Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971) – Horror Film Review
By Jeffrey Frentzen
Mario Bava’s ANTEFATTO (“Before the Fact”), produced in Italy in 1970, was picked up for domestic release by Hallmark in 1973, playing second-feature to other Hallmark bloodbaths like MARK OF THE DEVIL and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. The latest Bava work available for American viewing is the director’s most complete failure to date, heaping graphic violence onto one of his more ridiculous scripts. If you were appalled by the gore and slaughter of BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, this latest film contains twice the murders, each one accomplished with an obnoxious eye for detail (faces split open in loving close-up, decapitation, and murder of the axe variety). The raw violence is only an excuse to propel a silly story reminiscent of an Edgar Wallace cloak-and-dagger mystery.
Bava is a talent, despite the claustrophobic limitations of his plot. He has always had a fascination for beautifully decorated interiors and fog-shrouded, wispy exteriors, all filmed in prevalent hues of grey and blue. It is unfortunate that his fascination extends also to synopses filled with unabashed stupidity. His screenplay abounds with an execrable soap-opera quality that somehow overpowers even the excessive bloodshed. Bava shares the blame this time with Carlo Reali for developing the slight story idea, involving a group off heirs to a valuable land tract who are murdered one by one, supposedly by someone who wants the land for himself. Red herrings are ever-present, and serve as the only interest keeping the plot in motion, but nothing really redeems the dumb storyline. There is a cleverly calculated “surprise” ending that comes far too late to make any difference. Bava seems to make a point of confusing the viewer.
There are, of course, those shining moments which distinguish any Bava film: the opening scene, accompanied by a sumptuous, well-orchestrated score by Stelvio Cipriani (the only consistently good quality in the film), in which the dim figure of a woman in a wheelchair is stalked and strangled; the swimming sequence wherein a girl bumps into a floating corpse on the lake and is killed for her discovery. Bava is a creative talent despite his weaknesses. His photography is moody and effective, and his pacing is good in spite of a defective plot. Here is a director and expert cinematographer whose work is constantly being maimed by the unreasonably low standards set by his own lousy scripts.
Copyright 1975 by Jeffrey Frentzen. This review originally appeared in the Fall 1975 issue of Cinefantastique (4:3). As time permits, other articles from this issue will be archived under the heading for September 1975.
TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (released in Italy as Ecologia del delitto [“Ecology of Murder”], also known as “Bay of Blood,” Hallmark, 1973). In Color. 90 minutes. Produced by Guiseppe Zacciarello (Nuova Linea Cinemato¬graphica). Directed and photographed by Mario Bava. Screenplay by Bava and Carlo Reali. Cast: Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Claudio Volonto, Laura Betti, Ana Maria Rosati, Brigitte Skay.
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