FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Feb 28, 2023

A Bava by any other name

Anybody who's into Italian horror movies at all knows that figuring out how "franchises" work can be, to put it mildly, an experience on par with falling into a room full of razor wire. Every movie has 85 different titles in Italy alone, many of which insert them into any old series for whatever reason. Of course, the Zombie films are notorious for this, so much so that two people discussing the same movie will come off looking like they're in an Abbott and Costello skit as directed by Erwin Schrödinger.

"Do you like Zombie?"

"You mean Zombi 2?"

"I mean Zombie, like Zombie 1, I guess."

"Zombie 1 is Zombi 2."

That's only scratching the surface of the fuckery behind that film alone. I mean, let's not forget Zombi/e 3, a title that has been given to Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Nightmare City, Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror, and Zombie Flesh Eaters 2. Then we have The Church, which is also sometimes called Demons 3...but then there's also Demons 3, which is also called Black Demons, and there's Demons III: The Ogre, which has nothing to do with the Demons series. You need a fucking Rosetta Stone and a PhD in quantum physics to sort this shit out!

My point is, Beyond the Door II isn't a sequel to Beyond the Door whatsoever. They merely share an actor, who isn't even playing the same character in both films. Yes, that is akin to calling Little Women "Midsommar II" because Florence Pugh appears in each. Then you go see Little Women and you're like "Okay, this is a sequel, so when do the little women jump off of cliffs and/or set their boyfriends on fire...?" 

(To be fair, maybe they do that in Greta Gerwig's Little Women, I don't know, I've never seen it.)

So! Since Mario Bava's Beyond the Door II (1977) is not actually, you know, Beyond the Door II, I'll be using its Italian title, Shock. I'm sure you already know it by that title, since 1) I think it's the preferred title nowadays, even in these here United States, and 2) only the hippest, most in-the-know people read this blog. 

And because you are therefore hip and in-the-know, I bet you're also well aware that


Seven years after her drug-addict husband's suicide and her subsequent nervous breakdown, Dora (Daria Nicolodi) moves back to the home they shared with her son Marco (David Colin Jr, your link to Beyond the Door!) and new husband Bruno (John Steiner). It's not long before everyone starts acting a bit weird: Dora gets increasingly paranoid, Marco gets increasingly hostile towards his mother, and Bruno hides the key to the locked basement. Is Dora headed for another breakdown? What's going on in this house? And as Aretha Franklin might ask, who, exactly, is zoomin' who?

Early on in the proceedings, as the family settles into their new-old digs, the score by I Libra (featuring ex-Goblin member Maurizio Guarini) does much of the heavy lifting in establishing some kind of mood or atmosphere, letting us know that, say, a Slinky coming down the stairs or a shot of a bookcase should be considered scary. As you begin to wonder what this movie is getting at, however, the happenings get trippier and trippier, the requisite chunky and painful-looking white contacts appear, and the blood starts flowing through a series of twists and turns that lead to a wholly satisfying payoff. A payoff that makes sense! In an Italian horror movie! Can you believe it?

this is some Amityville shit

Shock doesn't have the candy-colored aesthetics and obvious location trappings that those familiar with Bava's work might expect, which makes it all the more astonishing that the film's contemporary 70s Italian country home comes to feel ten kinds of spooky and gothic all the same. Why...maybe bookcases and Slinkies are scary!

There's no shortage of the in-camera tricks and effects that the director is famous for, though, particularly when the film takes on a kind of dream-logic state. This includes this famous shot, one of the absolute coolest, most iconic jump scares in horror (and which was aped to far, far lesser effect in...sigh...Annabelle):

More than anything else, Shock is an incredible vehicle for Daria Nicolodi, her personal favorite performance and one rivaled only, perhaps, by her turn in Deep Red. Her slow transformation from doting mother and wife to fraught Woman on the Edge plays to all of her strengths as an actress, particularly her expressiveness and physicality. Her vibe in this--with her long hair, wide eyes, and flowing dresses and nightgowns--adds to the unexpected gothic atmosphere and brings to mind Isabelle Adjani in Herzog's Nosferatu, which rose from the grave two years after Shock.

