Color, 1977, 92 mins.31 secs. / 94 mins. 26 secs.
Directed by Mario Bava
Starring Daria Nicolodi, John Steiner, David Colin, Jr., Ivan Rassimov
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Bay of Blood may be gorier, Black Sunday may be more influential, and Blood and Black Lace may be more beautiful, but Mario Bava never made a more purely frightening film than Shock. A claustrophobic gut punch that drags the viewer straight down into the mind of a woman going mad, the film features a few bloody concessions to the '70s horror market but also remains a beautifully crafted, psychologically devastating little chamber piece, not to mention a strangely appropriate final feature for the maestro.
Dora (Deep Red's Nicolodi) and her new husband, Bruno (Salon Kitty's Steiner), move into a new house along with Marco (Beyond the Door's Colin, Jr.), Dora's son from a previous marriage. Strange events immediately plague the household, with cute little Marco prone to such homilies as "I'm going to have to kill you, mommy." Bruno's job as an airline pilot forces him to stay away from home for extended periods, leaving Dora to cope with either her own onset of insanity or the realization that her son might be possessed by the ghost of husband number one, a sleazy drug addict. Soon Marco's slicing up his mother's underwear and doing nasty tricks with razor blades, while Dora experiences horrific visions of clutching hands from beyond the grave.
Originally released to U.S. theaters and home video as Beyond the Door II, this film has nothing to do with Beyond the Door apart from the vague possession theme and the presence of Colin, Jr. Argento's former muse, Nicolodi delivers one of the best performances of her career, beginning as a sweet and maternal figure but gradually shattering into a completely hysterical wreck. Interestingly, she would later reteam with Steiner for Argento's equally nihilistic Tenebre. Shock is rarely cited as a prime example of Bava's style, but he pulls off so many magnificent little flourishes that the most demanding Euro-fanatics should be quite happy. This film also marked an increased collaboration with his son, Lamberto (Demons), who was allowed to take over the reins in several scenes. Together they orchestrated some of the most effective jolts in either director's career, particularly a brilliant sequence near the end (the hallway bit) that has scarred more than a few late night TV viewers and been ripped off more than once in recent years. The free-form prog rock score by I Libra (consisting of two Goblin members but, contrary to Anchor Bay's liner notes, not Goblin themselves) strikes just the right balance between lyricism and oppression; the Deep Red-style main theme alone is a musical tour de force.
The first American video release of Shock from Media bore the Beyond the Door II title and was missing a few minor bits of footage involving child psychologist Ivan Rassimov. Anchor Bay's presentation on DVD from 2000 is the full European print, though most viewers probably won't notice anything different. The film was lensed with a drab visual texture emphasizing the film's atmosphere of decay and delirium, and this presentation captures that appearance quite well. It's also a considerable improvement compared to the letterboxed but overbright edition (as Shock) on Japanese video which has floated through the bootleg market over the years. The disc also includes an interview with Lamberto Bava (8m43s) who discusses the extent of his own involvement in the film's shooting and his collaboration with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti; not surprisingly, with this film they were aiming for an approach similar to Stephen King novels. Two U.S. TV spots (one paired up with The Dark) pale in comparison to the long, surreal Italian trailer; be warned that all of these extras blow some crucial moments in the story, so be sure to watch the film first.
In 2021, Arrow Video finally brought Bava's film back into circulation after nearly two decades in the wilderness with a U.S. and U.K. Blu-ray special edition. Featuring a new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative, it obviously benefits considerably here with richer color timing, far more detail, more visible image info, and better blacks that allow you to make out much more in the darker scenes. It's a real beauty. Via seamless branching the film can be played in either its English or Italian versions with their respective credits, with DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono audio and optional English or English SDH subtitles. (It's worth noting that the Anchor Bay disc tacks on two extra minutes of playout music after the film, so it runs longer; there's nothing missing here from the actual film itself.) The film also comes with a new audio commentary by Tim Lucas, who expands on his already expansive coverage of the film in his landmark Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark with a thorough reading here balancing production info with aesthetic interpretations of the imagery and dialogue. It's a great accompaniment to the film that will definitely help you appreciate both its background and artistic merits, particularly as they echo elements in Bava's other work.
In the new "A Ghost in the House" (30m34s), Lamberto Bava chats about his own contributions to the original story (originally titled It's Always Cold at 33 Clock Street dating back to Bay of Blood), the orchestration of that classic jump scare, everyone's satisfaction with Nicolodi's casting (in fact, she and Lamberto worked together quite a bit after this), and his role in the directing and editing process. "Via Dell’Orologio 33" (33m48s) features Sacchetti covering the convoluted story of the script's genesis including his first encounter with Bava after a falling out with Dario Argento on The Cat o' Nine Tails (including lots of disparaging remarks about Danger: Diabolik!), the giallo rage that sidelined the project for a while, the back-to-back creation of both Bavas' The Venus of Ille with Nicolodi, and his thoughts on Lamberto Bava's subsequent career. The video essay "The Devil Pulls the Strings" (20m45s) is a new video essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas focuses on the role of the ornamental Hand of Buddha as a possession and puppetry entryway to what she regards as her favorite Bava film. In "Shock! Horror! The Stylistic Diversity of Mario Bava" (51m46s), Stephen Thrower studies the film as a facet of Bava's overall career with its clash between modernity and antiquity, the use of dream spaces, the move to daylight horror in the wake of Rosemary's Baby, and the state of the Italian film scene in the late '70s. Finally in "The Most Atrocious Tortur(e)" (4m12s), Alberto Farina gives a quick rundown of his interview with Daria Nicolodi and her relationship (and drawing related to) the film. Also included are the Italian trailer, five U.S. TV spots, and separate galleries for posters, the Italian fotobuste, and the Japanese souvenir program. The first pressing also comes with a collector's booklet featuring a new essay by Troy Howarth.
Arrow Video (Blu-ray)
Anchor Bay (DVD)
Updated review on December 20, 2021