Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Back to the Old House

Halloween month has officially begun so it's time I started watching more horror movies. I got started this month where Mario Bava finished, his final film, 1977's Shock. It's gory and stylish, as you might expect from Bava, but with a kind of nastiness unlike Bava's earlier work, a nihilistic plot about murder and revenge with heavy tones of incest. The movie's excesses become so absurd as the film progesses, though, I found myself enjoying it more. It's rigorously illogical but star Daria Nicolodi gives such a committed performance that the film comes off like a decadent nightmare.

The movie begins with Dora (Nicolodi) moving into a house where she'd previously lived with her now deceased husband. She has a seven year-old son from that marriage, Marco (David Colin Jr.), and a new husband, an airline pilot called Bruno (John Steiner). Bruno's at work for much of the movie, mostly he shows up to tell Dora to pull herself together after she's seen a floating x-acto knife or a zombie hand has sprung from the ground to grab her ankle.

Some early scenes feature Marco looking on wrathfully while Dora and Bruno have sex and we learn that his father, Dora's first husband, had committed suicide. One might easily imagine, maybe accurately, the screenplay was written by a vindictive misogynist. There are some similarities to American horror fiction of the 1970s, particularly works by Stephen King, that focused on horror based on domestic issues but Bava's instincts lead him to much more operatic places. So the process of punishing Dora with supernatural manifestations becomes much more about jump scares and weird sounds--pretty good jump scares and weird sounds, mind you.

The camera's focus on Nicolodi, though, and her persistent portrayal of raw terror anchor the film more in her perspective and it feels less like an exercise of bashing a woman as conveying the experience of being caught in a world of inescapable pain and shifting metrics of guilt. Dora's responsibility in her first husband's death is never entirely clear to us or to herself.

There are lot of impressive dream ideas and creative shots. I love a vision Dora has of an off-key piano being played that precedes her attempting to play piano but being cut by a razor between two keys. There's also a really neat shot that appears to have been accomplished by strapping Nicolodi to a bed and then slowly rotating the bed but keeping the camera fixed on her face. This seems to have been done entirely for the purpose of making her hair seem to wave about in an unnatural manner.

Shock is available on Amazon Prime in the U.S.

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