Mario Bava Scares You One More Time With His Final Theatrical Film “Shock” From 1977

Shock 1

John Steiner and Daria Nicolodi in Bava’s Shock

Sometime during the late spring of 2007, my friend Michelle and I hoofed it over to the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square to check out some of their Grindhouse series that they had programmed following the popularity of the recent Tarantino/Rodriguez double feature film experience that revived interest in the exploitation films of the late 1960s and 70s. The day we decided to head over to Cambridge was a way too pretty Saturday afternoon to see a nasty giallo, but such things like a clear sky rarely matter to horror fans, even fans who had just spent the last few months buried under New England snow and grey skies. Also, what helped me convince Michelle to head to the theater that day was the opportunity see a 35mm print of  Shock, the last feature film directed by the father of giallo genre, Mario Bava.

Before he became a pioneer in Italian horror, Bava started his film career assisting his father Eugenio at the special effects department at Benito Mussolini’s film factory, the Istituto LUCE, before becoming a cinematographer himself. Bava had lensed over twenty films before getting his first opportunity to co-direct when director Mario Camerini needed an AD for his sword and sandal film, Ulysses, an Italian production that starred Kirk Douglas. The next year, during production of Riccardo Freda’s 1956 film, Beatrice Tenci, Freda and his friend Bava discussed the possibility of making a horror film, which would be the first Italian horror film of the sound era, as the genre had been banned in Italy throughout the 30s and 40s. The pair negotiated a production deal with Studio Titanus, provided that they could write a script in a few days and have the film done in two weeks to which they agreed, and I Vampiri was born, a nasty low budget film centered around the murders of young women who are found drained of their blood. Though I Vampiri did not perform well at the box office, it wasn’t met with huge opposition either, despite the film’s carnality, so the door was now opened for the horror genre again in Italy.

For a few more years, Bava would shoot several more gladiator films, but in 1960,  he would have the chance to direct a loose adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s 1865 horror story “Viy” into a feature film, the outrageously gory La maschera del demonio (Black Sunday), a film so visceral that it it would be banned in England for most of the decade but would help launch Bava as a relevant director of the horror genre internationally. After Black Sunday, Bava would occasionally direct a sword and sandal and even a few spaghetti westerns (Roy Colt And Winchester Jack is a favorite), but it was the giallos that he would master such as Black Sabbath, Kill, Baby, Kill and Bay Of Blood.  

Fueled by the success of the Bava giallos, the genre began to flourish, so by the mid-1970s, there were many directors such as Dario Argento, Sergio Martino, and Lucio Fulci challenging Bava for the giallo crown, and even though Mario would always be regarded as the master, the theaters were packed with competing Italian horror films from younger directors. Jumping genres again, in 1974 Bava would direct the nihilistic poliziotteschi, Rabid Dogs, which had been plagued with production issues that were further exasperated when the film’s producer went bankrupt after the main investor died in a car crash. Bava would take two years off from directing after the headaches provided by Rabid Dogs, but he would return in 1977 with Shock, a smart, small horror film that would prove that the master still possessed a bevy of technical tricks from all of his years as a cinematographer to scare you senseless.

Shock stars Daria Nicolodi as Dora Baldini and John Steiner as her husband Bruno, who begin the film by moving back into Dora’s family home. Bruno is Dora’s second husband as her first, Carlo, died several years prior, and the house has been locked up ever since. Given the circumstances of her first husband’s death and the fact that his dead body had never been located, Dora is not too happy about moving back into the home, and her head is not all together there, since years of drugs and electroshock therapy received during her institutionalization after her husband’s death have left her quite the mess. Adding to her daily dilemma is that Dora had a son with her first husband, the waifish-looking Marco (David Colin Jr.), who gets along with his stepfather Bruno, but he is still not one hundred percent accepting of this new man who amorously embraces his gorgeous and slightly catatonic mom. Coming to Marco’s rescue, as the forces of evil always seem to be there to fiendishly assist with the sadness of youngsters, a new friend in the house, an imaginary one, enters Marco’s life, and given that his stepdad is an airline pilot and frequently away, little Bruno spends lots of time talking to his new “friend” and spends much time in the basement where some evil mojo is boiling up in the Baldini home.

