Sunday, February 23, 2014

SHOCK (1977)

Mario Bava's last feature makes some significant stylistic departures from the movies that made his reputation.  With a script written by Lamberto Bava and three other dudes, SHOCK is far more modern in approach, although the masterful camerawork and labyrinthine plotting are plenty Bavaish.  

Following the mysterious death of her first husband and her subsequent breakdown, Dora (Daria Nicolodi) remarries.  She and her son Marco and new husband Bruno move back into the murder house.  This works about as well as a therapeutic strategy as you'd expect.  Supernatural stuff also appears to be happening, as doors and swings move all on their own, and young Marco goes from merely annoying to bratty and destructive.  Is he possessed by his deceased dad?

It certainly seems that way, as he simulates humpy sex with his mom on the lawn, proving that the breastmilk dwarf from BURIAL GROUND was part of a long Italian tradition and not just some weird one-off.  There's an awful lot of incesty business happening here—Marco steals and mutilates Dora's panties, among other things—and it's definitely unexpected with Bava at the helm.  

Those scenes are generally the most shocking thing about SHOCK in the early stages.  The film isn't rife with buckets of blood or sloshing gashes.  The self-swinging swing and aberrant child behavior are firmly in the tradition of slow-moving ghost stories of old.  Early on, SHOCK is like a mixture of those films and the evil-kid horror of THE EXORCIST and THE OTHER.  Honestly, it gets a little draggy, especially since we're not enjoying amazing dialogue here.  The lines that do impress, like, "Mama, I'm going to have to kill you", aren't really delivered that effectively in the dubbed audio.  Maybe the Italian track is better.

Kind of a shame that the dialogue doesn't sing, because we've got a lot of superstar actors here.  David Warbeck shows up, albeit all too briefly.  Ivan Rassimov also puts in an appearance.  And, of course, Daria Nicolodi is her usual joy to watch, especially since she's at her youngest and most silhouette-sexy here.  

So SHOCK has its follies and charms, but visually it's really rich and choice.  Bava hadn't lost his sensibilities for camera placement and movement.  The sets look nice and we get tons of well-wielded shadows.  

The movie really kicks into overdrive in the second half, when restraint gets tossed out a window and humped on a lawn.  Suddenly, SHOCK is a movie about hallucinations, razor slashes, jump scares, and Daria Nicolodi running away from furniture.  And, really, it's a much better movie.  I was tapping my fingers and winding my watch for much of the early scenes, but the last half or so of this really redeems it.  And, after thinking about it, the more energetic tone of these scenes don't really conflict that much with the early stuff.  Bava was good enough at narrative to make SHOCK's many different parts feel like an organic whole.

Probably a bit overpraised on the Internet because Bava made it, but still well worth your time.  PS I am painting this Daria Nicolodi image on my ceiling, Sistine chapel-style.


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