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SCHOCK -- TRANSFERT SUSPENCE HYPNOS (1977)
Director: Mario Bava
Story: Dardano Sacchetti
Screenplay: Lamberto Bava, Dardano Sacchetti, Francesco Barberi, and Paolo Briganti
Cinematographer: Alberto Spagnoli, A.I.C.
Camera Operator: Giuseppe Baccari, A.I.C.
Editing: Roberto Sterbini
Music: The Libras
Main Players: Daria Nicolodi (Dora); John Steiner (Bruno); David Colin, Jr. (Marco); Ivan Rassimov (Dr. Spadini)
Alternate titles: Shock; All 33 di via Orologio fa sempre freddo; Beyond the Door II; Suspense
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
SYNOPSIS:

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 deceased husband.

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...


CRITIQUE:

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 innocence.

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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