Saturday, 6 February 2010

Schock

1977
Dir. Mario Bava

AKA
Beyond the Door II,
Transfert-Suspence-Hypnos,
Shock

Dora (Daria Nicolodi), her son Marco (David Colin Jnr) and her new husband Bruno (John Steiner) return to live in her old family home – the site of her first husband’s supposed suicide. Recovering from a nervous breakdown, Dora’s already fragile state of mind is pushed further towards the brink of sanity by strange occurrences in the house and the increasingly sinister behaviour of her young son. Dora begins to suspect that her former husband has returned from the dead to continue abusing her as he did in life. Is this the case, or has Dora just slipped quietly into madness?

Schock was director Mario Bava’s last film. Co-written by his son Lamberto and Dario Argento’s regular co-writer Dardano Sacchetti, certain segments of the film were also directed by Lamberto as Mario was in poor health. The writers tread a fine line throughout the film and the story hovers amongst just the right amount of ambiguity and suggestion. Is Dora’s world being torn apart by supernatural events, or is it all in her mind. As she is such an unreliable narrator we are never quite sure if what she perceives to be happening is actually happening or not. The ending however does goes some way to assure us it is a case of supernatural intervention…

The Bava’s go all out with the camerawork to evoke Dora’s fracturing and increasingly unhinged state of mind. Bizarre angles and multiple shots of Nicolodi through frosted glass or crystal ornaments create skewed and warped visions that offer up a deliciously twisted perspective throughout the story. Even when nothing much is happening on screen, everything is rendered incredibly spooky and ‘off’ due to the unique manner in which it is filmed. Whilst not as strikingly lit as some of Bava’s previous films, Schock boasts a washed out look that benefits from striking camerawork and a genuinely uneasy atmosphere.

The film contains some of Bava’s most breathtaking visuals – notably the scene in which Dora lays on her bed and her hair begins to snake and coil Medusa-like about her head as though blowing in an eerie spectral wind. It isn’t exactly clear how Bava achieved this shot but the strange power it wields is undeniable and proves one of the most memorable moments in a film full of imaginatively shot scenes. Early on in the film Dora and Bruno are shown getting sexy on the couch and Bava frames the shot with a huge ceramic hand in the foreground: the resulting image is inexplicably ominous and drenched in a creepy menace.

Nicolodi’s compelling performance really helps to ground the film and as she is in practically every scene, she pretty much carries the film. She commands attention throughout proceedings, never allowing herself to descend into melodrama or histrionics. Unfortunately the film suffers from some extremely bad dubbing. But hey, no classic Italian horror should be without bad dubbing! Elsewhere Nicolodi is supported in the most rudimentary fashion by rather beige actors.

A streak of deviancy cuts through the film, particularly in the scenes depicting the none-too-subtle Oedipal relationship between Dora and Marco. Is Marco possessed by his dead father or is he, and indeed his mother, just severely psychologically damaged? One moment that proves most uncomfortable to watch is the scene in which Marco taunts his mother, forcing her onto the ground where he proceeds to lay on top of her in a highly suggestive and downright provocative manner. The precocious little brat. The panic and confusion exuded by Nicolodi in these scenes is unshakable.

Eventually the narrative disintegrates into increasingly morbid set pieces in which Dora is menaced somewhere in the house by her dead husband. His appearances throughout the film are chillingly realised and dreamlike. Another perturbing scene features Marco creeping into his mother’s room to watch her as she sleeps. This scene is creepy enough to begin with, but when we cut to Dora in her troubled slumber, the appearance of a seemingly disembodied and decomposing hand reaching into the shot from where Marco should be standing to caress her face, elevates the scene into truly nightmarish territory. Occasionally events spiral into ludicrous cliché such as when Marco attaches a photograph of Bruno to a swing, and when he begins to push the swing back and forth voodoo-doll like, Bruno’s aeroplane is shown hitting severe turbulence and he looks set to plummet to his death until Dora calls Marco away from the swing.

The score, courtesy of Goblin-lite prog-rockers I Libra is a rather uneven affair, veering between atmospheric compositions and eerie sound effects to raucous rock orientated pieces. A number of the brain-searing electronic compositions are effective though and really enhance the troubling atmosphere.

Schock is a slow-burning horror film crossed with a distressing psychological study of the effects of guilt on one woman’s fragile psyche and it benefits from a limited cast, moody location and compelling storytelling. Certainly not Bava’s best work, but it proves a fitting final film of one of the most influential, imaginative and underappreciated genre directors in the history of cinema.

7 comments:

Jenn said...

Oooh, a Bava I haven't seen. You know, people (well, like two people who actually know WTF I'm talking about) always get mad at me when I say I prefer Lamberto's movies to his daddy's but it's the truth. He's not as prolific but yet he's still not as hit or miss. I find him more consistent, really. That, and when I met him in Chicago last year, he was super cute and didn't speak a lick of English, and I could tell he was looking at my boobs.

James said...

Hey Jenn. You met Lamberto Bava last year?! AND he checked out your boobs??! Ok. You win.
I've not really seen a lot of Bava Jnr's movies, aside from Demons 1 and 2. I have heard good things about Blade in the Dark and Macabre though.
I think Schock was one of the first Mario Bava films I ever watched. I love his stuff. Even when its not so good - its never anything less than fascinating - and always beautiful to look at.
Enjoy your weekend ;o)

Jenn said...

Yep, I sure did! And he signed a DEMONS posted for me, but I had to write what I wanted it to say on an index card. He was adorable! We had a drink with Ruggero Dedato at the convention afterparty that night. It was great! Sometime I shall tell you the tale of when I met Dario Argento. Charming, to be sure!

BLADE IN THE DARK is so episodically, giallo-ly (I just made that up) superb. I make everyone watch it - my tattoo artist, the cats, EVERYONE!

I really like MB's WHIP AND THE BODY. It's a great title too - speaks to my fetishistic side. Grrrooowwwllllll!

Matthew Coniam said...

Another old university favourite dragged from the back of my memory to the front...
That bit where the kid turns into the father - if I remember rightly it's done not with any kind of effects, just pinpoint choreography and camera placement - is the only time I can remember being in a room full of blokes and hearing them all... well... not scream exactly... but make an involuntary noise indicative of fright. Masterful stuff.

James said...

Jenn you've made me positively green with envy this morning! I look forward to hearing your tales of drinking with Argento... ;o)
I haven't seen Whip and the Body - is that the one with Christopher Lee?? P'raps you'll review it soon for Cavalcade?

Yes Matthew, much of the effects throughout Schock seem constructed around pinpoint choreography and camera placement - some stunning moments. Glad to have resurrected the memories!
I have to admit to feeling more than a little 'unsettled' while watching that scene. And I was watching it alone... Fun times.

The Film Connoisseur said...

I will eventually make it to shock, Im working my way through Bava's films. Ive been reviewing the ones Ive seen, up next is Lisa and the Devil, I hope it will rock as much as Black Sunday and Black Sabbath which are both mastepieces to me.

Thanks for this review! Sounds like Ill have a great time with it!

James said...

I'm sure you'll love Schock! Its not quite up there with the likes of Black Sunday, Kill Baby Kill and Black Sabbath, but it still proves a striking looking and compelling work. Hope you enjoy Lisa and the Devil too - its just a wonderfully warped film!