Original Trailer for Mario Bava’s Shock

What really bumps Shock’s creepiness up to eleven are the incestuous actions that little Marco (or perhaps Carlo living inside of him) begin to take towards his mother. Marco begins by spying on his mom in the shower, slicing up her panties, jumping on top of her and sexually thrusting, and even romantically touching his sleeping mother’s face and neck with a hand that suddenly transforms into that of a rotting corpse, which all perhaps suggest that maybe Carlo is looking for love from beyond the grave? It is these moments where Marco begins to morph into his dead father that provide the greatest jolts in Shock, including one scene that I will not give away that occurs when Marco runs towards his mother that sent both Michelle and me leaping from our seats. It is the kind of scare that only a master director could imagine, so basic in its visual construction, relying on no special effects, and yet it still scares you silly. Although the scene that I just described may be the best of the film, Shock is loaded with a ton of smart, visual inventions that make you believe that during the two years that Bava was “retired,” he was compiling his terror filled ideas into a notebook for later use, and I, for one, am so glad that he had enough inspiration to make a giallo, one that despite its modest structure and a surface that looks like another post-Exorcist era possession film, comes off with so many jolts to make it a captivating, haunting watch. Shock’s overall dark tone, a killer fusion score from the Italian/Motown signed band I Libra, and low budget but affecting visual elements make it a fitting final theatrical release for the brilliant Bava, who sadly died of a sudden heart attack in 1980 at the age of 65.

I found out shortly after that afternoon screening that Shock was my friend Michelle’s first Bava film, and she was very impressed. In the seconds after the film, I thought that I should’ve started her out with one of the director’s earlier, more accomplished films, but I soon was confronted with the reality that a giallo from a then 62 year old Bava affected Michelle, who was then a young filmmaker herself, making Shock just as qualified as Bava’s other works. I have always said that if a comedy without an audience can make you laugh out loud, then it is very successful, and I guess a similar type of success exists for a horror film that terrorizes you on a pretty day.

Isabelle Huppert Quietly Triumphs In Claude Goretta’s 1977 Masterpiece “The Lacemaker”

Yves Beneyton, Isabelle Huppert

Actors Yves Beneyton and Isabelle Huppert

He will have passed by her, right by her without really noticing her, because she was one who gives no clues, who has to be questioned patiently, one of those difficult to fathom. Long ago, a painter would have made her the subject of a genre painting…


Water girl


The lines above roll up screen at the end of Claude Goretta’s 1977 film, “The Lacemaker” and are there to sum up Beatrice, a naturally beautiful and shy young woman in a Parisian hair salon where she works as the shampoo girl and occasionally sweeps up the clipped hair. Beatrice lives with her mother, a lovely middle-aged woman who, like her daughter, lives a quiet, unassuming life without apparent joy or anger. Though Beatrice’s dad left them both when Beatrice was still a small child, both mother and daughter go through their days appearing content and relatively unfazed by everyone and everything around them. This setup is similar to that of his previous film from 1974, “The Wonderful Crook,” where Goretta creates an almost too peaceful environment before showing the small cracks in the armor of his characters and their surroundings. With “The Lacemaker,” Goretta has shifted from the pastoral French countryside to an almost overly serene Paris where our protagonist will soon be faced with options for her life, which to this point could be the life of a thirteen year old and not a young woman.

