Shock (1977)

Dora Baldini moves back into her home with her son and new husband after having spent several years in an institution, where she underwent electroshock therapy for a nervous breakdown related to her first husband’s mysterious disappearance. The previous husband was an addict and a failure, and Dora tells her son that one day he left and simply never came back. What she doesn’t yet realize is that her husband is most definitely dead, but he has also most definitely come back. Slowly but surely her son’s behavior begins to change, dreams and hallucinations begin to haunt her, and objects start winding up in strange places. Everything comes to a head in the end, as Dora realizes her son is being possessed by the spirit of his dead father, and her second husband is keeping a terrible secret about a dark deed she committed.

While it’s not my favorite haunted house movie by far, Shock still manages to offer up disturbing imagery and creepy moments, supported by a theme that seems to come from a music box but is often used for exploitative effect. You can never quite be sure if you are hearing the same music as the characters in the film, because they will also interact and react with it in ways that you don’t always expect. One of my favorite moments in the film involves our leading lady walking into the music room while a building piano tune marches on. She enters the room and discovers no one at the piano just as the music suddenly ceases, and I realize that she’s been hearing the same things I have. It makes for a slightly jarring experience for me to know that even the soundtrack isn’t “safe” in the context of the film.

If there is a downside, it’s that the timeline of the story nonsensical. At one point the second husband mentions it being at least seven years since the first husband disappeared, but the son is of an indeterminable age (perhaps he was 1 or 2 when the first husband disappeared?), and from what I have gathered, that also means that Dora has spent nearly the whole of seven years in an institution. Also the movie doesn’t seem to support its major plot reveal at the end; it just didn’t seem plausible based on how the characters had been behaving. I’d also have loved more haunting stuff (of course I would have), but I am pretty happy with what I got, particularly the repetition of hands and the box cutter that keeps reappearing. There is also a sexual undercurrent to the ghostly first husband, though this gets a bit weird and incestual at times since he is possessing his son to go after the boy’s mother.

Shock was director Mario Bava’s last theatrical production, though he did make one more feature in 1979 before his death. Surprisingly it was also released under the title Beyond the Door II despite not being related to the Exorcist-rip off film Beyond the Door or even loosely pulling from The Exorcist. The only real crossover is the idea of a possession by a spiritual entity, but here the ghost felt more in line with the spirit in the later 1980 release The Changeling. I consider that a good thing however, as The Changeling happens to be my favorite haunted house movie.

Is Shock worth tracking down? If you like 1970s Italian horror movies that aren’t giallos, then yes, I’d suggest checking it out. It’s not great, nor is it as iconic as the titles that helped Mario Bava bring Italian horror to the forefront of horror cinema, but it is good enough to seek out if you are a fan.

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