Oct. 21: Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971):
Earlier this month I wrote about Black Sunday, an elegant and influential black-and-white chiller from Italian horror maestro Mario Bava. Today I'92m here to tell you about Twitch of the Death Nerve, a brutal, no less influential color film of Bava'92s that was a precursor to the slasher genre that proliferated in the '9280s.
An elderly heiress is killed at her vast lakeside estate. Presumably, the murderer is one of her family members, but it could be anybody. They'92re all pretty rotten. And when the killer'92s identity is revealed almost immediately, we know the formula is getting messed with a bit.
There isn'92t merely one villain here terrorizing a bunch of innocents; everybody'92s corrupt. After the initial murder of the old lady, the movie erupts into a free-for-all. Everybody in the family wants a piece of the inheritance, and they'92re willing to knock each other off to get it. As the murders get wilder and gorier, the movie builds to a fever pitch.
Made three years before Black Christmas and seven before Halloween, this movie is one of the granddaddies of the slasher genre. Friday the 13th owes a particularly huge debt to the movie, pretty much thieving the movie'92s premise and completely stealing one murder in particular (two people are having sex, and both get impaled by a spear at the same time).
However, while Friday the 13th may have stolen the formula (nudity, gruesome murder, repeat), it appropriated none of this movie'92s wit or technical skill. Twitch of the Death Nerve is smarter, meaner and more interesting than the ripoffs. Even when viewed in the context of all the movies that came after it, the movie has a nifty twist on the slasher formula, and even manages to come off as a wicked little satire of rampant greed instead of merely an excuse to kill some folks.
Bava'92s visual skill also lends this movie a sense of style that is absent from most of the amateurish slasher films that followed.
Of course, you should realize that all this talk of intelligence and wit is still dealing in relative terms. At its heart, Twitch of the Death Nerve is still all about boobs and blood. It just wants to shock you, and it succeeds.
Also, be aware when looking for the movie that it is also known as Bay of Blood, which is a more accurate title than Twitch of the Death Nerve, if far less cool.
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'97'a0'a0'a0 Blood and Black Lace (1964): A masked killer is stalking a fashion house, knocking off the models one by one. Mario Bava absolutely drenches this film in color, and his stylish direction is what really sets this movie apart. This was a progenitor of the Italian '93giallo'94 genre, and was particularly influential on Dario Argento in particular.
'97'a0'a0'a0 Planet of the Vampires (1965): Bava'92s colorful direction is also the best thing about this mixture of sci-fi and horror, in which a spaceship lands on a mysterious planet, and crew members begin to vanish. The movie'92s smoke-and-shadows atmosphere was also said to be influential on the look of Ridley Scott'92s original Alien.
'97'a0'a0'a0 Demons (1985): Bava'92s son Lamberto directed this gory little horror film, in which the audience is trapped in a movie theater while ravenous demons bite people and turn them into demons as well. The movie may owe more to Night of the Living Dead than anything by the elder Bava, but Lamberto inherited his old man'92s sense of style.