Seven years having passed since the death of her first husband Carlo, presumed drowned at sea, despite her reticence circumstance has forced Dora to return to the home they shared together along with her young son, Marco, and her new husband Bruno Baldini, an airline pilot whose work requires him to be away from them frequently.
The upstairs untouched, the locked basement derelict, the house is understandably full of memories for Dora, and among the guests at a party intended to reconnect with friends she had lost touch with is Doctor Aldo Morasi who cared for Dora after Carlo’s suicide, though it is Marco whose behaviour changes, becoming erratic and irresponsible, as though haunted or even possessed by the ghost of a father he never knew.
The final film credited to prolific Italian director Mario Bava, though the abandoned Rabid Dogs project was released posthumously in 1998, by the time Shock was released in 1977 it had undergone a long process of revisions and rewrites across several years, the final screenplay credited to Francesco Barbieri, Alessandro Parenzo, Dardano Sacchetti and Bava’s son Lamberto who also assumed many of the directorial duties on set due to his father’s health and general disinclination.
Restored for Blu-ray by Arrow from the original 35mm camera negative with a plethora of supporting features, in his interview Bava junior recalls that his father “was not good with actors” and that the focus of the film would be objects which would drive the plot rather than characters, and despite having only three principals none of them are developed beyond sketches, not helped by poor dialogue and an astonishing lapse in continuity, Bruno’s passenger jet at one point going from mid-air to hangar in the time it takes Dora to walk from garden to house.
Shock structured entirely around the prolonged breakdown of Daria Nicolodi’s Dora, waking screaming from nightmares of knives and bleeding walls to find her nightgown slashed, John Steiner’s Bruno is a cypher despite his importance and while David Colin Jr’s suitably creepy Marco joins a pantheon of similarly disturbing pre-teen performances he is increasingly peripheral to the plot which is built almost entirely around jump scares and camera effects, only a bare few of which remain interesting and effective.
Presenting every trope of the hysterical, tortured woman, Shock offers little more substance than that though Alexandra Heller-Nicholas provides a spirited analysis of puppets and possession in relation to her favourite Bava film in video essay The Devil Pulls the Strings and Stephen Thrower gives an extended exploration of the stylistic diversity of Bava, demonstrating for newcomers that the director’s other work is much more interesting and accomplished than his swan song would suggest.