Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971), dir. Mario Bava. Hallmark Releasing Corp.
The fourth showing of horror is the legendary giallo film, Twitch of the Death Nerve, also known as Bay of Blood, Bloodbath, Last House on the Left, Part 2, Carnage, and about a half dozen other titles. Made by famed Italian director Mario Bava, Twitch of the Death Nerve is a film with enormous significance. Note the reference to giallo, instead of horror.
Giallo, Italian for yellow, is a separate genre of film in Europe. At a glance horror, they have their origins in pulp detective novels, which in Italy were often printed with yellow covers. The stories all had similar tropes; there is a murderer loose and everyone is a suspect. The killer, at least in the decent examples, is a character we see throughout the story. The reader is given as much of a chance to figure out who the killer is as the protagonist, and nearly every character is connected in some way.
The film opens in a densely wooded area. Inside a sprawling old mansion, an old woman makes her way around in a wheelchair. As she rounds a corner, a noose suddenly drops down and catches the woman around the neck. She is violently yanked from her chair, with her struggles and her weight only serving to tighten the rope. She’s dead in seconds as the viewer sees a pair of black gloves releasing the rope.
In most giallos, that would be all we would see of the killer until he (or she) strikes again and the identity is revealed in the climax. Bava plays against this, however, as the killer steps into the light and we plainly see his face. We also see his blood, as another black-gloved killer ambushes him in the dim light and stabs him to death.
From there we are introduced to the rest of the cast. It seems the murdered old woman was Countess Federica Donati (Isa Miranda), and with her death and her husband’s mysterious disappearance, her vast holdings and estate are now up for grabs. The potential killers and victims are assembled in the old manor. There is the greedy lawyer, the silence-loving renters, the creepy fisherman, and the old woman’s heirs, whose motives may not be what they seem. Who is the real killer?
Honestly, this film surprised me. Like most gialli, you should follow the film by making notes, otherwise you might get lost. The blood flows easy, although one can’t help but wonder if Sean Cunningham or Victor Miller saw this before penning their magnum opus Friday the 13th, as two murders in this film are copied almost exactly in that series.
“The First Motion Picture of its Kind to Require a Face-to-Face Warning!”