Twitch of the Death Nerve
|Twitch of the Death Nerve
(Ecologia del delitto)
DVD cover for American release of Twitch of the Death Nerve
|Directed by||Mario Bava|
|Produced by||Giuseppe Zaccariello|
|Written by||Mario Bava
Dardano Sacchetti (story)
Franco Barberi (story)
|Music by||Stelvio Cipriani|
|Editing by||Carlo Reali|
|Distributed by||Nuova Linea Cinematografica (Italy); Hallmark Releasing Corporation (U.S.)|
|Running time||84 min|
Twitch of the Death Nerve (Italian: Ecologia del delitto, also known as Blood Bath, A Bay of Blood and Reazione a catena), is a 1971 Italian horror film directed by Mario Bava. Bava cowrote the screenplay with Giuseppe Zaccariello, Filippo Ottoni and Sergio Canevari, with story credit given to Dardano Sacchetti and Franco Barberi. The film stars Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli and Laura Betti. Carlo Rambaldi created the gruesome special makeup effects. The story details the simultaneous murderous activities of several different characters as they each attempt to remove any human obstacles that stand in the way of an inheritance. Easily Bava's most intensely violent film, its emphasis on graphically bloody murder set pieces was hugely influential on the slasher film subgenre that would follow a decade later. In 2005, the magazine Total Film named Twitch of the Death Nerve one of the 50 greatest horror films of all time.
At night in her bayside mansion, wheelchair-bound Countess Federica (Isa Miranda) is attacked and strangled to death by her husband, Filippo Donati (Giovanni Nuvoletti). In turn, an assailant suddenly stabs him to death. Donati's corpse is then dragged to the bay. The police find what they believe to be a suicide note written by the Countess. Donati's murder goes undiscovered.
Real estate agent Frank Ventura (Chris Avram) and his lover Laura (Anna Maria Rosati) plot to take possession of the bay. They had arranged with Donati to murder his wife after she had refused to sell her house and property to them. To finalize their scheme, Ventura needs Donati's signature on a set of legal documents. They have no idea that Donati has been killed.
Four teenagers break into Ventura's cottage. Shy Bobby (Robert Bonnani) stays behind in the house while his date, Brunhilda (Brigitte Skay), skinny-dips in the bay. Donati's rotting corpse rises from the water and collides with the nude girl. Terrified, she rushes out of the water, but an unseen assailant hacks into her throat with a billhook, killing her. The killer then goes to the house and slams the billhook deep into Bobby's face. Bobby and Brunhilda's two companions, Duke (Guido Boccaccini) and Denise (Paola Rubens), find a bed upstairs and are in the throes of sexual passion when the murderer finds them; a long spear is thrust through them, bloodily killing both at the same time.
Simon (Claudio Volonté), the Countess' illegitimate son, is the killer. He had earlier killed Donati, and is now conspiring with Ventura. Offered a large amount of cash, Simon agrees to sign all the legal documents and turn the land over to Ventura. However, it turns out that the Countess had a daughter, Renata (Claudine Auger), who is resolute about the property becoming hers. A search for the Countess' will proves unsuccessful, and Ventura, who believes Renata may be the rightful beneficiary, suggests that Simon finish her off.
Renata and her husband, Albert (Luigi Pistilli), arrive and go directly to the house of Paolo Fassati (Leopoldo Trieste), an entomologist who lives on Donati's grounds. Anna (Laura Betti), Fassati's wife, tells them that the Countess' death was due to Donati, and says that Simon will probably end up with the property. Renata, who until that moment had no idea she had a half-brother, immediately makes plans with her husband to murder Simon, who at the same time is planning her demise.
Renata and Albert find Donati's gruesomely mangled corpse on Simon's boat, then go to Ventura's house. Ventura suddenly attacks Renata and tries to kill her, but Renata manages to stab him instead. Fassati has witnessed everything, and when he starts to telephone the police, Albert strangles him to death. In order to ensure that there are no additional witnesses, Renata murders Anna by decapitating her with an axe.
Laura arrives, hoping to meet up with Ventura. When Simon discovers that it was she and Ventura who had plotted with Donati to kill his mother, he slowly strangles Laura to death. Seconds later, Simon is murdered by Albert. The wounded Frank suddenly reappears but Albert kills him in a short struggle.
Albert and Renata know that since there are no other living heirs, the property is guaranteed to be theirs, and they go home to wait for the announcement of their inheritance. Their own children are at the front door waiting for them with a shotgun, and they shoot their parents to death. The young boy and girl gleefully jump over the corpses and rush outside to play.
