It’s October! It’s the spoooooookiest month of the year!
In years past, I generally would find some sort of loose theme to tie all the movies covered in the month (with usual exception to the actual Halloween “special” article). This year is no different! This is B-Movie Enema and that means I can’t do no movies like The Exorcist or its sequels. They are hardly “B” in quality of production, even if Exorcist II really fucking tried pretty hard. I can, however, do the next best thing.
Welcome to the 2020 October theme month I’m calling Exorcist Rip-Off Month! We’re getting things started with Mario Bava’s Shock from 1977. Here’s the thing about Shock… It’s a possession movie, yes. However, it may only be an Exorcist Rip-Off in sort of name only. You see, Shock was released in the United States as Beyond the Door II. Beyond the Door was a 1974 rip-off of The Exorcist and a B-Movie Enema alum. I really really really needed to cover this.
The exact reason why will be made clear by October 30th.
Shock stars Daria Nicolodi. She’s probably best known for Deep Red. Not only that, she was the wife of director Dario Argento and the mother to Asia Argento – having been in five of the former’s films and one directed by the latter. This movie also features a co-writing script for Mario Bava’s son, Lamberto Bava, who had been previously featured on this blog for Demons and Demons 2. Lamberto also has some uncredited claim to directing Shock too.
Mario Bava, well, he’s a massive presence in Italian cinema. He is listed as the Cinematographer on nearly 80 films, shorts, documentaries, and television projects. He was the son of one of the earliest cinematographers in Italy. As a director, though, whoa boy does he have some big horror credits. Movies like Black Sunday, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Black Sabbath, Blood and Black Lace, Lisa and the Devil, A Bay of Blood, and many others are very easy to find streaming and on DVD and well worth a look just for how well they are shot.
Interestingly, he also ventured outside horror quite often doing Danger: Diabolik, a couple Hercules movies, and Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs. Now, some of those movies were shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the 90s with Danger: Diabolik having the distinction of being the final film of the original ten season run of the show. That said, Danger: Diabolik is a fascinatingly stylish blend of a movie about a master thief and something like a James Bond character. Check it out. It’s a neat little Italian rip-off job.
I’m sure I will have more to say about some of the elder Bava’s other films someday, but, for now, let’s dig into his final feature film, 1977’s Shock!
The movie opens with a rockin’ soundtrack (as all Italian movies in the 70s did) while a camera takes us on a virtual tour of an abandoned house in pretty bad disrepair. As the credits conclude, we see a family consisting of Bruno (John Steiner), Dora (Nicolodi), and their son Marco. Now, this is an Italian horror movie from the late 70s and there’s a kid in it. Do you expect him to look any different than this?
Of course you do not. This is child actor David Colin, Jr. He was in exactly two movies. This and… do you want to make a guess? C’mon, make that guess. What other movie could he possibly have been in? I shit you not it is Beyond the Door when he was only 3 years old.
If I made any further sequels, I would say, “Get me David Colin, Jr. on the phone stat. I have a role for him!”
Anyway, Dora calls him in for lunch to which Marco tells the branches of a tree that his name is Marco. That’s odd. Normally, whenever you have kids speaking to nothing in peculiar places, or when you have dogs or cats reacting to things you can’t see or feel, you’re mega super fucked with demons or ghosts or something. He also keeps asking Dora and Bruno if they are going to live there forever and the rest of their lives, and so forth. Bruno is like, “Why are you asking that?” Marco says it’s just in case someone asks him.
That’s peculiar, ain’t it?
Later, the movers drive off. As they do, they shout to Dora, “Hey, good luck lady!” She’s a bit nervous and Bruno says that she just needs to calm down. There’s a very specific reason why she’s a bit nervous in this house. Dora was married to a guy named Carlo. Carlo was a terrible heroin abuser and it was believed that he committed suicide while she was pregnant with their son, Marco. Seven years later, she is no longer spending time in the mental hospital and she’s returned to their home to reclaim it with new husband Bruno.
The names in this movie are either ridiculously Italian or aggressively New Jersey.
The point is, she’s not only dealing with a new home, but a mixed family, and a really bad “supposedly dead” ex-husband. It’s a lot for her and she’s recovering from a mental breakdown on top of all that. However, like with all these house possession movies, things seem to be still going okay other than the kid talking to a tree and the mom being a recovering crazy person.
Of course, things aren’t exactly great. Earlier, Marco discovered the cellar which is full of old furniture and creepy architecture. Additionally, Bruno is soon to be traveling for work so he’s not going to be around. That doesn’t mean that he and Dora aren’t gonna fuck on the couch. As they do, a sculpture of a hand moves on its own and Marco sits up in his bed and screams “PIGS!” a few times.
There’s a cool moment in this movie when Marco screams about pigs that we transition to Dora on the couch making love to Bruno. She opens her eyes real wide as if she is either reacting to Marco’s rants about either swine or cops OR that little decorative hand has noticeably moved OR she sees something much much more. Then it smash cuts to an airplane taking off to signify that Bruno is no longer around. Smash cut again to mommy and son playtime.