This is Bava's last film and something of a torch-passing to his son Lamberto, who is credited as assistant director but widely regarded as co-director, ostensibly making this his first film. I'm not sure how well Shock is regarded in pater Bava's filmography; it's certainly not cited as a great by horror fans as often as A Bay of Blood, Black Sabbath, or Black Sunday are. But who cares! This was my long LONG overdue first viewing and I frigging loved this. It's part haunted house movie, part possession movie, part mystery, part psychological thriller and ALL parts wicked cool as hell. Everyone who's hip and in-the-know knows!


matango said...

I've been watching a lot of Bava movies over the last year, and watched this one just in the last couple of months. It's great, but the in-camera effects are just so fucking amazing. I wish more people knew how to do them. They are so effective for a movie like this.

The other really good on camera effect of Bava's that I think about is from the "first" Bava movie, I Vampiri (which he completed after the credited director, Ricardo Freda, left and on which Bava was credited as cinematographer) has a great "rapid aging" scene which is accomplished with just light changing on the actress's makeup. That one is kind of hard to find, and hasn't been released on blu-ray yet.

Stacie Ponder said...

Oooh I've never seen I Vampiri, but that sounds so cool. One of the dream sequences in Shock--the one with the hair--totally blew me away. It was so much more fascinating and unsettling than it would have been done with CGI.

Nicholas Kaufmann said...

I remember being blown away by SHOCK the first time I saw it, especially that hallway scene you have a GIF of! It's been a while; I'm definitely due for a rewatch!

goblin said...

Shock does indeed rule. I saw it many years ago on YouTube and, FYI, you can still find the movie there if you're interested in watching it.

CashBailey said...

Yes, SHOCK is a cracker, proving Mario Bava still had the power to be a complete innovator in the genre even at the end of his career.

One of my most prized possessions is the mega-epic biography of Mario Bava by Tim and Donna Lucas.

It's roughly the size and weight of a Volkswagon and is a thing of true beauty. I bought it on special for about $250 back when they were available, and people are now selling them for $1500 on Amazon.

I think I'll hold onto mine.

CashBailey said...

@matango - Apparently the 'aging' light trick is the sole reason BLACK SUNDAY is in black and white. Because that effect wouldn't have worked in colour.

In the Tim Lucas biography there are a couple of stills of the movie in colour. I don't know if they are set photos or from an actual colour print, but they are GORGEOUS.

P. K. Nail said...

Oooh, I love Shock! It was on my Shocktober top 20 list a few years ago and is maybe my favorite of Bava's straight-up horror movies. That hallway jump scare gets me every time, even though I know exactly how it's done. And I think about the razor blade in the piano keys every time I see someone sit down at a piano.

Rochester Swift said...

Excellent review... I'd posit that Bava's finest achievement was shooting, by himself, that alien ship set in Planet of the Vampires, considering he had only pocket change to make that film.

But on to what I wanted to ask you... I've been unable to find the title of an obscure horror I saw in the early 70's with the folks, at a drive-in, and I was too young as the time to catch the title. The plot set up had some lover or outsider in some back wood location either paranoid of, hallucinating, or dreaming of a Thing coming out of a hole in the ground, and the vision is stretch out over a sizeable portion of the film. Do you remember this nothing film, or could you find it? I've looked for ages and across a couple of dusty tomes of capsule review to come up empty handed.

Beast Regards!

Stacie Ponder said...

Planet of the Vampires is a blind spot for me, I really need to rectify that.

And the movie you describe isn't ringing any bells at the moment, but hopefully someone else's will ring and they'll solve the mystery!

matango said...

I dig the production on Planet of the Vampires. It's like a Star Trek episode if the Enterprise crew were styled by a mod version of goths.