The genesis of Twitch of the Death Nerve was a simple story idea concocted by Bava and actress Laura Betti as a way to allow them to work together again, as the two had gotten along so well on Bava's Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1969). The project's original title was Odore di carne ("the stench of flesh"), and the murder-filled story had enough promise to convince producer Giuseppe Zaccariello to provide financial backing. Numerous other writers, including Zaccariello himself, had their hands involved in devising the final screenplay.
The film began production in early 1971, originally under the shooting title Cosi imparano a fare i cattivi ("thus do we live to be evil"), which was soon changed to Reazione a catena ("chain reaction"). Bava showed great enthusiasm for the film, but, unfortunately, the movie's budget was extremely low, and it had to be shot very quickly and cheaply before the production money could evaporate. Acting as his own cinematographer, Bava, due to the severe budgetary restrictions, had to utilize a simple child's wagon for the film's many tracking shots.
The location shooting was mostly completed at a Sabaudia beach house (owned by Zaccariello) and its outlying property. Bava had to resort to various camera trickery to convince the audience that an entire forest existed surrounding the Donati estate when in fact only a few scattered trees were at the location. Betti recalled, "All of this had to occur in a forest. But where was it? Bava said, 'Don't worry, I will do the forest.' And he found a florist who was selling these little, stupid branches with little bits of foliage on them, and he began to make them dance in front of the camera! We had to act the scenes strictly in front of those branches—if we moved even an inch either way, the 'woods' would disappear!"
To ensure the utmost realism in depicting the thirteen different murders, Carlo Rambaldi was hired to provide the gruesomely effective special makeup effects. The 1971 Avoriaz Film Festival jurors awarded the film the Best Makeup and Special Effects Award. Rambaldi's effects work also earned the film a "Special Mention" Award at the prestigious Sitges Festival in 1971.
As the latest offering from a noted genre specialist, Twitch of the Death Nerve was greeted with disappointment and disgust by several critics, especially by those who were fans of the director's earlier, more restrained films. At the 1971 Avoriaz Film Festival, where the movie had its world premiere, Christopher Lee attended a screening of the film, having expressed an interest in seeing the latest effort from the director of The Whip and the Body, which Lee had starred in eight years before. Lee was reportedly completely revolted by the movie.
When the film was picked up for U.S. distribution by exploitation specialists Hallmark Releasing Corporation, they titled the film Carnage and copied their own successful advertising campaign for Mark of the Devil by proclaiming that Bava's film was "The Second Film Rated 'V' for Violence!" (Devil having been the first). The movie was apparently unsuccessful, and it was withdrawn and re-released in 1972 under its most commonly known title, Twitch of the Death Nerve. It reportedly played for years under this title in drive-ins and grindhouses throughout the country.
It remains Bava’s most controversial film, and maintains a mixed critical reception. Jeffrey Frentzen, reviewing the film for Cinefantastique, called Twitch "the director's most complete failure to date. If you were appalled by the gore and slaughter in Blood and Black Lace, this latest film contains twice the murders, each one accomplished with an obnoxious detail... Red herrings are ever-present, and serve as the only interest keeping the plot in motion, but nothing really redeems the dumb storyline." Gary Johnson, on his Images website, said that "Twitch of the Death Nerve is made for people who derive pleasure from seeing other people killed...The resulting movie is guaranteed to make audiences squirm, but the violence is near pornographic. In the same way that pornographic movies reduce human interactions to the workings of genitals, Twitch of the Death Nerve reduces cinematic thrills to little more than knives slicing through flesh." Phil Hardy's The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror, while noting that Bava was able to "achieve some striking images", opined "Zooms, no doubt programmed by the imperative to work quickly, spoil some scenes that cried out for Bava's particularly fluid use of camera movement which were so much in evidence in Operazione Paura (1966)."
Joe Dante, on the other hand, was enthusiastic about the film, writing in The Film Bulletin (later reprinted in Video Watchdog) that it "features enough violence and grue to satisfy the most rabid mayhem fans and benefits from the inimitably stylish direction of horror specialist Mario Bava (Black Sunday). Assembled with a striking visual assurance that never ceases to amuse, this is typical Bava material – simply one ghastly murder after another, 13 in all, surrounded by what must be one of the most preposterous and confusing plots ever put on film." In Fangoria, Tim Lucas wrote thirteen years after the film's theatrical release that "Twitch unreels like a macabre, ironic joke, a movie built like an inescapable trap for its own anti-hero...Seen today, the violence in this movie remains as potent and explicit as anything glimpsed in contemporary "splatter" features..."
