Shock (1977) Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: January 18, 2022
Audio: English and Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 92:31
Director: Mario Bava
Dora (Daria Nicolodi) moves back into her old family home with her husband, Bruno (John Steiner), and Marco (David Colin, Jr.), her young son from her previous marriage. But domestic bliss proves elusive as numerous strange and disturbing occurrences transpire, while Dora is haunted by a series of nightmares and hallucinations, many of them involving her dead former husband. Is the house itself possessed? Or does Dora’s increasingly fragile grip on reality originate from somewhere far closer to home? (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
At the end of his career, Mario Bava had earned the respect of his peers and the adoration of his successors, but his final films were all laborious affairs on one level or another. Following a bad preview screening, his most personal work, 1974’s Lisa and the Devil, was radically re-edited with new footage and retitled The House of Exorcism (Italian: La casa dell'esorcismo) the following year by producer Alfredo Leone in an awkward attempt to cash-in on William Friedkin’s Exorcist (1973). His next film, Rabid Dogs (Italian: Cani arrabbiati), began filming in 1973, was shelved before final inserts could be shot, and wasn’t officially released until 1995 – 15 years after Bava’s death at the age of 65. The same year, he started work on a project that crawled through pre-production and eventually started filming in 1977 with help from his son Lamberto, who, recognizing Bava’s melancholy, pressed his father to keep busy, while acting as his co-writer and assistant director. That project was eventually titled Shock (Italian: Schock), though not before being temporarily called La Casa 8, which would have branded it as part of a never ending series of faux sequels to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (Italian: La Casa, 1981). It was the last of Bava’s films released in his own lifetime and also, unfortunately, retitled Beyond the Door II in the United States in an effort to trick audiences into thinking it was a sequel to Ovidio G. Assonitis’ Exorcist rip-off, Beyond the Door (Italian: Chi sei?, 1974).
I can’t really continue without giving away certain elements of Shock’s storyline. Rest assured, the end twist is really more of a twist for the protagonist, rather than the audience, but I suppose anyone who wants to remain entirely spoiler-free for this particular 45 year-old movie should skip to the Video section.
Despite lasting attempts to connect Shock to another Italian Exorcist clone, its closest kin is Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) and similar films about neurotic, possibly violent women being haunted by mental illness, such as Robert Altman’s Images (1972) and Lucio Fulci’s Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Italian: Una Lucertola con la Pelle di Donna; aka: Schizoid, 1971). There is an element of evil/possessed child that sets Shock aside from other Repulsion template films, but Bava is drawing upon Richard Donner’s The Omen (1976) and killer kid movies, like Mervyn Leroy’s The Bad Seed (1956), about as much as Friedkin’s film. The script went through many phases while Lamberto Bava attempted to find funding and get his father involved. According to various interviews,* Lamberto began his script using Dardano Sacchetti’s loose adaptation of Hillary Waugh’s The Shadow Guest (pub: 1971), then changed gears after being inspired by French author Guy de Maupassant’s 1887 short story Le Horla. Lamberto never seems to have mentioned Polanski, Friedkin, or Donner’s films as influences, instead citing Stephen King novels as examples of “more contemporary” horror sources. Naturally, the other credited writers, Francesco Barbieri and Alessandro Parenzo, had their own inspirations, as did Mario Bava himself, who worked on the script during filming.
In Italian Gothic Horror Films: 1970 - 1979 (McFarland & Company, 2017), Roberto Curti comments on the manner in which Bava subverts traditional Gothic imagery and archetypes in an effort to modernize the formula:
Anxiety does not blossom from the sublime, but comes out of the ordinary: the haunted mansion is not a castle or a princely palace, but an anonymous house in the suburbs; Daria Nicolodi’s character is not a triumphant princess of evil, but a quiet, middle-class house-wife who fixes sandwiches in the kitchen for her friends…
Bava further undermines the ‘ordinary’ with his usual bag of tricks, but he opts to amp up the special effects and camera techniques slowly, allowing the audience to lose their grip on reality alongside the protagonist. He even draws attention to his own technique in a scene where, what appears to be an apparition on the wall, turns out to be a light being shone through a man-shaped hole in a photograph. While the plot itself has little in common with 1982 Hollywood mega-hit Poltergeist, Bava’s perversion of suburbia definitely feels like a significant predecessor to Tobe Hooper’s film, though I doubt either Hooper or producer/writer Steven Spielberg saw Shock at the time (it does, however, seem possible that director Jennifer Kent saw it before writing The Babadook ). Unlike other Repulsion-adjacent thrillers, the supernatural element is almost certainly meant to be taken seriously, rather than existing only in the protagonist’s head. The truth isn’t entirely cut and dry, though Bava plays more openly with the idea in the Drop of Water segment of Black Sabbath (Italian: I tre volti della paura, 1963), where only the thief ever sees the ghost.
Apparently, perennial neurotic giallo victim Mimsy Farmer was almost hired instead of Daria Nicolodi, a change that I can only imagine would connect Shock even closer to Repulsion, because her films, The Perfume of the Lady in Black (Italian: Il profumo della signora in nero, 1974; directed by Francesco Barilli) and Autopsy (Italian: Macchie solari, 1975; directed by Armando Crispino), vaguely resemble Polanski’s movie – as she herself vaguely resembles Polanski’s star, Catherine Deneuve. It’s for the best, because Nicolodi is so incredibly committed to a role that requires her to be in the height of hysterics for most of the movie. It was a complete turnaround from Gianna, the character she had just played for Dario Argento in Deep Red (Italian: Profondo Rosso, 1975), whose pluck and bravery challenges the male lead’s masculinity. The question of gender roles also comes up when comparing this film to Bava’s 1970 giallo, Hatchet for the Honeymoon (Italian: Il rosso segno della follia), which, in retrospect, can be read as a male-centric, semi-comedic version of Shock. Both deal with main characters who are driven insane by matricide, though, in the case of Shock, Dora has buried memories of murder, while Hatchet for the Honeymoon’s John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth) is afraid he has failed to kill his wife.
