The lure of the impulse buy is a hard one for the film geek to resist. We’ve all fallen prey to those cheap box sets filled with forgotten Spaghetti Westerns, Kung Fu Films, Horror or whatever 35mm print someone found in their garage and was able to license for 3.97. Most of the time these films sit unviewed on the shelf still in their shrink wrap. Cheap License Theater is a weekly trip dedicated to exploring these cinematic backwaters of the not-quite-public-domain.
Worth Watching? In desperate search of some competence after the staggering blow that was Land Of The Minotaur, I hopped into Cheap License Theater’s handy WABAC Machine to the classic studio era when the steady hands of the various monoliths cranked out B movies with machine cut precision. They may have been bowdlerized and infrequently great, but nothing quite so, “go stare at a blank wall and think very hard about the choices you’ve made in your life” bad as Land Of The Minotaur would have escaped from the clutches of the Fox studio of the forties. Also, hey. Vincent Price is in this thing. Though he might not technically be the lead of Shock, he is certainly the main draw to the modern audience. And given that the film’s ostensible heroine spends a full half of the movie lying comatose, it’s not exactly like he has a lot of competition for attention.
The film follows a young woman, on the verge of reuniting with a war veteran husband she thought dead. She witnesses a murder committed by a prominent psychiatrist (Price) and promptly falls into a state of, you guessed it, shock. When Price is called to treat her thanks to his proximity, he quickly puts two and two together and convinces the husband (who seems pretty weak willed for someone who just survived two years in a POW camp hellhole) to leave the wife in his care. Price takes her to his asylum and tries to cover his tracks, first by keeping her in a coma, then when she emerges trying to convince her she’s insane and when that finally fails he goes for a good ole fashioned attempted murder.
Though the decades spent as the world’s most beloved icon of fey evil have all but obliterated the memory, Price had a strong career as a character actor before assuming the mantle of film’s most cherished ghoul. The Price of Shock has much more in common with the handsome second male lead of Laura and Leave Her To Heaven, than the kind of roles that would dominate his post House Of Wax(1953) career.
Which means Shock features the rather fascinating sight of watching Price play the sort of role that would typify the back second half of his career with the approach he brought to the first half. Despite playing a mad doctor who killed one woman and is threatening to take the life of another, Price doesn’t play him as a broad cackling figure of evil but as a poor bastard luckless enough to be caught in a crime of passion, and desperately trying to fight his way out. Though he can be smooth and manipulative, Price plays him as plagued by genuine remorse and self doubt all the way through.
Shock isn’t really anything special, but aside from an early dream sequence that makes the film look like Spellbound’s poor cousin, it gets the job done. Time spent in Price’s company is never wasted, even in the kind of B movie that you would likely forget about by the time the credits on the A picture rolled.