Sunday, November 16, 2014

Shock / Beyond the Door II (1977)

Mario Bava’s final full-length film as director Shock (AKA Beyond the Door II) is like The Amityville Horror (1979), Repulsion (1965), and The Shining (1980) combined into a progressive-rock tinged haunted-house Italian horror/mystery thriller that does manage to be scary. Bava again employs the vengeful ghost story, as in his child-themed Kill Baby Kill (1966), but keeps it in the family, creating a ghost story about marital vengeance, which was based on a true story that Bava weaved in to an already existing script, about a living house, he had co-written with Dardano Sacchetti several years prior. The end product is a slow-paced but ultimately exhilarating experience that succeeds at being one of the creepier Italian horrors. Bava’s son Lamberto Bava, who also contributed to the script, said they were influenced a little more by Stephen King and were attempting to make a modern horror film.

The film also has a possession angle that takes a few cues from The Exorcist (1973), which might have been in response to the success of The House of Exorcism (1975): producer Alfredo Leone’s revamping of Bava’s Lisa and the Devil (1973), with newly filmed possession scenes spliced in.

A big attraction in Shock is Daria Nicolodi in the leading role, a role that Bava offered her during a time of self-exile from her lover Dario Argento, due to a nervous breakdown that resulted from a discrepancy between the two.* Nicolodi claimed that Argento took all of her ideas behind the hugely successful Suspiria (1977) and publicly claimed them as his own, something that was devastating for her.* Nicolodi maintains that she and Argento developed Suspiria together, basing it off of a horrific true story her grandmother related to her about a dance school she had attended that secretly taught black magic.*

Nicolodi was in a dark place at the time, underweight from not eating right, when her agent told her that Mario Bava wanted her for the leading role in his next film, and never having met Bava, but being an admirer of his movies, she enthusiastically accepted.*

Her role in Shock, as Dora, a newlywed housewife haunted by her ex-husband’s ghost, is her personal favorite, and it is also regarded as Nicolodi’s greatest movie performance. It’s definitely a big step away from her breakout role as a strong independent journalist in Argento’s Deep Red (1975), as she plays a dependent, unstable housewife in Shock.

Daria is, of course, dubbed, so evaluating her performance here based on line-delivery might be a little inaccurate if not unfair, but she doesn’t ever come off as wooden and does have the ability to convincingly seem distressed, which works for a story that does rely a little on the descent-into-madness theme. She’s OK when interacting with the other adult characters, but she really shines when she is left alone in the house with her creepy son, Marco (David Colin Jr.). She’s also fantastic during the climax, but what really worked for me is that drug-induced cold stare and subtle twitch of her mouth during a chilling flashback scene towards the end.

As a Mario Bava film, Shock does stand out, being somewhat singular in his horror output for a number of reasons. In addition to Lamberto’s push for a more modern horror film, there’s also a little more restraint from Bava’s characteristic visual style, although there’s still plenty of beautiful stuff to look at, and a little more focus in telling a story rather than bedazzling with colorful sets and lavish gothic cinematography. Yet Shock is still full of stylish touches and nuances (how about that porcelain hand?). One thing that still feels very Bava is the remarkably simple yet successful visual effects. The simple but creative technique behind one of the best parts involving the kid’s, Marco’s, transformation into an adult ghost (a successful jump scare) was shot by Lamberto.

The surreal factor is sectored off in individual segments, as opposed to being a part of the entire experience, a la Lisa and the Devil. A couple highlights include a nightmarish dream sequence involving a flying box-cutter blade and a bricked up window, involving some ear-bleeding screams from Dora, as well as an ingenious dream scene with Dora seductively looking out into space, into the camera, with her hair flowing around on its own, on account of her lying on a rotating table during filming (this segment was also Bava’s sincere and successful attempt at capturing Daria’s beauty on film).

There’s definitely something awkward about the kid in the movie that just works for the kid-possession angle, and I don’t think it has to do with the dubbing. Here the child is portrayed as a kind of bridge between the spiritual and the physical world. Most curious is the way Marco never seems frightened at anything, something the movie establishes early on while he and his mother are attending a puppet show that he refers to as being fantastic when his mother asks if he’s scared. The one night when he wants to sleep with his mother, in her bed, might have to do more with him being possessed by his father’s ghost rather than being too scared to sleep alone. There ends up being an uncomfortable incestuous undercurrent that results during several instances between Marco and Dora, with the most awkward example being when Marco, or possessed Marco, sends some kind of strange message to Dora by cutting up her underwear and leaving it in her drawer to find later (This is one in several scenes that Mario let Lamberto direct, to give him a chance to direct on his own, as I believe he had only ever worked as an assistant director up to this point).

