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‘Shock’ is chock full of delicious ludicrousness

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Shock

Written by Eugene Ling, Martin Berkeley

Directed by Alfred L. Werker

U.S.A., 1946

Young wife Janet Stewart (Anabel Shaw) arrives at a hotel where she is to meet with her war hero husband, Lt. Paul Stewart (Frank Latimore). Janet already had to live through months during which news of Paul’s death could have arrived at any moment. Compounding matters further was when she received such news, although it was only later proven thankfully inaccurate. Her fragile emotional and psychological state is thrown into a savage tailspin once again upon hearing an argument in another room. Janet goes to her balcony (where there is a view of the room where the heated tête-à-tête is transpiring). A man (Vincent Price), in a fit of fury and revulsion, hits his wife over the head with a candle holster, killing her in the process. Janet immediately goes into a state of shock, falling into a deep coma. Shortly thereafter her husband calls on a doctor to treat her, psychiatrist Dr. Richard Cross played by…Vincent Price!

Watching movies of the same ilk as Shock asks a lot out of some viewers. The reasons why such films can be so testing is not because they partake in deep, psychological horror or invite viewers to ponder complex queries about themselves and life itself, but rather because the scripts and delightful direction embellish the ludicrousness of the concept. Shock is a movie that hits the ground running with a very dramatic subject matter (a wife recuperating from the grief of having lost a beloved husband, only to be told later that the fellow is alive and well) and then utilizes that basis in overt melodrama to launch itself into silly, B-movie style proceedings that will undoubtedly leave some people shaking their heads and guffawing in disbelief. While some would prefer to turn the television off, others will enjoy the bonkers tale that develops. Is Shock utterly silly and replete with insane coincidences and contrived plot points? It most certainly is. Is Shock an entertaining movie because of those qualities? Affirmative.

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Director Alfred L. Werker never shies away from shining all the spotlight on the aforementioned craziness of the plot. In fact, the crazy parts are precisely what propel the plot further along into even more contrived predicaments. Obviously, the film’s first reveal, that the psychiatrist tasked with treating poor Janet, is in fact the killer she saw through her hotel room window, is the most crucial. Better still, Dr. Cross is unaware that Janet witnessed his misjudged act of violence (Dr. Cross is made out to be not so bad a fellow. His crime was committed more out of stress and exasperation than pure malice). For that matter, several scenes go by during which the doctor is oblivious as to why his new patient is lost in a coma. Only when she starts to come around very slowly, speaking out loud whilst experiencing terrible day dreams, do the clues add up, alerting Cross that he might be in serious trouble provided Janet regains her consciousness.

Enter Cross’ lover, the woman she had been cheating his wife with, nurse Elaine Jordan (Lynn Bari). If Cross’ wife was hell to live with, at least judging by her attitude during the precious few minutes she has on screen before her grisly demise, then Elaine is not much of an improvement. The film makes it clear that she does genuinely have affections for Cross, but she is a devil in disguise. Whereas Cross has a conscious, wrestling with the guilt of his unspeakable crime and the fear of being found out by Janet, Elain is quite gun ho about giving Janet insulin shock treatment, a process by which, if (intentionally) mishandled, will not improve the patient’s condition but see it regress. Thus commences a battle of philosophies so stark in contrast that it could only ever work in the most pulpy of dramas. Shock fits the bill perfectly.

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Revisiting Vincent Price’s earlier films is a constant pleasure. It is rather telling that his legacy to film fans everywhere is predominantly attached to the horror movies he acted in throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The latter half of his filmography is littered with a legion of small budget fright fests that sometimes border on comical instead of being truly terrifying. Credit where credit is due however, and there is no denying that Price’s affinity for the horror genre is why his name still resonates till this day. That being said, his involvement in more grounded (relatively speaking) thrillers like Shock and Laura (1944) in the 1940s offers the curious film aficionados out there with chances to see a different side to the man’s acting chops. True enough, he was always a rather theatrical, melodramatic type of performer, but his charisma is a bit softer in this earlier projects. There is three-dimensionality to his performances, including in Shock, even though the entire premise is preposterous. He was an actor that understood the drama inherent in any sort of script, no matter how outrageous it was. Subtlety is not always the name of the game when it comes to Vincent Price, but nor is boring, or a lack of depth.

Shock ups the ante until the very final minutes, leaving viewers on a high after an incredible whirlwind of emotions and close calls for the characters, especially Dr. Cross. It definitely sits comfortably on the more outrageous end of the spectrum of film drama. Viewers should make no mistake about it. However, if one is willing to suspend some disbelief and go along for the ride, director Werker and his cast serve up a wildly entertaining thriller. Many may watch the film and regularly exclaim ‘You must be kidding me!’, but it will almost always be in the best possible way.

-Edgar Chaput


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