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SCHOCK -- TRANSFERT SUSPENCE HYPNOS (1977)
Director: Mario Bava
Screenplay: Lamberto Bava, Dardano Sacchetti,
Francesco Barberi, and Paolo Briganti
Camera Operator: Giuseppe Baccari, A.I.C.
Music: The Libras
Main Players: Daria Nicolodi
(Dora); John Steiner (Bruno); David Colin, Jr. (Marco); Ivan Rassimov
Alternate titles: Shock; All 33 di via Orologio fa sempre
freddo; Beyond the Door II; Suspense
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Following the suicide of Carlo, her abusive, drug-addicted husband, Dora
suffers a nervous breakdown. After a stay in a sanitarium, Dora is
released to the care of her new husband, Bruno.
Despite the bad memories connected to her old house, Bruno insists that
they, together with Dora's young son Marco, should settle down there
until a more convenient location can be found. With some reluctance,
Dora agrees to his proposition. Mysterious events begin to transpire.
Marco strikes up conversations with an unnamed imaginary friend,
presumably the spirit of his dead father, and later spies on his parents
as they make love.
When Bruno goes away on business, the boy asks to sleep with his mother in her bed. As she sleeps, Marco crouches over her body and begins
caressing her. His hand takes on a putrid, rotting appearance. Dora
finds a pair of panties, torn to shreds, in Marco's dresser and later
catches him spying on her as she showers. Marco's behavior becomes even
more agressive when he starts jumping out of the shadows, unsettling his
already nervous mother even further. A photo of Dora and Bruno
disappears, and Bava shows the boy playfully cutting Bruno out of the
picture and decapitating him. Bruno insists that Dora is simply
imagining things, and begs her to calm down. When this fails, he begins
to administer tranquilizers to her. Dora begins to suffer terrible
dreams and bizarre hallucinations, including ghastly visions of her
In an effort to clear things up, Dora takes Marco to a psychiatrist.
The doctor tells Dora that, based on his conversations with the boy, she
has been neglecting her son and so he has been acting out in search of
affection. She insists that the child is lying and, when Marco
subsequently accuses her of murdering Carlo, she comes to believe that
he is possessed by the dead man's spirit.
Later that night, Dora is awakened by sounds in the basement. She goes
to investigate, and finds Bruno hard at working tearing down a wall.
When Bruno notices her, he attempts to send her back to her room, but
she demands an explanation. Finally relenting, he explains that Dora
actually did murder Carlo, slashing him to ribbons with a straight
razor, before lapsing into a kind of coma. As he is in love with her,
Bruno covered up the crime. He pushed the dead man's boat out into the
sea, making it look like he drowned himself, before walling the corpse
up in the cellar. It is for this reason that he insisted on returning
to the house for a time -- rather than risk somebody discovering the
corpse, he plans to dispose of it. What Bruno does not realize is that
Dora is now completely deranged. She goes berserk and axes him to
death, pushing his body into the same crevice which is storing the
remains of her first husband.
Soon after, Dora is assailed by a series of macabre hallucinations,
before slitting her own throat, imagining that Carlo's hand is
controlling the blade. Meanwhile, Marco enjoys tea in the garden with
his unseen friend...
SCHOCK is a disappoitingly uneven film, a collection of imaginative
ideas that somehow fails to develop into a completely involving or
cohesive narrative. Though co-written and co-directed (sans credit) by
Lambero Bava, the elder filmmaker's thematic obsessions are readily
apparent (images of violent death juxtaposed with familial guilt and
perverse, destructive sexuality) but the end work is curiously
unpolished. The camera movements (all storyboarded, as usual, by Mario
Bava) are well-orchestrated but Alberto Spagnoli's lighting lacks the
sensuous beauty that one normally associates with Bava's work. The pace
is also terribly slow, thereby working against the tension that the
director is so clearly striving for.