* Mario Bava: All the Colors of Dark, by Tim Lucas (Video Watchdog, 2007) and Spaghetti Nightmares: Italian Fantasy-Horrors As Seen Through The Eyes Of Their Protagonists, by Luca M. Palmerini & Gaetano Mistretta (Fantasma Books, 1996)
Shock was released on US VHS via Media Home Entertainment under the Beyond the Door 2 in 1983, but wasn’t particularly easy to find until 2000 when Anchor Bay cleaned it up and released it on widescreen VHS and DVD under the title Shock. This was followed by a re-release of the same disc from Blue Underground in 2016, but still no company had a Blu-ray disc in the works. This was particularly disappointing, because Shock was one of two (alongside I, Vampiri [1957, co-directed with Riccardo Freda]) Mario Bava directed horror movies not available in HD. Now, Arrow Video has finally gotten their hands on the film for a dual US/UK Blu-ray debut.
The 1.85:1, 1080p transfer was scanned from the original 35mm negative in 2K by L'Immagine Ritrovata and additional intermediary elements were scanned in 2K for the English title option. All the footage was graded by Arrow at R3store Studios in London. The image quality is, naturally, a big step up from SD discs and the footage has been very well-preserved, exhibiting little in the way of print damage. In an effort to make a ‘modern’ horror film, Bava, who acted as cinematographer alongside Alberto Spagnoli, didn’t engage in the wild color schemes seen in most of his other movies. Still, even the comparatively neutral hues (and hideous clothing/set pieces) appear more vivid than the DVD, boosting the contrast between the warm daylight sequences and cool, dark interiors. The brighter scenes still appear somewhat flat in comparison and are notably noisier, but the stylish lighting of the dark shots makes a big difference.
Shock is presented with English and Italian dub options, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono. As per usual, the film was shot without on-set sound, so all language tracks are dubbed and there is no original language version. This is one of those weird cases where the cast is largely speaking English on set, so the lip-sync matches better on the English track, but none of the performers (except maybe British actor John Steiner, but I don’t think it’s him) dubbed themselves. In the extras on this disc, critic Alberto Farina claims that Nicolodi was promised she could dub herself and still didn’t, but I’m not sure if he’s referring to the English or Italian dubs. The Italian dub sounds like her real voice to my ear. Anyway, I opted for the English track, but the audio quality is similar between the two.
In an effort to make Shock fit the modern Italian horror mold, the production went to Dario Argento’s favorite prog-rock band, Goblin, to produce an aggressive musical soundtrack. Well, sort of. The actual group was The Scales (Libra), made up of keyboardist Alessandro Centofanti, bassist Dino Capp, ex-Goblin drummer Walter Martino (who reunited with the group under the name Simonetti/Pignatelli/Morante for Tenebrae [aka: Unsane, 1982]), and Goblin sessions guitarist Carlo Pennisi. The mono tracks squeeze some of the bass out of the music compared to the LP/CD versions of the soundtrack, but the lack of stereo isn’t a problem.
Commentary by Tim Lucas – Bava expert and author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark continues racking up Bava-related commentary tracks with this look at Shock. Lucas draws upon the sizable Shock chapter of his book as he tells the story of the film’s production (from early scripting through completion), compares the final product to its various source materials, discusses its place in Bava’s filmography, catalogs the careers of the cast & crew, and critically dissects the visual and narrative themes.
A Ghost in the House (30:34, HD) – Bava’s son, Lamberto, discusses his part in ushering Shock through production, the literature that inspired the various screenplays, co-directing alongside his father, and working with the cast (mainly Nicolodi).
Via Dell’Orologio 33 (33:48, HD) – Co-writer Dardano Sacchetti recalls his career leading up to Shock (including a dispute with Argento and never getting paid for a different project), writing A Bay of Blood (Italian: Ecologia del delitto; aka: Twitch of the Death Nerve, 1971) and developing ideas for what became Shock with Bava, Lamberto taking advantage of legal loopholes to rewrite the script without his input, and some of the key differences between his script (entitled Via Dell’Orologio 33) and the finished film.
The Devil Pulls the Strings (20:45, HD) – In this new video essay, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, the author of The Giallo Canvas: Art, Excess and Horror (McFarland Press, 2021), focuses on the possible meaning behind the giant white hand ornament that appears throughout the film. I admit that I’d never considered the significance of this tatty knickknack and her argument is compelling enough to make me want to immediately rewatch the film with her words in mind.
Shock! Horror!: The Stylistic Diversity of Mario Bava (51:46, HD) – Stephen Thrower, the author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci (FAB Press, 1999), takes a longview of Bava’s work while exploring Shock in this substantial featurette. He separates the director’s horror features into movies about the past and contemporary-set movies, explains the reasons why horror in general skewed modern after 1968, draws comparisons to a number of ‘70s horror films from Italy and America, and delves into the film’s hallucinatory sequences, soundtrack, and hidden imagery.
The Most Atrocious Tortur(e) (4:12, HD) – Italian critic Alberto Farina briefly chats about a cute illustration that Bava gifted Nicolodi after the completion of the film, which depicts images from the film with the words “the most atrocious tortur (sic).”
Four US Beyond the Door II TV spots
Beyond the Door II and The Dark double-feature TV spot
Image galleries – Posters, Italian fotobusta, Japanese souvenir program
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.