ShockA superb 1977 Italian horror movie, the last to be directed by the late, great Mario Bava. A textbook example of how to build mood, tension and, yes, shock on a limited budget, it remains one of the best films of its kind.

Mario Bava was, quite simply, the finest director of Italian horror flicks; early films like BLACK SUNDAY (1961) and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964) remain benchmarks of the genre. With their garish, stylized lighting, economical special effects and shocking (for the time) gore, they set the tone for what was to come (in the famed giallos of Dario Argento and others). Unfortunately, his final years were extremely erratic; Bava never finished editing RABID DOGS (1974), while the dreamlike LISA AND THE DEVIL (1975) was heavily re-cut and released as HOUSE OF EXORCISM. Both films were recently restored to their former glory; so too the present film, which was initially released as BEYOND THE DOOR 2, even though it had nothing to do with the original BEYOND THE DOOR.

Call it REPULSION meets THE EXORCIST. Daria Nicolodi (Dario Argento’s longtime companion and star of quite a few of his films) plays a woman with problems: her kid is acting weird and her house has turned against her. A slamming window shutter nearly breaks her fingers, animated furniture threatens her at every turn, and her young son has turned equally menacing (“I’m going to kill you!” he tells her at one point early on). She’s also afflicted by ghostly visions of her dead husband, who died under suspicious circumstances. Things are further complicated by the third-act revelation that she recently spent time in an insane asylum—is she cracking up or is there an honest-to-goodness supernatural presence threatening her life?

A simple story, sure, but it’s that simplicity which makes it so effective, as the screws are steadily tightened, leading up to an almost unbearably suspenseful climax.

Horror buffs have long debated the true authorship of this film. Many claim that Mario Bava’s son Lamberto, a longtime assistant to his father who receives a screenwriting credit here, actually directed much, if not all, of SHOCK. Maybe, but the sheer skill with which this one was executed could only have been achieved by an experienced master, and that the elder Bava most certainly was.

The opening montage of household items is breathtaking, imbuing everything with a subtle sense of creeping menace that perfectly sets the tone for what is to come. Bava’s knowledge of how to stretch a limited budget to its limits comes in handy here, with quite a few brilliantly executed yet economical special effects. Particularly fine is the son’s sudden transformation into his dead father (achieved by simply having the kid duck out of the frame and his old man pop up in his place), and the invisible hand that seems to stroke Nicolodi’s hair (she and the camera were strapped to a revolving bed).

Vital Statistics

SHOCK [a.k.a. BEYOND THE DOOR 2] Laser Film Productions

Director: Mario (or Lamberto?) Bava
Producer: Edward L. Montoro
Screenwriter: Frank Barber
Music: Libra
Cast: John Steiner, Daria Nicolodi, David Colin, Jr.