Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Overlooked Classics: Daria Nicolodi in Shock

1977's SHOCK (BEYOND THE DOOR 2) is mainly remembered as the final theatrical feature from the great Mario Bava. Assisted by his son and future director Lamberto Bava SHOCK is one of the most haunting and effective Italian horror films of the Seventies. Backed by a brilliant score from Libra (featuring members of Goblin) this intense psychologically disturbing feature was first released in the United States as a sequel to Ovidio Assonitis' underrated BEYOND THE DOOR which had also featured young David Colin Jr. While BEYOND THE DOOR was obviously influenced by THE EXORCIST Mario Bava's SHOCK had much more in common with Polanski's REPULSION from 10 years earlier. As portraits of a characters descent into total madness it is hard to beat REPULSION and SHOCK. REPULSION featured one of the great performances by Catherine Deneuve while Bava's SHOCK was blessed with an incedibly good turn by underrated Italian actress Dario Nicolodi.
Nicolodi is a really interesting actress and has always cut an unique figure in all of her work. Her personal life as Dario Argento's significant other in the Seventies and as Asia Argento's mother has overshadowed her career in film. This is a shame, as she was much more than just a girlfriend to Argento. Her work acting in front of his camera brought much to several of his films, especially her great turn in DEEP RED. Also of major importance is her work on the genesis and screen play to SUSPIRIA. It is probably very true that Dario Argento's famed career in the mid to late 70s would have been very different were it not for Nicolodi.
Small supporting roles and her work in Argento's tremendous DEEP RED were all that Nicolodi had under her acting belt when Bava cast her as the lead in SHOCK. She would turn in a performance though, as troubled mother and widow Dora, that would rank among the great work in the Italian Horror genre. It is hard to think of a more emotional and fully realized performance in Italian horror than the one Nicolodi delivers in SHOCK.
One thing that I admire so much about Daria's performance in this film is how authentic it feels. There is never a moment where this feels like caricature. Actually it could be said that this film succeeds as a great film of family dysfunction as well as a supernatural thriller.
Bava seemed to realize the kind of performance Nicolodi was giving as it feels like his camera rarely leaves her. The film's great moments come when she is alone in her bedroom or in various parts of the house. As Daria becomes more and more isolated and afraid of her son, and her past, Bava camera seems to center completely on her and her remarkably expressive face.
Bava's striking trademark economical effects are incredible here as he makes household items such as a piano and bits of moving furniture completely terrifying. One of the great moments in the film is a certain scene that has been copied many times (most recently in the great DON'T trailer from GRINDHOUSE) of a child running down the hall, briefly disappearing and re-appearing as a grown man. It is a great, subtle and potent scare and while SHOCK isn't typically considered one of Bava's great masterpieces (some consider it Lamberto Bava's first film as much as Mario's last) it remains a terrifically inventive and truly frightening film.
Nicolodi is particularly unforgettable in the film's final few minutes when it finally becomes apparent what is really happening to her. Her last moment on screen is still one of the most shocking things I have ever seen. Bava's filming of Nicoldi in her final moments is one of the most tragic and disturbing shots in his entire canon. It would be a shot and ending that would recall one of his earlier works but the combination of elements would give it a much more overpoweringly intense, visceral feel. I am trying to not give this final bit away for people who have not seen this film but I warn you, it is not easily shaken.
I have watched SHOCK many times and I think Daria's performance gets even better upon re-viewings. It is a mulit-layered performance of someone in a lot of emotional trouble. The one problem I have with Shock is an extra scene at the end involving the son which has always bothered me as it calls into question much of what Bava has presented in the rest of the film. Still, SHOCK remains to me one of Bava's most underrated films and one of the defining Italian Horror films of the seventies.

Daria would continue to work with Mario Bava in the last two projects he was involved in, the tv work with Lamberto VENUS OF ILLE and Argento's INFERNO. She continued to work throughout the eighties and nineties in front of and behind the camera but SHOCK remains her greatest role and performance.
Nicolodi recently completed filming the long awaited finale to Dario Argento's THREE MOTHERS trilogy, which marked the first time they have worked together in 20 years. In probably the most anticipated Italian Horror film in at least 30 years Daria will be joined onscreen by her daughter, the award winning Asia Argento, and Udo Kier among others. Whether or not Dario can deliver a film worthy of SUSPIRIA and INFERNO remains to be seen but I can't wait to find out.
SHOCK is currently back in print from BLUE UNDERGROUND in a fine widescreen uncut print that also features an interesting interview with Lamberto Bava.
An official website for Daria should be online any time now and will be found at this address:
She also has a Myspace account here worth visiting:


cinebeats said...

I've been under the weather (caught a nasty bug) and haven't had much free time to comment lately but I wanted to chime in and mention how much I also like Daria. She's made a lot of great horror films and I don't think she was ever used as much as she should have been. I love how she managed comedy in Deep Red for example but very few roles offered her a chance to show off her great comedic timing. I'mnot sure how I feel about Argento's upcoming film since I haven't really enjoyed his work since Opera, but the cast is great and it will be interesting to see how he wraps up the trilogy.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Kimberly,
I really love her in Deep Red also, that is another role that I think she brought so much to. I really hope the new Argento turns out to be a winner, I am trying to curb my expectations a bit but it really would be fantastic if they could pull it off.
Hope you feel better...thanks again for commenting.