Several critics have noted that the film is probably the most influential of Bava's career, as it had a huge and profound impact on the slasher film genre. Writing in 2000, Tim Lucas wrote that Bava's film is "the acknowledged smoking gun behind the 'body count' movie phenomenon of the 1980s, which continues to dominate the horror genre two decades later with such films as Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer and their respective sequels." According to Gary Johnson, "Twitch of the Death Nerve is one of the most imitated movies of the past 30 years. It helped kick start the slasher genre… [Bava’s] influence still resonates today (although somewhat dully) in movies such as I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream and Urban Legend."
While most slasher movies owe a considerable debt to Twitch's somewhat nonsensical narrative and its emphasis on bodily mutilation, at least one film was directly imitative: Friday the 13th Part 2 notoriously copied two of Bava's murder sequences almost shot for shot: one character is stabbed full in the face with a machete, and two teenage lovers are interrupted when a spear ends up shoved through their bodies. Along with The Burning, Just Before Dawn (1981) and several other similarly-plotted slashers, Friday specifically "followed Bava's inspired cue, having young people stalked by violent death amid beautiful wooded settings."
According to Tim Lucas, the film is "probably known by more titles than any other movie ever released." Its best-known title is Twitch of the Death Nerve, but it has been shown theatrically and appeared on home video under a bewildering variety of titles. In Italy, the pre-production draft screenplay was called Odore di carne ("The Odor of Flesh"), but the shooting title was originally Cosi imparano a fare i cattivi ("Thus do we live to be evil"). After production was completed, it was announced as Antefatto ("Before the Fact"), but when finally released to theatres, the title had changed once again, this time to Ecologia del delitto ("The Ecology of Crime"). When the film did poorly on its initial release, it was pulled from theaters and retitled Reazione a Catena ("Chain Reaction") and was later re-released as "Bahia di Sangre" ("Bay of Blood").
In the United States, it was originally released as Carnage, then retitled Twitch of the Death Nerve. It is also known as Bay of Blood (or A Bay of Blood), Last House on the Left – Part II (or Last House – Part II) and New House on the Left. In the UK it was banned for cinema under the title A Bay of Blood and again banned for video as Blood Bath although all subsequent releases have used the former title. The Internet Movie Database also lists Bloodbath Bay of Blood and Bloodbath Bay of Death as alternate titles.
- Lucas, Tim. Mario Bava All the Colors of the Dark, Video Watchdog, 2007. ISBN 0-9633756-1-X. As noted by Lucas, although known by several different Italian-language titles, the film's original theatrical release title in Italy was Ecologia del delitto
- Thompson, Nathaniel. "Twitch of the Death Nerve". Mondo Digital. Retrieved 2006-12-08.
- Brown, K.H. "Bay of Blood". Kinocite. Archived from the original on 2006-12-22. Retrieved 2006-12-08.
- "Shock Horror! Total Film Proudly Hails The 50 Greatest Horror Movies Of All Time". Total Film. Retrieved 2007-10-08.
- Lucas, Tim. Twitch of the Death Nerve DVD, Image Entertainment, 2000, liner notes. ASIN: B000055ZCA
- Stevens, Brad. Video Watchdog Magazine, #32 (1996), pgs. 10-11, "A Bay of Blood" videotape review
- "Awards for Reazione a catena". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2006-12-26.
- Frentzen, Jeffrey. Twitch of the Death Nerve Review, Cinefantastique, Volume 4 Number 3, 1974, pg. 36
- Johnson, Gary. "Twitch of the Death Nerve". Images. Retrieved 2006-12-08.
- Hardy, Phil (editor). The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror, Aurum Press, 1986. Reprinted as The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Horror, Overlook Press, 1995, ISBN 0-87951-624-0
- Dante, Joe. Video Watchdog Magazine, #95, pgs. 24-25, "Joe Dante's Fleapit Flashbacks", review of Twitch of the Death Nerve.
- Lucas, Tim. Fangoria Magazine, #43, pg. 31, "Bava's Terrors, Part 2", article on Bava's career.
- "Bay of Blood (1971)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
- Kerswell, Justin. "Blood Bath". Hysteria Lives!. Retrieved 2006-12-08.
- Lucas, Tim. "First Look: ABE's BAY OF BLOOD". Video Watchblog. Retrieved 2007-09-19.
- "Ecologia del delitto". The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film and Television. Retrieved 2007-03-27.
- "Twitch of the Death Nerve Combined Details". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-03-27.