Certain movies and genres have aspects about them that separate them from the rest of the pack. Italian and giallo horror movies, one is not necessarily the other, seem to separate themselves from the horror pack by the bad voice overs and the copious amounts of fake blood. Mario Bava’s Shock has both to spare.
Arrow Video has included both English and Italian versions on its recently released Blu-ray of the movie. No, these aren’t different cuts of the movie. The only difference between the two choices is one has been dubbed in Italian and the other has been dubbed in English. It’s obvious that actors spoke the words while filming the movie. But it’s also obvious voice overs were added later, by different actors, and neither version was done practically well. To some people the bad voice acting adds to the charm of movies like Shock. Others can’t seem to get over it and as such they avoid the genre altogether.
Mario Bava has more than thirty movies to his credit and twice as many as a director of photography. The bulk of Bava’s movies fall squarely in the horror genre. In fact, Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (aka The Evil Eye) is considered by some to be the first giallo horror movie. It’s safe to say Bava knows a thing or two about making horror movies. Shock may be the exception that proves the rule.
Shock, Bava’s last movie, is considerably different from his previous movies like Black Sabbath or the later Bay of Blood. The difference between those movies and Shock is that Shock is slow, excruciatingly slow. The majority of time in the first act are scenes of Dora and Marco, her son, settling into their new house. Bruno, Dora’s second husband, is in and out spending most of the time flying for an unnamed airline. The hope that anything remotely horror like seems to dim with every passing scene.
Then somewhere in the second act Marco tells his mother, “I have to kill you.” This is the point in Shock where your average viewer would expect strange happenings of horror would start. The average viewer would be wrong. Although some horror and supernatural elements appear Shock continues to flounder until the end of the second act.
We’re teased with images of razor blades floating in the air, furniture and doors moving on their own, laughing pianos, and syringes. While Dora is sleeping she dreams of a bruised, bleeding hand touching her which seems to put her in the throws of ecstasy. The same hand later, or so Dora imagines, trips her in the backyard. Crazy images to be sure and images we later learn point to a buried secret, both figuratively and literally.
We get the impression either the house is making Dora crazy or she’s already crazy. Either could be the case. Dora lived in the house with her first husband, Carlo, who killed himself while at sea. After his death Dora is sent to a sanitarium where she’s given electroshock therapy. Presumably she’s cured with the help of her doctor and Bruno. Yet her visions and constant screaming seem to point to the fact that she has not been cured.
Dora becomes convinced she had something to do with her husband’s death. At the same time, she’s being freaked out by her son’s erratic behavior. For much of the time Marco seems to be the stereotypical brat, but his actions say otherwise. He cuts up a pair of his mother’s panties for her to find, he sends her a bouquet of roses with a threatening note attached, and he even manages to affect Bruno’s plane by putting a picture of him on a swing.
It’s never explained how Marco reached the top drawer of a very tall chest of drawers or how he had the money to buy roses. There’s no attempt to even explain how he could come close to crashing Bruno’s plane. Even the reveal later in the movie that Carlo is possessing Marco isn’t enough to explain these things away. These events though are so far apart it would be understandable if the audience can’t put the pieces themselves together.
It’s only closer to the end of the final act of the movie that all the pieces fall into place. Unlike other movies where hints and clues are dropped along the way to the final reveal, Shock drops its secrets in one big dump. Shock, like the worst hourly police procedures, explains the previous hour of the movie in one scene. Bruno tells her she was responsible for her husband’s death. When he found Carlo dead he hid the body in the basement of the house. We finally learn that Carlo was indeed possessing Marco.
Shock is a slog of a movie to get through. The few suspenseful scenes aren’t enough to make it interesting or scary. The fact that everything is explained and tied up in a tidy bow only adds to the frustratingly erratic nature of the storytelling. Shock will be loved by hardcore Bava fans. Other Bava fans will find that it pales in comparison to his earlier movies and the uninitiated will probably be turned off by Shock in the first few minutes of the movie.
ARROW VIDEO EXTRAS
Arrow Video always packs their Blu-ray releases with special features. Shock is no exception. First, the included booklet has a brief but informative article about the movie and Bava’s career written by Troy Howarth called ‘Shock Horror A La Bava.’ Noted Bava historian Tim Lucas provides the commentary for the movie.
‘A Ghost in the House’ is a brand new interview with Lamberto Bava, Mario’s son. Lamberto’s recollections of Shock are a lot more interesting than the movie itself. ‘Via Dell’Orologio’ is a video interview with Dardano Sacchetti , the screenwriter. In it he talks about his relationship with Mario, Lamberto, and writing the script. Interestingly enough, both think the ending could have been better.
Stephen Thrower defends Shock in ‘The Stylistic Diversity of Mario Bava.’ Film critic Alberto Farina’s ‘The Most Atrocious Tortur(e)’ is a short explanation of drawing Bava gave actress Daria Nicolodi. It more than likely only made it to the release because it was drawing of Nicolodi’s character from the movie. You won’t feel left out if you skip this one.
Alexandra Heller-Nicholas concentrates on Shock‘s ceramic hand in ‘The Devil Pulls The Strings.’ Heller-Nicholas seems to be pulling on strings to make the hand a key element of the movie. To Heller-Nicholas every hand in Shock seems to be reflecting the ceramic hand. As she says she’s been focused on the movie and the hand for more than ten years. That’s a long time to make the facts fit an argument.