Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Peter Strickland’s Italian horror homage, Berberian Sound Studio, has us thinking back on our favorite giallo movies.
Twitch Of The Death Nerve (1971)
A mansion on a stormy night. An aristocratic-looking woman makes her way around the darkened rooms in a wheelchair. As she passes through a doorway, a noose is thrown around her neck. The wheelchair is kicked out from under her; she struggles for breath, eyes and tongue bulging out. Her killer, a well-dressed middle-aged man, watches quietly. He sets a forged suicide note down on a table, and then walks over to check the body. Suddenly, a knife flashes in the dark. The man is repeatedly stabbed. He collapses, blood spurting from his mouth, under the dangling corpse of his victim.
So opens Mario Bava’s gory slasher merry-go-round Twitch Of The Death Nerve—also known as A Bay Of Blood, Blood Bath, Carnage, The Ecology Of Crime, and Last House On The Left: Part II. Like all true gialli, Twitch Of The Death Nerve is a more or less conventional mystery taken to extremes of violence and stylization (“giallo” means “yellow” in Italian, and denotes the genre’s roots in cheaply printed detective fiction); it’s an Agatha Christie-type whodunit blown up to gruesome proportions. There is a will and an estate and some nonsensical family secrets—but more importantly, there are lots and lots murders committed with spears, axes, and billhooks.
Twitch Of The Death Nerve’s cynical plotting and unprecedented violence formed the template for the slasher movies of the 1980s, but while countless films have imitated the movie’s gore (Friday The 13th Part 2, for instance, copies two of its killings beat for beat), none have matched Bava’s filmmaking energy. Formally, Twitch Of The Death Nerve is outrageous, rich with lurid color, unusual compositions, and eccentric visual details. Then there are Bava’s famous zooms; timed to action, they serve as a kind of in-camera editing, breaking scenes down into wide shots, medium shots, and close-ups without ever cutting. Though the movie is best known for its brutal killings, what distinguishes it from later imitators is the way Bava handles the stuff in between. Anyone can make a decapitation look interesting, but only Bava could turn a scene where two characters unload exposition onto the audience into a study in reflective surfaces and frames within the frame.
Availability: Blu-ray (as A Bay Of Blood) and several DVD incarnations, plus disc delivery from Netflix.