Regarded as one of Mario Bava best films, Twitch of the Death Nerve is notable for its strikingly influential impact on the slasher genre, pretty much codifying the basic steps required to fulfill a bodycount movie. Even though Bava's Blood and Black Lace functioned within the slasher mould, four key components make Twitch a forerunner of 1980's influential slasher, Friday the 13th: the rustic locale, set at an undeveloped bayside community; wandering youths (one couple uninhibited and horny, the other plagued by a hesitant better half); brutally violent deaths; and the treatment of death as another level of sexual gratification.
The integration of sex and death is demonstrated as the overactive youth couple manage a few final gyrations before a large poker (partially delivered through the killer's point-of-view shots) finally exhausts their lasts breaths of life; and through the murders of two women, each of whom writhe and 'twitch' (get it?) before succumbing to their trauma. (Bava likes legs, so he frames the fleshy extensions like a softcore love scene. Even shots of piled-up cadavers maintains a lighting scheme that favors long, muscular legs.) Like the slasher genre, sex also equals instant or inevitable death, so both couples and the older female lovers ultimately die according to Bava's template.
The youth element merely bridges the opening murder of a rich woman with a montage of impending deaths of scheming couples after a bayside estate - the kids are the colourful salad before the juicy main course - but not dissimilar to Bava's thriller work, most of the plotting makes absolutely no sense. It's a flaw that often marginalizes Bava's work as stylish, fetishistic horror - something that still haunts protégé Dario Argento - and it's an amazingly frustrating experience when the only things missing in Bava's kinetic work are plot and characters.
What keeps fans loyal - and makes Bava's work so attractive - are his camerawork and sense of humour. Image's print is okay - it's still a rather coarse print with harsh colours - but showcases some stellar compositions and trippy zooms and focus-flipping.
For the funny bone, the most ghoulish moments remain the opening murders; beautiful Claudine Auger, reeling from the discovery of her father's squid-smothered cadaver; a nasty tree-side impalement; and Bava's repeated return-cuts to shots of glistening gore. Bava seems to infer that there's something hugely hypnotic about seeing real-life trauma, so repeated shots force the audience to share a character's curiosity, when a fresh body is discovered in a house (a set closely resembling the cottage in Five Dolls for an August Moon.)
Twitch also marks the first time Stelvio Cipriani scored a Bava film, and the superior title track - effectively patterned after a Henry Mancini's "Lujon" track from the album Mr. Lucky Goes Latin - is well-integrated into the alternating sequences of stalking/suspicion/fear/bloody death. Bava's penchant for using romanticized underscore was awfully upfront in The Whip and the Body, and while Cipriani's style is more pop/easy listening, he does provide some effective dramatic cues - extrapolating the percussion phrases in spots - in-between some dated pop outings (notably the pointedly saccharine final cue, for the film's utterly insane finale.)
The DVD's audio is also on the coarse side, but the English dub track is clear and follows most of the shots that have actors mouthing their inane dialogue in English. (French actress Auger, who spoke her own lines in Thunderball, has her voice dubbed by another actor.) Twitch has already appeared on DVD in a full screen transfer of the 80 min. version from Simitar, and in two recent Region 2 PAL DVDs (see comparison link below).
Image's extras include two ridiculous radio spots ("The first motion picture to require face to face warning - Every ticket holder must pass through the theatre's final warning station. We MUST warn you - FACE to FACE!"), and a text-based Bava bio & filmography.
The included trailer - billing the film under its alternate Carnage moniker - is a trippy work of solarized death montages, intercut with an animated skull, & the boldly written word CARNAGE - all set to Cipriani's jungle muzak title theme. While it echoes the trailers of contemporary giallo films, the music and colour-saturated images become an alluring, eroticized ode to murder & mayhem - pretty much in line with Bava's own wicked sensibilities.
Reissued in 2007 by Anchor Bay/Starz Home Entertainment as part of their Mario Bava Collection Vol. 2.
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan