Cinema is an art form based in the human psyche. Light and sound weave a psychologically evocative tapestry. In my humble opinion, the Poles and Italians stand at the very top rank of inherently cinematic filmmakers (followed closely by the British realists and their current heirs). The two films in this collection re-affirm my opinion with the power of their story-telling.
Zulawski's POSSESSION is a very twisted mystery with a supernatural surprise. The story unfolds at a leisurely but intriguing pace (as does Bava's SHOCK -- this is a great double bill). The first half is somewhat reminiscent of Polanski's THE TENANT and REPULSION, all character work, building tension and intrigue. The acting and staging are superb. Both Sam Neil and Isabelle Adjani, as well as all the supporting cast, give superlative performances.
The eternally beautiful Adjani was honored with a Cesar Award for this movie, and it was well deserved. An extended turn in a deserted subway tunnel is one of the most chilling scenes ever captured on screen, and it is her phenomenal performance which makes the scene.
The action picks up dramatically in the second half, and explodes in the last act. This film is definitely not for everyone. It has been called perverse (but is appropriately so) and self-indulgent (and is at least minorly so). But it is undoubtedly the work of a master filmmaker, working with the finest actors and craftsmen at his disposal. Even the most jaded lover of dark cinema will be thrilled by this one.
SHOCK is an equally wonderful achievement, by a third generation filmmaker who might have been lauded as another Antonioni or Fellini had he not confined himself to the disparaged horror genre throughout his career, eventually passing the torch to his son Lamberto.
Like POSSESSION, SHOCK is a beautifully directed occult-themed mystery. Horror fans are all too familiar with the flashy whirly-whirl dolly work of lesser auteurs. Bava moves his camera in mind-blowing ways. Always subtle, never drawing attention to itself as it artfully exploits its subject, then walloping the viewer with a stunningly effective pause. At times I was reminded of Robert Wise's THE HAUNTING (not the dreadful remake), due to Bava's ability to conjure powerful, elusive chills out of thin air, simply by his use of camera and lighting.
Horror fans and those attempting to produce or direct horror movies owe it to themselves to check these two out.