31 Screams in October, Vol. 2, #29: Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971)

Posted: October 29, 2015 in Movie Review
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971)

Director: Mario Bava

Starring: Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Claudio Volonté, Laura Betti, Leopold Trieste, Isa Miranda, Chris Avram, Anna Maria Rosati, Brigitte Skay

Among what questions remain after my second ever viewing of Mario Bava’s “Twitch of the Death Nerve,” one to which I can find no definitive answer is what I’m supposed to call this movie. Even my own copy of the film seems to suffer from some sort of multiple identity disorder, giving me three distinct titles for the DVD box cover, the opening title card, and the original theatrical trailer. Though there are several others, the two most widely used are “Bay of Blood” and “Twitch of the Death Nerve.” I went with the latter because that was the name I knew the film by when I first looked it up years ago, and because it sounds incredible when you say it out loud. I also call into question the benefit of an over-complicated plot for a movie that clocks in at less than 90 minutes, possibly due to the fact that I’m so well-versed in the “Friday the 13th” series. Speaking of which, we might not even have “Friday the 13th” if it weren’t for “Twitch of the Death Nerve.”

The film begins with the murder by hanging of the Countess Federica (Isa Miranda) in her home by husband Filippo Donati (Giovanni Nuvoletti). You would think the film had blown its wad far too quickly by revealing the identity of the murderer almost immediately, but then Donati himself is stabbed to death moments later by an unseen third party. Afterwards, his body is dumped into the bay and the Countess’s death is made to resemble a suicide. This opens up the floodgates as interested parties vie for ownership of the bay. Frank Ventura conspired with his mistress Laura (Anna Maria Rosati) to convince Donati to murder the Countess, but they hadn’t counted on Donati going missing.

Donati’s daughter Renata (Claudine Auger) and husband, Albert (Luigi Pistilli), also enter the fray. They consult with Paolo Fassati (Leopold Trieste) and his wife, Anna (Laura Betti), the latter of which tells them the Countess’s death was no suicide.  During this conversation, Renata also learns she has a half-brother named Simon, whose boat is found to contain the grisly remains of Renata’s father. The action moves to Ventura’s house, which becomes host to a series of brutal crimes. First, Ventura attempts to kill Renata, who stabs him to death in self-defense. Unfortunately, Paolo has seen everything and is in the process of calling the police, but Albert strangles him to death with the phone cord. In an effort to be thorough, Renata decapitates Anna with an axe, ensuring no witnesses.

By the time Laura gets there, Ventura is long since dead and she is met by an angry Simon, instead. He has learned of Laura and Ventura’s role in his mother (the Countess)’s death and, feeling used, chokes the life out her. Earlier, it was Simon who had been responsible for the deaths of four partying teenagers, one of whom had accidentally discovered Donati’s body while swimming. Now, after finishing off Laura, it was to be Simon’s turn, impaled by Albert, who later must also fend off a still-living Ventura. The movie concludes quite literally with a bang. The victorious Renata and Albert, satisfied that the bay property will be theirs, are shot and killed by their two children, who naively think that Mom and Dad are pretty good at “playing dead.”

That’s quite a lot to assimilate in 84 minutes! Roughly half of the characters you’ll meet in this movie are scheming, greedy murdering bastards. The ones with which the audience might be able to sympathize are all bumped off not long after we’ve met them. Minimal character development and quick death are staples of the slasher genre, some blueprints of which lie here. The first two “Friday the 13th” films are the biggest beneficiary. “Part 2” in particular directly steals two of the murder sequences: the billhook/machete to the face, and the double murder via spear of the two teens engaged in a sexual encounter. For fans of “Friday the 13th Part 2” who liked its double spearing scene but hated the way it was censored by the MPAA: This is the way you were always meant to see that particular murder! The way that Laura’s strangulation is shot is very “Friday the 13th.” Incidentally, the total body count in “Twitch of the Death Nerve” is thirteen.

Unless you’re extremely well-versed in the Italian cinema of the period, then the only cast member whom you are likely to recognize is Claudine Auger, famous for her Bond Girl role as Domino in “Thunderball.” The main attraction here is, of course, the murder sequences, aided tremendously by Carlo Rambaldi’s impressive special makeup effects. The scene where teenager Bobby opens a door only to have a billhook embedded deep into his skull is the most effective, actually taking me by surprise. The story itself can be a snoozer when the brutality is taking a snack break, and the ending can either be seen as funny or as a letdown… depending on your perspective. “Twitch of the Death Nerve” should be of interest to anyone curious enough to see the familiar slasher elements in one of their earliest forms. Just know that we were still a few years away from working out the kinks.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    What ages are the children who kill their parents, Renata and Albert, at the end? Sounds like a relentless blood bath, eh what?

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