1/13/09

Terrifying Tuesday: Schock (1977)

Suburbia is damn scary, and in the late nineteen seventies and early '80's, horror had come into it's own there. In the midst of the nuclear family we saw films like The Amityville Horror, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Poltergeist take advantage of the serenity of the tree lined streets of middle America. In 1977, Mario Bava made his last film, an exploration of fear set against the backdrop  suburban harmony. While the film was a departure from the metropolitan or gothic setting of many of his films, the rich color palette and delicate camera work still remained. Also in attendance were the tension, fear, and foreboding qualities which give Bava's films such a great atmosphere, but if you're not ready for them they could give you a nasty....
Schock (1977) starring Daria Nicolodi, John Steiner, David Colin Jr., and Ivan Rassimov. Directed by Mario Bava

Dora Baldini (Nicolodi), her second husband Bruno (Steiner), and son Marco (Colin Jr.) return to the house that Dora lived in with her first husband, Carlo. As they begin setting into the house, Marco begins to act strangely and asks many questions about the death of his father. Dora avoids telling Marco that his father committed suicide, but she does finally explain to him that his father is dead. When he sees Dora and Bruno exchange a kiss at a dinner party, he glares menacingly at his mother and even goes so far as to intone creepily, "Mother, I have to kill you."

Bruno does not take Marco's actions to heart, and he chalks them up to the antics of a seven year old. Yet Dora thinks there are other forces at work, and she begins to have strange and nightmarish visions. Marco's behavior goes to new extremes as he begins to sexualize Dora. Worried that his wife is having a breakdown, Bruno gives her a drug to help her sleep, but while she is dreaming Dora is menaced by visions of a razor cutting at her body. With each passing day Marco begins to exhibit more and more unnatural abilities, and even though Marco's doctor says the boy is fine, Dora begins to believe that the boy is becoming a conduit for the spirit of his dead father. 

Film Facts

--Shock (or Schock as the original title reads) was released in North America under the title Beyond the Door II. The film Beyond the Door (1974) was an Exorcist rip off by director Ovidio Assonitis

--This was the only Bava film released to theaters in North America with no cuts or additional footage. 

--At the time Daria Nicolodi was the girlfriend of director Dario Argento

--John Stiener was a favorite of director Tinto Brass, and he appeared in the films Paprika (1991), Caligula (1979) and Salon Kitty (1976).

The Bug Speaks

Let me start off by saying that some folks have Fulci, some have Argento, some have Deodato or D'Amato, but me, I got Bava. Ever since I discovered the works of Bava a few months back, I have been fascinated by the level of film making and the mastery of the screen he demonstrates. Even here in his last theatrical production, he still holds the same skills that made films like Black Sunday and Blood and Black Lace so thrilling. While many of the Italian directors make bloodier, scarier, more extreme films than Mario. Not a one of the could make the thick atmosphere of their films roll off the screen and make the air crackle with so much tension. This may be a hyperbolic statement, and I am fully prepared for people to take it as such. I just wanted to add in this paragraph as a disclaimer of sorts so you folks know where I'm coming from. 

From the very first scenes where we are introduced to the family's new house, the way the camera moves about the partially furnished rooms succeeds in making everything from a piano to modular shelving have a spooky feel. The house, while never looking like anything other than a normal middle class abode (except perhaps the ultra gloomy basement), becomes a main player in the tale. It feels as if the secrets that the house contains are seeping from the walls at every moment. 

The majority of the acting turned in is very well done. Nicolodi does a fine job as the idyllic, but troubled wife, whose decent into madness makes even the audience question what it is seeing. Her portrayal of fear in the effects laden shots make them come alive, and the look in her eyes is spot on perfect. John Steiner's turn as the comforting second husband Bruno seemed like a one note performance, but one of the movie's best thrills is how his character takes an important dramatic turn. The movie in a way depends on the acting of David Colin Jr., and it is always an unsure thing to leave so much of the narrative structure of a film in the hands of a 7 year old. However Colin's mix of innocence, malice, and murderous intent is a deft performance that many adult actors would find hard to match. There is also a brief role filled by Jungle Holocaust's Ivan Rassimov. While he gets fourth billing for an incredibly small role, it was interesting to see Ivan cleaned up and bathed for a change.

The real star of the film was of course Mario Bava. Filming this last effort in conjunction with his son Lamberto as Assistant Director, the elder's finely crafted visual style is on full display. The camera moves smoothly around rooms and picks up every shadow and color change the director intended. Each room seems to have a very specific identity and just as he once used shadows and light to convey ideas in his earlier films, Bava now had full mastery over the subtle nuances in color and how they affected the tone and quality of the composition. 

Also crucial to the feel of the film is the very strange score by a group called I Libra. The group, and the individuals that comprised it, never did any work outside of this film. The music they bring to the film has much in common with the popular scores of Argento's films by Goblin. Yet in a way are reminiscent of Tangerine Dream score for Legend. It gives the film a very modern feel without compromising the eeriness which made scores by musicians such as Frizzi or Nicholai so memorable. It is truly a soundscape which I wish to add to my collection, and I will feverishly be searching for a copy of the soundtrack. 

This is a film, like most all Bava, that I will certainly go back to from time to time. While it doesn't have the majesty of his classic films, it certainly proved that the old dog still had plenty of tricks right up until the end. With solid performances, a well paced story, and some genuine scares, this film is a must for any Bava fan and even a great watch for the uninitiated. 


Bug Rating

4 comments:

  1. Great review! I truly liked this one. The atmosphere, the feel, the look....All superb!

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  2. I agree. Great movie...been a long time since I've seen this one. Going to have to watch it again.

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  3. Great review. It's a shame that filmmakers don't make this kind of psychological, atmospheric horror as much as they used to.

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  4. I have seen this one before but it has been a long, long time. I do recall the scene of the kid trying to get it on with his mom. I am a huge fan of Bava, my favorite Italian genre director. Good post.

    Bill

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