Italian

Shock (1977)

schock

Shock was initially released as Schock and later as Beyond the Door II and was director Mario Bava (A Bay of Blood)’s last film. The film follows Dora, played by Daria Nicolodi (Deep Red, Opera), who has just moved back into her old house following a mental breakdown and the mysterious death of her first husband. Together with Dora are her new husband Bruno (John Steiner, Tenebre), who is away a lot due to his job, and young son Marco (David Colin, Jr., Beyond the Door).

Upon moving in strange things start to happen to both Dora and Marco as they are visited by the ghost of Carlo (a.k.a. the dead husband/father). It is quite early on in the film that Marco becomes possessed by Carlo and starts to terrorise his mother in very adult ways. Along with Marco’s strange behaviour Dora starts to hallucinate and regain some memories about Carlo and the night he died and her part in it. Before being too harsh on Dora, it must be pointed out that Carlo was far from the model husband, rather he was an abusive drug addict.

The soundtrack to Schock is impressive and utilises several different techniques to build suspense including the ubiquitous violins but also syncopated off-kilter drumbeats. Although the plot of Schock is pretty simple it is extremely well done. There is an attempt at the old ‘is she going insane or is it supernatural’ troupe however I think it is clear from the scenes with Marco that it is of the supernatural persuasion.  It is inevitable that comparisons will be drawn between Schock and The Exorcist – both being films made in the 1970s about child possession, however they are very different. What sets Schock apart from a lot of possession films is that it is a ‘human’ (albeit dead) that is possessing rather than an all-powerful demon or the devil.

Although Bava is well known for his Giallo genre films (hence the tag), I don’t know if I would consider Schock to be an example of that genre, if nothing else the title and plot are not convoluted enough to be classic Giallo. Despite this I thoroughly enjoyed the film and would recommend it, particularly if you don’t have much brain power to spend!

Rating: 4/5

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Fun Fact: The alternative title of Beyond the Door II was chosen to link to a previous film by Ovidio G. Assonitis with the spurious link that David Colin Jr. plays a possessed child in both films.

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Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Cannibal Holocaust

The film begins with an aerial shot of the Amazon, or Green Inferno as it is referred as, that would be more at home in a nature documentary with David Attenborough’s whispering tones over the top than the gore fest that follows. We then return to the US where a news reporter fills in the backstory of a team comprising of Alan Yates (Gabriel Yorke), Faye Daniels (Francesca Ciardi), Jack Anders (Perry Pirkanen) and Mark Tomaso (Luca Barbareschi). These four twenty-something year old film maker’s dangerous journey into the Amazon to make a documentary about a cannibalistic tribe. This scene to not only serves to fill in the viewer with the films story but also highlights the social context of the film with the space race and the lack of knowledge of our planet.

Cannibal Holocaust follows Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) an anthropologist professor searching for the missing documentary makers. Alongside the professor are his guide Chaco (Salvatore Basile), a younger guide and a Yacumo prisoner, through which they are taken to his tribe. The film features many different Amazonian tribes, alongside the Yacumo there are the Yamamomo or Tree People (the cannibals of the title) and the Shamatari or Swamp People.  After ingratiating himself with the Tree People, Monroe gains the film reels from the deceased film crew and returns to New York.

Cannibalism is not the only tribal ritual mentioned in the Cannibal Holocaust which also includes a ritualistic killing of a woman due to adultery and a spirit quest. Throughout the film there are plenty of wonderful shots of the Amazon rainforest and its animal inhabitants including a jaguar, parrots and a sloth. Whilst it is clear that these bits of footage have been spliced in, it never the less highlights the wildness of the rainforest. Director Ruggero Deodato (House of the Edge of the Park, Last Cannibal World) continually builds the tension, with seemingly innocent scenes suddenly interrupted with morbid and gruesome reminders of the main subject of the film. For example, Monroe is frolicking naked in the river with several tribal women when suddenly he sees the skeleton and belongings of the documentary makers strung from a nearby branch.

It is easy to see why this film has earned the debatable title of ‘most controversial film ever’ as it (unsurprisingly) features long unadulterated footage of cannibalism but also scenes of genocide, rape and castration and it is certainly one of the more controversial films I’ve ever seen. This claim was probably heightened by the fact that the four main stars were told to ‘disappear’ for a year after the movie was released to give the impression that the film was non-fiction, leading to a (serious) murder charge for Deodato when returning to Italy, which was subsequently dropped when all four actors arrived to testify safe and sound.

This film is not one to be watched lightly but in light of the documentary teams behaviour leads both Monroe and the viewer to question who the real heathen is here, the cannibals who have been living in the same way for centuries, the callow film makers who herd the Yacumo into a hut before setting fire to it for the sake of making an ‘interesting’ documentary that will earn them a small fortune or the New York TV executives who think the film is sensational and makes money off the suffering of the tribespeople?

Fun Fact: Ruggero Deodato based the Cannibal Holocaust on the real life disappearance of a crew filming cannibals in Africa.

Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

Four Flies on Grey Velvet is the final in Dario Argento’s Animal trilogy, the previous two being The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and The Cat o’ Nine Tails. The film is named after the four flies imprinted in the retina of one of the victims. The film follows Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) a drummer in a rock band who, after being stalked by mysterious stranger accidently stabs and kills the man. Whilst this isn’t bad enough, the act is captured on camera by a second (masked) stranger. It soon becomes obvious that the masked man doesn’t want to take the incriminating photos to the police, rather torture and blackmail Roberto and his wife, Nina (Mimsy Farmer).

Roberto cannot turn to the police (after committing murder) and instead confides in God (short for Godfrey) played by Bud Spencer, a hermit-like figure who lives in a shack by the river with a parrot called Jerkoff and an eccentric  layabout referred to as ‘The Professor’ played by Oreste Lionello. On the recommendation of God, Roberto hires a private investigator, Gianni Arrosio (Jean Pierre Marielle) who has never yet solved a case. Unfortunately for Arrosio this case breaks his unlucky streak but the killer catches up with him before he can tell anyone. The film climaxes in Roberto confronting the killer after waiting for the killer in his darkened house, this scene is possibly the first instance of high-speed camera equipment being used to follow the trajectory of a bullet.

Everything in the film is used to increase the tension. There are long sequences where a camera follows a single character in silence, spinning and panning around them, disorientating the viewer. The film is full of disappearing crowds where one minute normal life is going on only to be deserted the next second creating an isolated and ominous feeling. Unlike many films when filming at night there is no extra ‘movie’ ambience light, leaving the viewer straining to see what is going on. In contrast to the dark night scenes are Roberto’s dream sequences which fill the screen with white light which gradually fades to reveal an execution.

Despite taking itself seriously there are a number of slightly bizarre scenes and touches, the aforementioned Jerkoff and a meeting between God, the Professor and Roberto in a funeral convention featuring a lot of very odd looking coffins. The lightness of these scenes serve to keep the film from becoming too bogged down.

Four Flies on Grey Velvet is a fine example of the Giallo genre, an Italian genre of suspense thriller/horror films from the 1960s and 70s. Despite the far-fetched science that lends the film its name, it is a blemish in a believable (if very 70s) film that keeps you on the edge of your seat and guessing until the very end. I would recommend this film to anyone and it has encouraged me to watch/re-watch more of both Argento’s films and films in the Giallo genre.