I also can’t tell if David Colin Jr. was just a strange kid actor or if he was doing a good job at playing a strange kid. I thought he was pretty strange in Beyond the Door (1974). In any case, he was definitely the right choice, capable of childlike innocence as well as creepy insidiousness.

John Steiner (Tenebre) plays Bruno, Dora’s second husband. There isn’t a whole lot to say about Steiner’s role other than that he gets the job done while leaving Nicolodi in control of the show. Ivan Rassimov has a rather minimal role as Dora’s psychologist, Dr. Aldo Spidini. There really isn’t anything that made Rassimov as memorable in so many other movies that noticeable here. As Dora’s personal psychologist, he has one interesting part that, to me, feels a little more detached from traditional Bava, where the doctor treats Marco by psychoanalyzing his drawings, which he in turn uses to explain Marco’s strange behavior to Dora as an apparent distantness he feels with his mother.

The progressive rock music heard in the film is by former Italian rock band I Libra, and if you’ve noticed that the music sounds like it could’ve come from Goblin (Suspria, Deep Red, Dawn of the Dead (1978)), it’s because there were a couple members who were in Goblin in I Libra at the time: Walter Martino and Maurizio Guarini, who contributed to a cool soundtrack that definitely aids the excitement of the conclusion.

Shock might be an acquired taste for some; it’s been referred to as Bava’s worst film by some as well as his final masterpiece by others. According to Lamberto, Shock has a lot less of his father’s writing in it, which might be the reason it feels like the odd one out among Bava’s horror films; and the house in the film is a little more contemporary rather than the frozen in time gothic mansion. It’s still very stylish and creepy, with terrific prowling camera work, a good story, and a few segues into gothic horror territory, such as the segment where Dora slowly descends the stairs to investigate a haunting tune coming from the piano. With several bouts of twists and shocks lining the last twenty-five minutes, there’s definitely an exceptional payoff at the end that always leaves this viewer satisfied, and Nicolodi is a fantastic lead. 

© At the Mansion of Madness 
*Jones, A., (2004). Profondo Argento: The Man, the Myths & the Magic. Fab Press.



  1. I agree that the child actor is awkward and it works in a creepy way. This is an underrated shockfest that deserves better than being linked with the ridiculous (but admitedly fun) Beyond the Door. I think I'm due for a rewatch. Great writeup! I didn't know the circumstances behind Daria taking this role but it certainly enhaced her performance!

    1. Yes, plus I believe they shot for 18 hours a day for 5 weeks, which for me would have to be exhausting and a little grating on the nerves. It really is underrated, although it has gotten more attention in the last 10 years, but I think that was a little more out of curiosity due to the rising interest in Bava. Plus I think there was a lot of comedy elements to Assonitis’s Beyond the Door, whereas Shock is dead serious, something that also contrasts a little with Bava’s own sense of humor that can be felt in something like Lisa and the Devil or even 5 Dolls for an August Moon.

      Thanks for stopping by and much appreciation for the compliment :)

  2. jervaise brooke hamsterNovember 28, 2014 at 12:48 PM

    I think Daria was slightly tastier than her daughter Asia (when she was a young bird), although i admit it is a close run thing because Asia was a right little darlin` 15 years ago as well.

  3. I have missed this Movie thanks for the Review I have to see it.

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  4. In an interview, Lamberto Bava actually said that the scene of the child morphing into the ghost was technically shot by him, BUT was his father's idea.

    1. I rewatched the interview with Lamberto Bava that came with the Anchor Bay DVD (where I got the info from), and it seems
      I might have misinterpreted what Lamberto said about practicing the trick with his son Roy and his babysitter before telling it to his father, who approved. So it was likely Mario's idea that Lamberto had worked out and brought to fruition. Thank you for clarifying that. Next, I need to figure out how I want to modify the text in order to make the correction.