Horror and exploitation movies from the non-CGI era reviewed semi-weekly
Saturday, November 5, 2016
#243: Shock aka Beyond the Door II (Mario Bava, 1977)
The final film from Mario Bava, Shock sees the groundbreaking Italian horror director going out on a high note. This is a suspenseful, weird, visually powerful, creepy movie that skillfully weaves together the supernatural and the psychological, told so energetically that it's hard to believe an older man three years before his death is behind the camera. The film also benefits considerably from Daria Nicolodi's virtuosic performance in the leading role. Nicolodi has one of the most visually expressive faces in film, and Bava puts it to highly effective use here. Yeah, the movie has some cheesy dialogue, stiff English-language dubbing, occasionally baffling character behavior, and irritatingly patronizing male characters, but if these things are enough to turn you off, you're obviously not a fan of '60s-'80s Italian horror. The film's virtues are so much stronger than its flaws.
A word about the title. Entertaining Exorcist ripoff Beyond the Door had been a huge financial success a few years earlier, so the American distributors decided to cash in on having the same child actor, David Colin Jr., and released the film as Beyond the Door II in the United States. In addition to the presence of Colin, both films were horror movies about a family unit directed by Italians. Besides those superficial similarities, the films have absolutely nothing to do with each other and are sequels in name only. Not quite as egregious as the time the Spanish film about the murderous ghosts of some Knights Templar, Tombs of the Blind Dead, was repackaged for drive-ins as a Planet of the Apes sequel (a new prologue was filmed explaining that the Knights were actually ghosts of the apes from the Planet of the Apes movies, which might be my favorite stupid cash-grab in the history of cinema distribution), but still pretty silly.
Shock, co-written by Bava's son and Demons director Lamberto Bava (who has a cameo as a mover),is about a woman named Dora (Daria Nicolodi), her son Marco (David Colin Jr.), and her second husband Bruno (John Steiner) moving back into the country home Dora shared with her first husband, Marco's father, and which she still owns. Her first husband was a depressive drug addict who committed suicide at sea seven years earlier, and Dora has had trouble with anxiety, depression, and fear since then.
Now remarried to airline pilot Bruno, Dora is persuaded that a return to the peace of the countryside may be the perfect thing for everyone. After the obligatory few minutes of sentimental, happy-family cheese are dispensed with, things get pretty disturbing pretty quickly. Marco starts saying and doing incredibly strange things, but in classic macho, paternalistic Italian fashion, Dora gets the blame for being a nervous, fragile woman. Bruno even hides sedatives around the house and slips them in Dora's water without telling her, in order to calm her. He's kind of a douche. He's also frequently away from home flying planes, so Dora is alone with her newly creepy son and his newly creepy behavior.
Soon, Dora is losing her shit, having horrible but beautifully filmed nightmares, and dark family secrets get uncovered. Is she going crazy, or is the ghost of her former husband haunting her and possessing their son? The film skillfully avoids taking sides, and a pretty good case can be made for both supernatural and psychological explanations of the terrors happening in the home.
Nicolodi kicks ass throughout, giving one of my favorite performances in horror. She's so good at telling a story with her facial expressions, making you forget about the Italian tradition of overdubbing the dialogue later. Nicolodi is most famous for her work in many of Dario Argento's best films, and she wrote the screenplay for my favorite Argento movie, Suspiria. (She's also the mother of Asia Argento, and she and Dario were a couple for many years.) Bava was lucky to get her in this role, since she was coming off a pretty intense stretch of collaboration with Argento, both artistically and romantically, and the two had decided to take some time apart from each other, just in time for Shock. (Steiner would go on to work with Argento a few years later, in Tenebre.)
The film builds in intensity, culminating in a great final third that has one of my favorite surprise scares in horror. I'd seen the film once before, and I was happy to see that this scene had the same jump-out-of-your-seat effect on my wife, who was watching it for the first time. Shock is a real treat for Italian horror fans, with its stunning shot compositions, creepy red-haired child (I say this as a creepy red-haired former child myself), horror veterans behind and in front of the camera, and weird-ass prog/jazz/funk/hard rock score from the band I Libra. I love this movie. It's scary, fun, weird, occasionally ridiculous, and just the kind of thing I like.
Dr. Mystery, aka Robot X, aka Raul "Sous Chef" Mendoza, aka Josh Krauter was killed in a brawl in a Pizza Hut parking lot after expressing his disappointment with the "Dippin' Strips" pizza. His skeleton was saved and inserted into an apesuit-wearing robot powered by an electrical current emanating from the still-beating heart of deceased actor Zero Mostel. He is also a limited liability company and writes the weekly advice column, "Pull Your Head Outta Your Ass," for the Vermont Luthiers Annual Newsletter.