Shock (1977) | Mario Bava’s final feature is an underrated gem – just watch out for the walking wardrobes!
More than two years after his 1974 thriller Rabid Dogs remained unfinished and the same year’s horror Lisa and the Devil went unreleased in Italy and was cut to shreds on its international release, 63-year-old Italian director Mario Bava was in a bad way.
After a glittering career spanning some 40+ years, he found himself in semi-retirement as young guns like Dario Argento were becoming the new face of Italian horror. But with the help of his son Lamberto, who was just finding his way in the family business, Mario went on to helm what would become his final feature, 1977’s Shock (AKA Schock in Italy and Beyond the Door II in the US) – a modern-day psychological thriller in which true horror lies from within.
Daria Nicolodi stars as the mentally fragile Dora, who moves back into her old family home on the Italian coast with her pilot husband, Bruno (John Steiner) and Marco (David Colin Jr), her young son from a previous marriage. When Bruno departs for work in London, Dora finds herself plagued by accidents and apparitions, as well as Marco’s increasingly bizarre behaviour, which inescapably leads her to a nervous breakdown.
Everything seems to be linked to Dora’s former dead husband Carlo, a drug addict who took his own life. Has his spirit come back to haunt her? Is he using Marco as a conduit to torment her? Is Dora manifesting some deep-set guilt? And what lies behind the brick wall in the cellar?
Now restored in high definition for the first time, Mario Bava’s cinematic swansong is ripe for rediscovery courtesy of Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release, which features some superb extras. These include an insightful audio commentary from Tim Lucas, who is, without doubt, the foremost authority on all things Mario Bava, and Lamberto Bava’s interview, which lays bare the ins and outs of his collaboration with his dad. Plus, much more.
I hadn’t seen Shock before (and I’ve seen most of Maria Bava’s films over the years) and I must say, it’s an underrated gem. There’s so much on offer here, despite its poor reception on its release. There’s a Repulsion-esque scenario that plays crazy mind games on you; an intensely engaging performance from Nicolodi (who was working through her own personal issues following her separation from Dario Argento); some inventive practical special effects (including walking wardrobes and a possessed Stanley knife), and one particular jump scare that certainly got me! (and inspired a scene in the original Scream).
Bava also conjures up a hauntingly beautiful sequence that is pure Bava – when Dora has an erotically-charged encounter with Carlo’s spirit and her hair seemingly comes alive. And to top it all, there’s the eerie synth-and-percussion score by Italian jazz-rockers I Libra, whose members included Goblin’s original drummer Walter Martino (who worked on Profundo rosso). It’s such an earworm, I’m now hunting down a reasonably priced vinyl. A must-have for any fan of Italian’s founding father of horror.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Brand new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative by Arrow Films
• Original Italian and English front and end titles and insert shots
• Restored original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark
• A Ghost in the House, a new video interview with co-director and co-writer Lamberto Bava
• Via Dell’Orologio 33, a new video interview with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti
• The Devil Pulls the Strings, a new video essay by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
• Shock! Horror! – The Stylistic Diversity of Mario Bava, a new video appreciation by author and critic Stephen Thrower
• The Most Atrocious Tortur(e), a new interview with critic Alberto Farina
• Italian theatrical trailer
• 4 US “Beyond the Door II” TV spots
• Image gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Christopher Shy
• Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Troy Howarth, author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava
When it comes to my favourite Dario Argento films, in my cinematic eye, two stand out as supreme masterpieces: Suspiria, a bewitching blend of the surreal and the fantastique, and Deep Red, which must be THE quintessential giallo. But what makes the thriller so gripping to revisit time and time again – aside from the fact that it keeps getting re-released?
Murder, mayhem and black-gloved killers were central to Argento’s early gialli, and it was with Bird, Cat and Flies, (aka the Animal Trilogy) that he brought stark terror to the genre and introduced the killer’s PoV stylistic device (which Carpenter copied in Halloween). But in Deep Red (aka Profondo Rosso), he did so much more. He fused his thriller with an arthouse kink and a surreal theatricality, with the highlight being an inspired homage to film noir in the recreation of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks diner in a neon-lit Rome street where the first murder takes place (actually Turin’s Piazza CLN).
David Hemmings (who got the part because of his role in Antonioni’s Blow-Up) is Marcus Daly, an English jazz pianist based in Rome who witnesses the brutal slaying of a visiting European psychic. After he becomes front-page news thanks to Daria Nicolodi’s over-eager reporter Gianna, Daly starts his own investigation. But when incriminating evidence is left at the scene of another murder, Daly realises the killer is hot on his trail. It’s then a race against time to solve the mystery, which has links to a children’s lullaby and a deserted old mansion, before the killer strikes again…
Deep Red also saw Argento embracing elements horror and the supernatural for the first time, with the film’s most evocative scenes taking place inside a crumbling grand art nouveau mansion (actually the 1902 Villa Scott in Turin), set to the pulsating beats of Goblin’s landmark prog rock soundtrack, which became the benchmark for many of Argento’s subsequent film scores. Topping it all were the imaginatively staged murder set pieces, involving stabbing, scalding and being and bashed to a pulp, all domestic terrors that set the nerves on edge and made your skin crawl.
Now, while Argento certainly must be praised for the film’s visual style (and style is certainly the substance of Deep Red, which was the whole point), it’s the film’s script that brings it all together. And that’s down to Bernardino Zapponi, who was hired on the back of his work on Federico Fellini’s phantasmal Toby Dammit segment in Spirits of the Dead. One can only wonder what kind of film Deep Red would have been without Zapponi’s involvement as he is key to Argento’s ‘truly terrifying magnum opus’ (to borrow a quote from Argento expert Alan Jones).
THE ARROW 4K RELEASE
It was only back in 2011 that Arrow brought out a bloody gorgeous 2k restoration on Blu-ray and DVD, which blew my mind with its sharp picture and excellent sound. Now comes the 4k restoration, which totally trumps that release, ironing out much of the grain that I never knew was apparent in the earlier version until I did a comparison.
The 2011 release came with two uncut versions of the film; interviews with Argento, Nicolodi and Goblin composer Claudio Simonetti; and a commentary from Argento expert Thomas Rostock. These have all been replicated here, but with brand-new transfers of the directors cut and the export version. Another bonus is the inclusion of the film’s soundtrack featuring all 28 tracks that originally appeared on the 1996 Cinevox CD. Newly commissioned artwork has also been for the packaging, this time from Belgium artist Gilles Vranckx.
THE DIRECTOR’S CUT AUDIO
There’s a choice of Italian with English subtitles or a hybrid English/Italian audio track on the director’s cut, but my preference is for the hybrid version, as you get to hear David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi in English. But the reinserted scenes that were originally left out of the export cut only have Italian audio. While this might make for a disconcerting experience, you do get more battle of the sexes interplay between Marcus and Gianna.
This must be one of Arrow’s fastest-selling releases ever, as it’s already sold out on their website and is currently changing hands for up to £90 online. So, if you are lucky to bag yourself a copy, then turn down the lights, turn up the volume, and let the screaming begin.