Twisted Nerve

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For the record label, see Twisted Nerve Records.
Twisted Nerve
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Roy Boulting
Produced by Frank Granat
George W. George
Screenplay by Roy Boulting
Leo Marks
Story by Roger Marshall
Starring Hayley Mills
Hywel Bennett
Billie Whitelaw
Phyllis Calvert
Frank Finlay
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Harry Waxman
Edited by Martin Charles
Charter Film Productions
Distributed by British Lion Film Corporation (UK)
National General Pictures (USA)
Release dates
  • 20 December 1968 (1968-12-20)
Running time
118 minutes[1]
Country United Kingdom
United States[2]
Language English

Twisted Nerve is a 1968 British-American psychological thriller film directed by Roy Boulting and starring Hywel Bennett, Hayley Mills, Billie Whitelaw and Frank Finlay.[3] The film follows a disturbed young man, Martin, who pretends, under the name of Georgie, to be mentally retarded in order to be near Susan—a girl with whom he has become infatuated—and who kills those who get in his way.


The film opens with Martin playing catch with his younger brother Pete, who has learning difficulties and lives in a segregated school in London. Martin is the only remaining figure in Pete's family life; their father died years ago and their mother has a new life with a new husband. Martin expresses concern for his brother's well-being to the school's physician, who is comfortable with Pete's progress.

After the title sequence, Martin is shown in a toy store, gazing at Susan, who purchases a toy. As she leaves, Martin follows after having pocketed a toy duck. Two store detectives ask them to return to the manager's office. The detectives assert that Martin and Susan were working together to allow Martin to steal a toy. Susan assures them she has never met Martin. The manager asks Susan for her address and Martin appears to make a mental note when she offers it. When questioned by the manager, Martin turns soft, presents himself as mentally challenged and calls himself "Georgie". Sympathetic to him, Susan pays for the toy. Certain that this was a misunderstanding, the manager lets them leave.

Martin returns home and finds his parents arguing in the parlor, over his lack of interest in life. There is allusion to some perverse behaviour he has exhibited, though this is not elaborated upon. He shuts himself in his room. While secluded, Martin stares in the mirror, bare-chested, examining his frame. He seems disappointed in his appearance, eventually punching and cracking the mirror in frustration. The camera reveals a stack of bodybuilding magazines on his dresser.

The next day, Martin goes to Susan's house and waits for her to return. She arrives with a young Indian man named Shashee. He drops off Susan, who thanks him and she goes to the library, where she keeps an after-school job. Martin approaches Susan who immediately recognises him as "Georgie". He tells her that he followed her and pays her back for the toy. Before he leaves, Martin, as Georgie, gets Susan to lend him a book about animals.

Martin has a heated conversation with his stepfather, who insists he travel to Australia. Martin refuses, then sets in motion a plan to leave home, pretend to go to France and then go on to live with Susan. Martin leaves his family and shows up late at Susan's mother's house, where she rents rooms. Presenting himself as Georgie, he gains sympathy both from Susan and her mother and they let him stay.

The plot unravels with Martin's duplicitous nature clashing against his desires to win Susan's heart. He wants her to accept him as a lover but cannot reveal that he is in fact Martin, as he is worried she will shun him. Meanwhile, Martin uses his new-found identity to seek revenge on his stepfather, who believes he is in France. This series of decisions leads Martin down the path of self-destruction.



The film score was composed by Bernard Herrmann.

The theme can also be heard in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill when a menacing Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) impersonates a nurse in the hospital scene and in Death Proof as Rosario Dawson's character's ringtone, in several episodes of American Horror Story, in the Malayalam movie Chaappa Kurish as a ringtone of Fahad Fazils character's iPhone and in the Bengali movie Chotushkone where also it is used as a ringtone for Parambrata Chatterjee's character's phone. And also used in Honda's 2015 car advertisement.


The film is notorious for its use of Down syndrome, then referred to as mongolism, as a catalyst for Martin's actions. The film opens with a spoken disclaimer of any connection between the disorder and antisocial behaviour. As The New York Times put it, "this is a delicate area indeed," going on to describe the film as, "more unsettling than rewarding, and certainly more contrived than compassionate."[4]


The title comes from the poem Slaves by George Sylvester Viereck (1884-1962) which is quoted twice in the movie, once during Professor Fuller's lecture on chromosome damage and then as an audio flash back when Martin/Georgie is in a cell:

No puppet master pulls the strings on high
Proportioning our parts, the tinsel and the paint
A twisted nerve, a ganglion gone awry,
Predestinates the sinner and the saint.[5]

Vireck's motives for his writing have been the subject of at least some discussion and has further implications given the debate on Eugenics during the middle of the 20th Century, a subject somewhat alluded to in Professor Fuller's lecture in the film.[6]


  1. ^ "TWISTED NERVE (X)". British Board of Film Classification. 16 October 1968. Retrieved 2013-04-20. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Twisted Nerve (1968)". BFI. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ The poem was published in Viereck, George Sylvester (1924). The Three Sphinxes and Other Poems. Girard, Kansas: Haldeman Julius Co.  The poem is reproduced in full in Abel, Reuben (2010). Man is the Measure. Simon and Schuster. p. 203. ISBN 9781439118405. 
  6. ^ Toth, George (November 18, 2010). "George Viereck: Diplomat or Propagandist?". The University of Iowa Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives. Retrieved 31 May 2015. 

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