Bava’s psychological and supernatural horror is a fine showcase for Daria Nicolodi
Arrow Heads — UK-based Arrow Films has quickly become one of the most exciting and dependable names in home video curation and distribution, creating gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging, and bursting with supplemental content, often of their own creation. From cult and genre fare to artful cinema, this column is devoted to their weird and wonderful output.
Mario Bava is widely revered as one of the Godfathers of Italian horror, specifically helping to shape and define that ever enduring and ever alluring sub-genre know as giallo. His final feature film is one that veers away from the more garish trappings of some of his more well known works, such as Blood and Black Lace and Kill, Baby, Kill, but remains a potent affair, thanks to his particular brand of filmmaking, and the talents of his lead, Daria Nicolodi (Deep Red). She plays Dora, a woman hoping for a fresh start with her partner, Bruno (John Steiner, Tenebrae), and son Marco (David Colin Jr., Beyond the Door), a child from a previous marriage. After a stint in a psychiatric institution, she returns with them to her old family home where she finds herself haunted by memories of her dead husband, memories that soon take on more affecting forms in her dreams, and later while even awake. More concerning are the unusual events that occur within the house, and Marco’s new imaginary friend, who seems to be channeling a connection to his father Carlo (Nicola Salerno), whose abuse of Dora, and death, have left a scar on the family. A psychological breakdown blurred, as a supernatural force intrudes on their lives.
A spooky old house, a creepy kid, a mother’s fractured psyche and the lingering effects of trauma all converge in this supernatural mystery. Despite the various elements, the plot is relatively simple, even lacking an ambiguity concerning whether these are supernatural or imagined events that could have permeated the narrative. Psychological and psychosexual layers are deftly built into the story, particularly in terms of the son/mother relationship, further feeding into a family drama that is dealing with the fallout from abuse and loss.
Bava’s main focus is on the fear and conflict within Dora. With this internalization, Bava’s grandeur and excess is replaced by a more brooding Gothic feel, making the film more akin to a Henry James (The Turn of the Screw) work than anything giallo. His trademark surrealness and unsettling compositions hold true though, most notably a switcheroo with a child actor that is applaudable for its simplicity and effectiveness. As mentioned, Nicolodi brings much to the feature. The romantic and creative partner of Dario Argento (Suspiria, Inferno), another towering figure in Italian horror, Shock was (according to the extra features) filmed in the aftermath of the dissolution that relationship. Whatever angst, conflict, and regret was present, is channeled in this performance. A woman and mother in turmoil, the lingering effects of trauma tangible in its depiction. Shock is undeniably one of the best showcases for her talents in front of the camera.
Arrow’s new release comes with a new scan and 2K restoration of an original 35mm stock. There are excellent levels of detail, colors are strong but natural, and the light/dark contrast is exemplary. The overall color tone does seem to shift slightly at times, as does grain intensity, likely a result of different sources of the original film stock. Overall it’s a very nice presentation in keeping with Arrow’s typical high standards. A huge abundance of extra features are included:
- New audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark: A deep dive into the film, touching on specifics, and weaving observations into the wider context of bava’s career. A little dry, but incredibly thorough
- A Ghost in the House, a new video interview with co-director and co-writer Lamberto Bava: The son of Mario, and his longtime assistant, talks about the long running efforts to get Shock made, and his own contributions to the productions
- Via Dell’Orologio 33, a new video interview with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti: Covers some key aspect of the script, casting, and overall production of Shock. Sacchetti also shares his personal opinions on Bava’s talents
- The Devil Pulls the Strings, a new video essay by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas: Perhaps the most interesting feature, one that makes connections between background materials, puppetry, and props, to aspects of religion, Italian history/art
- Shock! Horror! — The Stylistic Diversity of Mario Bava, a new video appreciation by author and critic Stephen Thrower: A real in depth breakdown of Bava’s career, running close to an hour in length. Looks at various eras, influences, filming techniques, success, and legacy
- The Most Atrocious Tortur(e), a new interview with critic Alberto Farina: The closest thing to a tribute to Nicolodi on here
- Italian theatrical trailer:
- 4 US “Beyond the Door II” TV spots: For the rebrand in American markets
- Image gallery: Stills and promo images
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Christopher Shy:
The Bottom Line
Bava’s final film doesn’t see the filmmaker off with a garish bang, more more of a hushed contemplation of trauma. The Gothic style works well with his crafting of suspense and supernatural elements. Nicolodi is the real standout though, delivering an authentic and mesmerizing performance. Arrow’s treatment is up to their usual high standards, beautifully presented transfer and replete with extra features to add appreciation.
Shock is available via Arrow Video now