A Review of Mario Bava’s Shock

It is this sort of film, the B horror movie, that is among the hardest to critique. They make so many clumsy mistakes, but somehow, passion manages to shine through. The director is so excited to tell a story and that energy conveys them. Determining whether or not they are good really comes up to the individual. I know many smart people who like these kinds of films, usually on the grounds that they are “good as horror.”

But films are films – I cannot simply say that certain genres and types are inherently better or worse than any others. So, is Shock good as a film? Yes – it accomplishes what it sets out to do, which is create a horror story about the destruction/betrayal of the nuclear family. But I know many who would not like it.

No real need to go to much into the plot. Basically, it’s about a family in which the patriarch has died. The mother (named Dora)has a new beau (named Bruno) that the son (named Marco) seems to like. They move back Dora’s old house. However, the ghost of her dead husband continually possesses Marco and does not seem too pleased about Dora sleeping with Bruno.

I will name the two biggest problems I had with the film right off the bat – the camerawork and the child. The film, to put it bluntly, looks terrible. It looks like a porn film shot in the 1970s that is in danger of disintegrating. I know it is low budget, but other films that utilizing this aesthetic (especially early Wes Craven) manage to transcend that limitation. This film comes close, but does not do so. I am not sure why. The way that the film is shot seems to imply that Bava wanted more, but was unable to come up with the necessary funds. Real B-movie directors openly work with what they have and embrace that fact. When a director wants to do more, but cannot, it shows.

The other is the character of Marco. Actually, no, that’s not entirely true. I have this love/hate feeling of his performance. The kid is annoying, constantly shouting, states the most banal and irrelevant things, and genuinely seems mostly like a nuisance. In other words, he acts just like a real, annoying child. Hence why I am unsure how to properly categorize it. I suppose it is still bad, because even Laurence Olivier playing annoying would still be annoying. And I know that not every single kid in horror need be unbearable – The Shining demonstrated that.

But, as I said, there is a lot that the film does right. It is good at building up an actual sense of dread and horror. It does not depend on the typical pop up scare (in which people are briefly startled by some loud noise or surprising appearance) but focuses on how it can affect our minds. That is the more effective route that horror films can take.

This is actually a very effective examination, not of the child, but of the women coming to terms with a past love that did not work out. As divorce rates have steadily increased since the film was released, I am sure that her own internal journey is more relevant now than ever. As such, the film actually does become more important as it enters its third act.

In fact, that is the best part of the film – relevancy. It actually surprised me how internalized the guilt and passions of the characters were. The shocks that did come were  actually…well…shocking. And the ending actually did manage to linger with me long after the film was done. I can’t remember the last time a horror film did that.

Still, it does have a slow start and it’s aesthetic is…quite off. So, despite its rather lackluster presentation, it still manages to be an effective horror film. I know I should not be complaining about a lack of gloss, but for whatever reason, the material really felt like it needed it. Some horror films are born to be B-movies. In fact, they are more effective that way. This does not feel like it is. A good horror film, but there are more effective out there.

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