This sort of thing is really effective in a horror movie like this that isn’t going for big, fast scares, but letting the plot play out. We saw Marco talking to no one. We saw him drawn to the cellar and Bruno lock the door and take the key so the little boy won’t go down there again and risk “getting hurt” (read: finding family secrets). We see things move and the little boy speak ill of my pork chops. Dora herself seemed to be reacting to something but it’s all came to a crescendo of watching Bruno leave on an airplane and things calm down again.
Things get a tad weird though. Marco and Dora are rolling around on the ground and having fun, and when she asks for him to let her up, he just kind of grunts and stares at her menacingly before a more normal look appears on his face and he agrees to go to the park and to the beach. He also starts asking questions about his real daddy and why he hasn’t come back to visit him. In speaking to a 7-year old kid, Dora has to try to explain that Carlo liked to go on trips and he finally went on one that he didn’t return from because he’s now dead. He asks why but she can’t really explain suicide to a little boy.
That night, as Dora is getting ready for bed, her bedroom door suddenly opens as if it did so on its own and Marco comes in to ask if he can sleep with her tonight. She agrees, but Marco awakes to disembodied sounds and he sneaks out of bed to look at the tree where his previous conversation with nothing occurred and watches the swing Bruno put up for him swing on its own. He then goes back and starts touching mommy and we see his hand turn into a gross dead guy’s hand while mommy seems to writhe sensually.
By the way, you’re welcome. I’m not allowed to say “writhe sensually” to any of my friends anymore. That’s why I keep this blog going… So I can say the things I can’t say to my friends anymore. You are my only friends I have left.
Please don’t leave.
Uhm… Hmmmpf. Well, anyway, it’s the next day and Dora is getting ready for a party to see some old friends she hasn’t seen in a while. Bruno is also returning. So Marco is happy to see Bruno and wants to play with him all the time. Dora is excited to see friends again. Everything is great. Except one of these friends thinks her doctor, Aldo (played by Ivan Rassimov), has prescribed her some heavy doobies because she seems way to happy and nice for a woman who clearly drove her first husband to suicide.
These friends, unlike you, my friends, suck.
During the party, Dora has a tiny make out sesh with Bruno and sees Marco have a terrible scowl and angry expression on his face. Later, he tells Dora that he has to kill her and is constantly running around as if he’s spying on his mother. Bruno has to leave for another flight (he’s a pilot by the way). Dora is trying to play with the piano and finds a razor blade hiding between two of the keys which cuts her. She goes to deal with it but finds Marco running out of the cellar – which is supposed to be locked.
Later that day, Marco steals a pair of his mother’s panties while she is showering. After her shower, she sees that the damn cellar door is open again. This time she decides to go down and see what’s up with this. She finds Marco with his heard resting against a brick wall. He complains of being cold so she takes him back upstairs. While looking for a thermometer, she finds a pair of her panties shredded. She then hears him whispering something before he jumps up and runs away proclaiming he fooled her. Later, he makes her fall over a rake that cuts her leg (which she originally sees as a bloody hand grabbing her from underground.
Additionally, Marco begins cutting up pictures of Bruno. Bruno refuses to sell the house and for them to move because she thinks the house is having a negative effect on her and on Marco. After a picture of Bruno and Dora goes missing (the one he’s cutting Bruno out of), he asks Marco but he plays it off while also saying it is Dora that that has changed not him.
While trying to figure out how Marco has been getting into the cellar, Bruno hears some noises down there and investigates. Upstairs, the bedroom bureau moves and traps Dora in her room while something tries to get in…
As it turns out, it’s just a dream. She wakes up as a box cutter that flies on its own is slashing at her and cutting up her nightgown. When she wakes up, her nightgown is actually slit.
The next morning, Bruno is leaving for another flight, and Marco watches as a shutter strap snaps and causes the shutter come crashing down nearly hitting Dora on the head. She pleads again for them to leave the house, but Bruno still refuses. While Marco plays with his swing, Bruno’s plane begins to spiral out of control. It’s because Marco has tacked a picture of Bruno to the seat. When Dora stops the seat’s swinging, the plane rights itself.
Some flowers are delivered to Dora and the card says they are from Carlo. This… really upsets Dora. She immediately looks for Marco believing the child to be playing a dirty prank on her. She goes so far as to smack Marco in the face for lying to her in spite of the handwriting shown not to be his. She takes Marco to Aldo to have him evaluated. He comes to the conclusion that generally Marco seems to be well-adjusted, but he also finds some evidence that Marco feels like he isn’t getting enough attention from his mother. Aldo thinks that some of the treatment that she underwent might be influencing her attitude toward Marco.
