Movie Review: “Twitch of the Death Nerve” – Babes, Blood and Brutality

Written by Angela May 31, 2014

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After ten years of honing his craft as a cinematographer, screenwriter, director and visual effects artist, renowned Italian filmmaker Mario Bava began to produce a unique type of movie known as giallo that would prove to be the precursor to the American slasher genre. One of the first and most notable of these films is 1971’s “Twitch of the Death Nerve”, also known as “A Bay of Blood”. This little-seen picture may be slow and unbearably confusing, but it offers some great special effects and remains a milestone in horror genre history.

In an outlandish fusion of soap-opera and snuff film, “Twitch Of the Death Nerve” is a messy murder-mystery tale. A handicapped countess’s death may appear to have the makings of a suicide, but is in fact murder at the hands of her greedy husband. Thinking he has gotten away with his crimes, a mysterious hand comes out of the dark and stabs him in cold blood. It turns out that the deceased countess was the former owner of a bay which offered commercial potential, but was refused to interested buyers. Now, the question lies in who, amongst a diverse cast of oddball characters, has the ultimate grit and hostility required to kill their way to its possession.

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Slow and steady doesn’t necessarily win the race…

I have no idea what is going on the first quarter of the film and I don’t really care. For first time viewers of 1970’s exploitation films, beware: the first half of this movie is a rough ride even for those who are already prepared for the variances in pacing, editing and cinematography that sets these sorts of films apart from contemporary horror movies. Plainly put, the opening act is agonizingly slow as hell. Any discernible tension during the first half hour is built on a foundation of sand; it just keeps sinking into oblivion, no matter how much is piled on. Finally, following 35 minutes of hilariously stupid English dubbing over the original Italian audio (the best line being “you are full of hot dogs and Cadillacs and you have no music in your soul!”), a hot young blonde discovers a bloated corpse while skinny dipping. Meanwhile, her friends party unwittingly as the killer watches. I have but two words to describe the subsequent turn of events: skish kebab. The slaughters are mean-spirited and intensify the levels of gruesome violence seen in previous Bava films, but at least it’s enough to jolt viewers from their induced comas and wipe the dribble from their chins.

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“If you kill for killing’s sake, you become a monster!”

Violence is the only notably groundbreaking characteristic of the film. Many frames are composed with distinctly Bava-ian depth and high angles, and the tracking and zoom shots are deliciously indicative of the era. However, the murder scenes’ special effects, executed by Carlo Rambaldi,stand out the most due to their frightening realism. This is no wonder, seeing as Rambaldi would later go on to design the alien seen in 1979’s Alien, and E.T. for Spielberg in 1982. The main reason to watch “Twitch of the Death Nerve” is to gaze upon the neophyte work of Rambaldi’s genius. Aside from this, the film offers the raw buds of what would become some of the most recognizable horror movie tropes: unwanted sons shut away in cabins, plotting couples who get off on each other’s blood lust, red herrings and the body count device. The movie is most often praised for its influential power over the genre, and rightfully so. This however, does not exonerate its confounded and boring storyline, which cares so little about its characters that it undermines their deaths and ultimately taints Rambaldi’s hard work. The film is a significant piece for appreciators of both horror and the history of FX artistry, but those looking for a smarter, more entertaining movie need not apply. I don’t think missing out on this one will add you to the body count.

Overall Rating: 5/10

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About Angela

Angela McInnes is an English major and up-and-coming horror film aficionado. To her, happiness is a bottle of rum and a creature-feature on a Saturday night.

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