★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Sometimes, just sometimes, a quiet stay in a bucolic looney bin really helps one’s psyche. You get to decompress, think through your thoughts, get a little extra TLC, and you may even get to come to the realization that you don’t have it half as bad as the other psychotics that you’re shacked up within the rubber room. But sometimes, a stay in the booby hatch is a gateway to lots of unresolved psychosis that have built up like a stack of titanium scar tissue. In the case of Mario Bava’s 1977 freak out, Shock, the later is definitely the case.
Shock, originally released in the U.S. as Beyond the Door II (…I’ll never understand how these films get marketed under such radically different names), follows a mom (Dora), a dad (Bruno), and a son (Marco). The fam’ decides to head back Dora’s old haunts (literally) following an extended stay in the nuthouse. Dora wasn’t just any old psyche patient, oh no, she’s still processing life after extensive electroshock treatments AND the realization that her first husband Marco’s dad, injected her with a weird cocktail of heroin and LSD. I’m not a pharmacologist, but that sounds like a pretty awful cocktail.
Poor Dora’s had a fairly rough go of life, but it gets worse, way worse. Returning to the home she shared with her former husband — the one that plied her with the LSD/heroin combo — may not be the best of moves. Her newly minted hubby Bruno is an airline pilot and he’s off piloting around the world, giving Dora and Marco lots and lots of mother/son bonding time. Problem is Marco’s got some freaky mind-control kind of ways, he’s possessed by his dead pop, and, best of all, he’s got a penchant for parricide (see Scariest Things Episode X for more scary kids). Marco and Dora just aren’t seeing eye-to-eye and his behavior towards his mom grows darker and meaner. Dora takes Marco to a psychiatrist to see if they can get inside his head, but his possession and dislike for his mom are effectively hidden and everyone starts to wonder if Dora’s case of the crazies is back in full swing.
The film contains some wonderfully psychedelic and mind-bending flashback scenes brought on the latent effects of LSD and the damage done by the electroshock. As Marco grows darker and meaner Dora grows delirious and demented culminating in one heck of a rough ending. It’s safe to say that the focus groups wouldn’t have warmed up the blackness brought on by the end of Shock, but at its core it makes sense, is reasonable, and well, probably what would have happened given all the weird psychology bandied about. Sadly, this would be the last film Mario Bava ever made. Staring in the mid-1940s, Bava produced, directed, and wrote a big-ol’ pile of films including such luminaries as Bay of Blood, Lisa and the Devil, and Black Sabbath.
At the time Shock was released, film scholar Howard Hughes said “Though Shock appears to be yet another grainy, low-budget 1970s horror rip-off, it is made with some style…” I don’t know about you, but we here at the Scariest Things Podcast think the world would be a better place with more 1970s horror rip-offs — made with some style.