At home that night, Marco uses a doll to make Dora cut herself. She hears piano music coming from the living room and thinks someone is playing the grand piano. When she realizes it is simply a record player, she finds those roses from “Carlo” resting on the piano. On its own the cover slams shut on its own scaring the holy living shit out of her. Scaring the holy living hit out of me is Marco saying “mama” like the doll he sliced up to make Dora cut herself.
When she finds Marco, the little boy asks, “Why mama? Why did you kill papa?” and shows her his new art project.
Oh, shit. I forgot to say SPOILER ALERT!
Yeah, previously, we were only told that Carlo killed himself. That’s not actually the truth. Carlo is not a good dude. No, far from it. Dora, though, was acting out in revenge. He would forcibly shoot her up with heroin. I guess one day she decided that she would slice his throat up good with with that box cutter. When she reveals this to Bruno, he refuses to allow her to take this blame. In fact, he actually says it was good and that she released him from a worse death. She begs Bruno to take her away from the house Carlo is obviously tormenting her through Marco.
However, Marco becomes wise to the fact that Bruno is forcibly making Dora take some sort of liquid downer when she gets hysterical – and I gots the proof!
So… You guys see what’s going on here, right? Do I really have to explain it? Well, I’m gonna. Basically, everyone in Dora’s life is forcing shit onto her. Carlo forced LSD and heroin on her. Aldo forced a number of over the top treatments on her like electroshock therapy and probably lithium. Bruno forces that liquid downer (likely GHB – which is the date rape drug) on her whenever she is freaking out a little too much. Marco… Well…
Marco forces motherhood onto Dora – and oh, mama, that’s not that terrible a thing.
How does she bend like that? Anyway, she starts having more hallucinations. Sexy, naked, drug-fueled hallucinations. When she wakes up from this dream/nightmare, she goes into the bathroom to find a lock of blonde hair and a running electric shaver. Paintings on the wall start falling to the floor, she sees quick flashes of what looks to be her dead ex in the mirror, and there’s shenanigans in the cellar. Not to mention, her little boy’s eyes are now completely white which does not make him any less spooky than he was previously.
When she gets into the basement, she finds Bruno smashing down a the brick wall everyone is always attracted to. Dora asks what… what he might be, you know, up to? He just says she should go back to bed. Dora says Carlo must be on the other side of the wall. Bruno says when he found Dora, she had Carlo’s blood on her hands and he had to stash Carlo’s body in the wall. This does not sit well with Dora.
Bruno’s excuse for all this is maybe half pretty good. She’s pissed that he brought her back to the house where all her trauma was. However, he knew the body was in the wall. He set up the supposed suicide to protect Dora because he loved her. He just had to wait the legal seven years to pronounce him actually dead without proof or without a body. He used Carlo’s drug addiction as a convenient excuse for his disappearance and presumed suicide. Now, Bruno needs to get rid of the body and any evidence that would circle back to Dora and then they can get the hell out of Dodge. Dora thinks this will not do because Carlo will not let her leave now.
And… maybe this is kinda true. Through all the craziness of the place, the specter of her past catches up with Dora and she uses the pickax that Bruno was using to open the cellar wall to kill him and stash his body in the same wall as her first husband. Dora is completely nutso now and the ghost of Carlo is probably kind of cool with that because that kinda seems like that’s what he was using Marco for in the first place. Everything in the house begins to move on its own and she even sees the corpse of Carlo in Marco’s bed. When she runs terrified out of the room, something really fucking cool and scary happens.
The entire 85 or so minutes before that exact moment is so totally worth it when that shit happens in that hallway. Bravo, Bava! There was a movie over the past couple years that did this shit for a jump scare and put it in the trailer. It’s a cool shot regardless, but I’m betting that dumbfuck new movie didn’t earn it like this lower budget Italian chiller from the late 70s did.
Anyway… After that pants-crappingly scary moment, Dora is basically forced to the cellar where that damned bureau this time corners her and opens to reveal a box cutter. A disembodied hand appears to pick it up and starts moving it toward Dora only for it to be her own hand and she slices her throat to kill herself. As she dies, outside, Marco is having a tea party with the ghost of Carlo.
Holy fuck Exorcist Rip-Off Month is off and running. This is hardly a true Exorcist rip, but it certainly plays to haunted house, possession of a child, and some really really good and well-earned scares. This movie is sort of slow. Be aware of that, but it handles itself rather well. Dora straddles the line between being an honest victim of a bad guy’s abuse and drug problem while also ultimately killing her new husband. The new husband isn’t entirely blameless for his part in anything, but still… It’s a neat little twist in a fairly straightforward possession movie with a creepy kid. When things start to go nuts, holy hot damn it goes nuts. That gif above is powerfully creepy stuff.
Ultimately, it’s Bava doing what Bava does best, making a competently shot and appropriately creepy movie. Next week, well… We’ll see how well that works out as we go somewhere we have not yet done before on B-Movie Enema. It’s time to check out some of that good old fashioned Turkish cinema with Seytan!
As an aside, I accidentally paused the movie on the below frame and the moment I saw it, I knew I had to do something with it. So… Here you go.