In an early scene, we see Beatrice at the apartment of the comely Marylene (Florence Giorgetti), Beatrice’s closest friend at the salon. Beatrice watches Marylene’s world come apart as she achingly ends her three year relationship with a married man over the phone. Marylene, overwhelmed with grief, threatens suicide via her apartment window, but, instead, she opts to toss out the over sized teddy bear gifted to her from her lover, serving as a comedic sacrifice that establishes Marylene’s flighty character. Still sour over getting dumped, Marylene drags Beatrice for company to the French coastal town of Calbourg during the off season to help get over her ex lover. Once in the sleepy town, the women immediately go to their hotel room, where they listen to the couple next door in mid-coitus, which seems to only mildly embarrass Beatrice and somewhat turn Marylene on to the point that she asks Beatrice to turn down the radio. Goretta leaves Marylene’s sexuality as somewhat ambiguous as she seems to have a somewhat romantic bend towards her friend, but it becomes very clear that the chaste Beatrice has no desire to be outwardly amorous with anyone. After a couple of trips to the local discotheque where Beatrice refuses to dance with male suitors, Marylene hooks up with an American man and abandons Beatrice for the remainder of their vacation, which again does not effect Beatrice in the slightest. Here, one begins to wonder, if anything will make Beatrice finally react positively or negatively. The only pleasure that Beatrice indulges in is chocolate ice cream, which she eats alone until she meets Francois (Yves Beneyton), an awkward, scrawny and slightly older literature student who awkwardly engages Beatrice in conversation. The pair do not exchange contact information, but in one of the best scenes in the early part of the film, they each spend the entire next afternoon trying hard to casually meet again, which they do. With Marylene nowhere to be found, Beatrice and Francois spend every day together, and after Francois proposes they spend the night together, Beatrice, as she does with everything proposed to her, goes along with it, and they becomes a couple.

Once back in Paris, Beatrice and Francois find an apartment together, and after a brief conversation with Beatrice’s mother which ends with “as long as she is happy,” the young couple are off to start a life together in a modest (tiny) Parisian apartment. I need to establish something that I think is key before this world comes crashing down: Director Goretta shows in more than a few scenes that the couple are actually in love; although it is never said, Francois is at times overwhelmed with affection for his woman. I believe that this moment is key as the conflict that will soon arise from Francois’ rapid growth as a budding pseudo-intellectual university student will cause doubt in his mind as to the adaptability of his new found love. When a colleague of Francois’ arrives before Beatrice gets home from work, Francois begins to describe her to his friend in the same way that a teacher would talk about a elementary school student rather than a fully formed adult in regards to potential. You begin to believe at this point that Goretta may begin to make an overarching statement about the anti-humanist tendencies of academics, but it doesn’t go in that direction as Francois’ intellectual friends appreciate Beatrice for who she is and believe that she is good for Francois, who seems to be regarded by them as emotionally closed. You might also believe that this is a setup for demonizing the character of Francois, but that is not Goretta’s intention either, nor is it his intention to paint Beatrice as a dolt. They are both portrayed sympathetically, but their conflict as a couple becomes more a question of being content with one’s own persona. Simply put… Beatrice is content with her passive existence, and Francois, who clearly loves Beatrice, is not content with any of his roles of his own life, as a son, a boyfriend, or as an academic and projects his insecurities onto Beatrice.

As I stated in an earlier review of Goretta’s “The Wonderful Thief,” the Swiss-born Goretta does not simply attack class as Luis Buñuel would in “Diary Of A Chambermaid,” for example. Though Goretta and his writing partner Pascal Lainé on “The Lacemaker” initially create characters who have simple desires, they also create an environment that exposes the smallest discrepancies in those characters, which allows their transformations to occur naturally if you notice their faults. Such is the case when Francois invites Beatrice for dinner at his parents home. Goretta takes painstaking efforts setting this scene up for the viewer. Francois’ family home, once stately, is now rundown. His parents have a servant, as any good upper middle class family would, but she acts more familiar with her employers, further indicating that the days of their historically held wealth are most likely in the past. Francois’ fear (or perhaps hope) that his parents will reject Beatrice are unfounded as his father takes an immediate liking to Beatrice, whereas Francois’ mother is colder but not condemning of his relationship in any way. Again, there is not a class war happening here, since the only person who is unhappy with Beatrice, is Francois, because he is not happy with anything about himself.

Original Trailer (no English subtitles, sorry!)

Goretta leaves nothing to chance with “The Lacemaker” in selecting every facet of his character’s world, and just as he did with The Wonderful Crook”, Goretta formulates early pleasant scenes to allow you to calmly gather your feelings towards his protagonists before leading you to a tragic ending when you suffer with all involved. Once the screen fades to black and the statement that I posted at the beginning of this article appears in front of you, it is painfully clear that the beauty that Francois wants to posses in Beatrice has always been in demand for many generations and that perhaps the beauty comes with a passivity that you must allow to continue for the beauty to stay intact.