano keys, a basement that leaks blood and so on. The evocative score also helped build a sense of dread, as did the forebodingly dark lighting throughout the film. Even when the action is set outside a dreary pallor hangs over the film, echoing Dora’s fragile state.

The action was primarily focused on Dora and Marco (hubby Bruno is a pilot, so he was usually away for days at a time), which in the hands of lesser director might get boring In Shock this is certainly not the case and my eyes were glued to the screen watching as Dora spiraled into a hysterical state and things became progressively worse in the household. It also really kept me guessing and the conclusion, which is carefully hinted at, was extremely satisfying, ending on a decidedly downbeat tone. Acknowledgement should also be given to actors Daria Nicolodi (a fan favorite in Italian/Euro horror), David Colin Jr. and John Steiner. Had there performances not been up to par they really would have dragged the film down, but luckily they were all at the top of their game. Nicolodi and Colin Jr. must especially be recognized since, as mentioned above, they were the main focus of the film. Nicolodi was excellent as the caring but unstable mother and Colin Jr. was downright creepy (and a little bit sleazy) as the young son. Really impressive acting from Colin Jr., especially considering his young age!

Shock kind of lacks Bava’s visual flair from earlier films, but that doesn’t make it any less effective. As a modern haunted house/ghost story the austere visuals work quite well and I think any kind of flashy visuals would have taken away from the story. Plus, there are plenty of memorable scenes (those mentioned above, as well as many more) without the need for Bava’s typical gothic and/or over the top stylings.

Shock may not be Mario Bava’s most sophisticated work, but it definitely is a film that creates a sense of creeping uneasiness that is extremely effective. And you just can’t go wrong with flying razors and a kid possessed by his own dad putting the moves on his mom!

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