The screenplay, written by Francesco Barbieri, Paolo Brigenti, Dardano Sacchetti(!) and Mario's son Lamberto Bava, is heavily influenced (by Lamberto's own admission) by the then-recent works of Stephen "Chuckles" King. In fact, The Shining is written all over the first quarter of this movie. Yeah, I know, I know, the movie The Shining wasn't released until 1980... the novel was released in January of 1977, eight months prior to Shock's release.
Regardless, The Bavas and friends don't simply rip off King's Haunted Hotel work. Instead they take their own path with a number of surprises beyond the most obvious similarity... that of the little kid who sees ghosts.
Of course, that in and of itself is different, as The Shining (in both novel and film) had a sympathetic, respectable kid to identify with, whereas Shock's Marco (David Colin, Jr.) is just about the most annoying little kid one could ever fear meeting in any scenario. You know that one little nephew or cousin you dread seeing at Thanksgiving or the Family Reunion, due to his penchant for making an ass out of the entire family tree with his "cute" antics? Marco is worse. Much worse. In fact, Marco is worse than that Bob kid from The House by the Cemetery! In this supernatural movie about ghosts, possession and post-mortem revenge, the hardest thing to believe is that Marco could possibly have sprung from the loins of Daria Nicolodi. This is mostly because, in real life, Daria Nicolodi is the mother of one Asia Aria Maria Vittoria Rossa Argento, who has almost as much in common with Lil' Marco as the Hamburgler has with Gilgamesh!
Nicolodi's character Dora Baldini has recently moved back in to her old homestead with Marco and her new husband, airline pilot Bruno Baldini (John Steiner). This move isn't without its fair share of trepidation, however, as the reason that Dora and Marco originally moved out of the damned place was that Dora's previous husband (and Marco's Dad) Carlo (weird-looking Nicola Salerno) committed bloody suicide in the place a few years prior. Everybody seems rather certain of this in spite of the lack of a corpse or forensic evidence to support such a theory. The mind boggles at where, when and how the "fuck it" approach was adopted in that local CSI unit, no?
Things seem to go along swimmingly at first with the main snag being that Marco is incredibly annoying. He loves the place, he loves mommy, he loves Bruno (which means he hasn't watched Yor, the Hunter from the Future yet)! Soon, however, the unseen force(s) within the house begin to take their toll and Marco goes from obnoxious to destructive under its sick and malevolent influence. Strange things begin happening to objects within the house, while Marco goes from loving Momma and Bruno to saying things like "I Must Kill You!" and using strange voodoo-doll-like practices to mess Bruno up all over the place.
The question of what exactly is happening here and whether we're looking at an evil kid, an old fashioned haunting or something more psychological like poor Dora the Supernatural Explorer going insane under the stress of memories and guilt. Luckily she's got her friendly neighborhood psychiatrist Dr. Aldo Spidini (Ivan Rassimov) to take care of her, just like he did after Carlo's suicide. And we all know how well that turned out.
Obviously Shock is not without its flaws and there is a lot asked of the audience when it comes to the suspension of disbelief angle. However, the film is, for the most part, so well handled and suspenseful that many of the ostensibly obvious flaws don't really arise until the film is reconsidered in hindsight. Further, though the special effects are, for the most part, pretty cheap, they do come off as reasonably good and creative when all aspects and facets are considered. One should keep in mind that this was 1977, after all, a time when the tie-fighters in Star Wars had semi-obvious cut-out squares around them. The floating, transparent box-cutter is actually pretty decent, when you consider that this film didn't have the budget or backing of Star Wars! Other moments show a series of ghostly frights based solely on timing and camera angles that work quite well on more levels than just the Shock Value (no pun intended).
These things, coupled with the age-typical, but still interesting soundtrack by V. Cappa, Alessandro Centofanti, and Walter Martino (collectively credited as "I Libra") help keep Shock afloat throughout its runtime. True, Mario Bava has been involved in some superior films, however, this one is a fine legacy to leave for his varied career. The budget-overcoming inventiveness that went into so many of his films is seen here and his feel for suspense and eye for framing overcome some of the technical flaws and plot holes seen here. The end result is a solid motion picture worth Three Stars out of Five. So until hauntings the world over follow this poltergeist's lead and make us more annoying than we were before, I'll see you in the next reel.
I don't fear vengeful ghosts or homicidal children of the damned...
I have to explain the proper 820 cash application process to Accounts Receivable!
Now that's horrifying.
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