Shock is Mario Bava's final theatrical film, and it shared the sad story played out by his other works in the 1970s. It was released under the title Beyond the Door II, to take advantage of the name recognition of that post-Exorcist possession film. Having not seen Beyond the Door, I can't comment on its quality, but nobody seems to remember it. It's safe to assume that Shock is a far better film and suffers from being associated with Beyond the Door.
There are some slight connections between the films. David Colin, Jr., who plays the child in Shock, was the devil baby in Beyond the Door. Shock's possession theme is somewhat akin to Beyond the Door's Rosemary's Baby theme , although Shock is ghostly and not demonic in nature. That's about it for the justifications, though. House of Exorcism 2 would probably be a more appropriate title.
The film begins as a family moves into a house. It is not strictly a new house, as Dora, played by Daria Nicolodi, had lived there with her late husband. Dora's son, Marco, doesn't like the house or Dora's new husband, Bruno (John Steiner). Marco shows signs of having telekinetic powers, and he does and says things that seem strange for a child of apparently about five years old. It's as though someone else were speaking through him. He sometimes stares at Dora accusingly, and at other times he threatens violence against her.
The picture of Dora as a happy mom changes as we learn dark facts about her past. Her former husband, Carlo, was a heroin abuser who disappeared at sea and is assumed to have committed suicide. Dora suffered a breakdown after this, and spent six months in a psychiatric hospital. She is determined to regain control of her life and leave her past behind, but something feels otherwise.
Her difficulties grow as Marco's pranks grow increasingly malicious. He trips her in the dark and conceals a razor blade between her piano keys. Dora experiences visions that grow more frightening, and she chides Bruno for keeping the house instead of selling it. As her nerves become increasingly frazzled, she becomes convinced that Carlo is present in the house, is angry, and is trying to tell her something about his death, something she had forgotten in a drugged stupor.
Shock seems like an odd coda to Bava's career, and it feels like the kind of movie a director makes when in transition between two eras of his work. His 1970s output was limited mainly to a few projects that were highly personal to him, but this seems like more of a return to standard horror. It's unlike any of his earlier horror films, and it seems more in line with something that his son, Lamberto, might have done. Maybe this is where the torch was passed to the younger Bava. There are nevertheless some brilliant scenes that show that Mario's style was not only intact but was still growing.
Bava's camera movements, which guide the viewer's eye to key plot details, are present here. There are also some outstanding images, as when a shot of a plunging syringe fades to a close-up of an overboiling pot of espresso, or a surreal sequence in which Dora enjoys some spectral lovemaking. A plot element later made famous in A Nightmare on Elm Street appears here, as Dora awakens from a frightening dream to find her nightgown slashed in real life.
The DVD has alternate language soundtracks but no subtitles. Cue sad blues riff. Unless you speak Italian, get ready for some bad dubbing.
Shock, like many of Bava's films, is light on plot but builds suspense in other ways. It's not as visually interesting as Blood and Black Lace or Black Sunday. Not consistently as interesting, that is. Some of the individual scenes are stunning. Although it seems to be a much more mainstream kind of horror than we typically see from Bava, it retains his poetic approach to filmmaking.