In an interview with Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta in their
book SPAGHETTI NIGHTMARES, Lamberto Bava is quoted as saying that SCHOCK
is "completely different" from his father's other films, largely because
of the emphasis on psychological horror. Obviously, he had forgotten
about LA FRUSTA E IL CORPO and the "La goccia d'acqua" segment of I TRE
VOLTI DELLA PAURA, both of which are easily categorizable as
psychological horror tales. In fact, SCHOCK's ties to LA FRUSTA are
surprisingly strong: both films deal with the mental breakdowns of a
woman devoted to a dead man, and in both cases their respective
breakdowns mirror the unravelling of their family units.
In some ways, SCHOCK is one of Bava's most forceful explorations of the deceptive nature of appearances. The characters of Dora and Marco, for
example, cannot be accepted at face value. Furthermore, Bava briefly
lulls the audience into thinking that Bruno's motivations are
dishonorable. If, as the story suggests, Marco actually witnessed the
murder of his father, he might be using this knowledge against his
mother. The idea is a cruel one, perhaps, but Bava's characters are
capable of much worse. As in LA FRUSTA, the psychological dimensions of
the story are left deliberately ambiguous; the truth is once again
obtuse and impossible to definitively explain away. As in so many of
his films, Bava is more concerned with challenging the viewer than he is
with providing concrete explanations. This is the real strength of the
film -- no cozy armchair psychoanalyst shows up (as in the inept coda of
Hitchcock's PSYCHO, 1960) to allay the viewer's fears and restore the
order of normalcy. In SCHOCK's universe -- indeed the same is true of
most Bava films -- "normalcy" has been forever altered: Bruno and Dora
are dead, leaving little Marco to a life which will be permanently
affected by the violence of his up-bringing. In the same way that Carlo
destroys Dora's life, so is this cycle of violence and insanity doomed
to carry on in Marco.
Bava also introduces an element of incest to further add to the viewer's
uneasiness -- an uneasiness which he/she is bound to share with Dora.
Towards the beginning of the film, Marco asks to sleep with his mother
because he is afraid of being alone in his room. Though this is a
fairly typical situation with young children, Bava turns things upside
down. As he stares at his sleeping mother, Marco starts to caress
Dora's face and neck; her reactions are intensely sexual, brought on as
they are by the unconscious dream state. Compounding the uneasiness of
the situation is Bava's insistence on identifying the boy with his dead
father. Though Dora is sleeping, Bava shows the scene from Marco's
point of view, and the connection is obvious: the hand which caresses
her is that of a dead man, most likely Carlo. Soon afterwards, Marco
pins Dora to the ground as they are playing in the garden. As he lays
on top of her, he mimics a sexual thrusting motion and groans softly;
most lilkely he is imitating what he saw Bruno and Dora doing the night
before, but seen in connection with the previous incident in the
bedroom, the implications become obvious. Likewsie, the look of
excitement on the boy's face as he spies on Dora in the show betrays
sexual feelings for his mother. Dora also comes to share Marco's
confusion: at several points during the film's final section, Dora sees
Marco literally switch places with Carlo. The distinction between the
two males (and between reality and fantasy) has become totaly blurred.
Of course, by this point in the film, the various roles and functions
acsribed to these characters (mother, son, husband, wife) have been
completely obliterated; chaos and disorder take hold of the family unit.
This disorder eventually ends with Dora's demise (suicide? murder?), and
Marco is last seen sitting on his swing in the garden -- the picture of
Taking a cue from Dario Argento's PROFONDO ROSSO (1975) and SUSPIRIA
(1976), both scored by the rock ensemble Goblin, Bava here uses a
rock group, Libra, to score the picture. Their pulsing music,
which alternates between classical-style piano music and electronic
passages, is one of the best things about SCHOCK.
A lot of the weakness in the film can, no doubt, be attributed to the fact that Bava never allowed himself to become totally involved in the
project. By Lamberto Bava's admission, Mario worked on the film only
during the morning -- sketching out the shots for the day, and working
with the actors -- before complaining of fatigue or ill health and going
home for the day. As he was actually in fine health at the time, it
seems likely that Bava wanted to give his son some directorial
experience, but this lack of total creative input robs the film of the
distinctive stylistic flair of the director's other work. That said,
there is much to commend in the film, which would prove to be the
Maestro's last work for the cinema.
Review © Troy Howarth
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