One problem some of us cranky genre fans have with most of today’s Hollywood horror movies is too many of them end up with ridiculous plots, under-written, one dimensional (as in terminally dumb), sometimes nude characters going through the same ridiculous motions that get them bumped off in even more ridiculous and bloody ways at intervals you can set your watch to most of the time. Not to mention stuff like some inane product placement that makes those parts of the film seem like ads dropped in between kills for stuff that would kill you if you consume too much of it.
Oddly enough, all this and more makes Mario Bava’s seminal gore classic Twitch of the Death Nerve (or (A) Bay of Blood, Carnage, or Blood Bath or one of many other titles it’s been released as) one of my favorite “B” horror films. Maybe it’s the blinders-on Bava fan in me that makes me like this one so much (some awesome shots aside, it’s far from his best work), or maybe it’s because the movie is actually kind of (alright, REALLY) funny in a very twisted way. The story is nuts with most of its assorted beautiful, handsome or unattractive characters motivated by their greed and/or assorted desires becoming random targets (and I mean random in some cases) of a killer (or killers) with their own agendas. By the end when the bodies are laid out all over the island, none of it makes any sense because the ending literally and figuratively blows away the remaining bits of the paper-thin plot.
An unlucky thirteen murders occur during this flick with the first victim rolling up to a disgusting demise a few minutes in, followed in rapid succession by the killer being killed and his body disposed of. We find out that this is the beginning of a lengthy murder spree within a family that wants possession of the property owned by the now deceased first victim and it’s basically Less Than Ten Little
Indians Italians as lives are cut short in some pretty disgusting (yet strangely humorous if you’re in the right mood) ways. Toss in a small group of teenagers showing up to use the family grounds as their private sex party spot (making for even more gory death scenes) and yeah, it’s pretty much predictability central that everyone in the film is a walking target.
And my, how they die. A hanging here, a machete to the face there, a twofer with a harpoon in the middle of a sex scene, and so forth and so on. If anything, Bava and special effects master Carlo Rambaldi deserved credit for not only outdoing themselves and other horror directors of the era (Herschell G. Lewis’ work is more “comedy” gore than actually frightening once you get over the shock value), but for also inspiring a wave of directors who made films with high body counts and equally to more impressive practical effect-driven mayhem. Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th Part II benefits from two murders lifted exactly from this film (although I’m not criticizing him nor 80’s gore effects whiz Tom Savini for that here – hey, better to borrow from a good gore film than a bad one, I say). If you’re a fan of plenty of other 70’s and 80’s slasher flicks, you’ll be able to trace their lineage all the way back to this flick. Just follow the trail of blood (and keep an eye peeled… or someone may do it for you).
The mean and sudden, yet clinical manner in which the murders happen combined with not one of the characters having a likable bone in their soon to be stiff corpses pretty much makes this a harder film to watch if you’re one of those folks looking for a hero or heroine to latch onto. Nope, just give it up. Everyone here either deserves what they get or is in the wrong place at the wrong time and well, shouldn’t be there in the first place. Oh, I mentioned product placement earlier? There’s a long and loving shot of a bottle of J&B whisky at one point that’s hilarious because you see it and you expect the camera to move along to something else, but it sits there long enough that you’ll want a shot before the next grisly kill takes place. I suggest having that shot before you start watching if you’re supremely squeamish and want to test your resolve with this prickly little gem.
If you’re not too disgusted by the time the plot reveals its secrets during the final half hour, you’ll find out more useless information before the shocking (and yes, amusingly abrupt) climax. I can remember watching this with some friends and one of them cracking up and going on at the stupidity of the finale before actually saying the film needs to be remade. That made everyone in the room laugh harder as we all knew every bit of this blood-soaked ground had indeed been an old, gory road traveled over many, many times since Bava put his own eyeball behind the camera lens and started shooting away at his targets.
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