I recently saw the above movie poster for Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971), and I just love the whole sense of occasion created by the hysteria: “The first motion picture to require a face-to-face warning!” The exaggeration and performance that is part of the moviegoing culture fascinates me to no end. I’ve been part of 1970s dress-ups, where ushers were tasked to put on Darth Vader or Chewbacca outfits and entertain the lines. What better to get you in the mood? And the fact that one of Bava’s masterpeices, and for many Twitch of the Death Nerve is just that given it’s macabre yet loose—almost tongue and cheek—approach to horror, murder, and gore which gives way to the proto-typical slasher film, the grand daddy of films like Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980), Prom Night (1980), and The Slumber Party Massacre (1982), to name just a few. And these films are particularly special to me, because they mark for me the golden age of the Home Video craze, in the early 80s films like this were now at our finger tips at the local movie rental stores, and the cover art, and pure formulaic gore of much of the b-movie machine saw new life (and markets) on shelves across the country. It was a time before Blockbuster dominated the market for home videos (a 15-20 year reality starting in the early 90s, and now all but at an end) and before Cable turned on the heat with pay-per-view, both of which squeezed out most access to alternatives and possibilities—though the web in the 90s helped alleviate some of this, and then Netflix came along which actually enjoys some of that local movie store feeling, but at the same time not. [Aside: hmmm, BlockBuster (B….b…., do I know anything else like this?]
But I digress, fact is Bava brings the idea of artistic gore to new heights in Twitch of the Death Nerve, and that is all too apparent from the early promotion of the film in the US. The gimmick of the “face-to-face warning” was also run on radio spots for the film. Check this one out from 1971:
Download Touch of the Death Nerve Radio Spot
I love the whole idea of making people think twice about seeing the film you;re promoting, much in the tradition of Hitchcock’s trailer for Psycho, the threat of psychological shock and a more generalized threat to every and anybody planning on seeing this film is not unlike a roller coaster—something could go terribly wrong, and that is why we ride it. Now add to these promos the most badass one of all, and I think you have a great movie without even seeing the movie—which is great by the way. The following 3 minute trailer for Twitch of the Death Nerve (although the film had several international titles, like Bay of Blood and Carnage, which was the initial U.S. title) is for the first release of the film in 1971 by “exploitation specialists” Hallmark Releasing Corporation…
…. [who] 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.
And the trailer they put together for this one is possibly one of the most psychedellic works of art I have yet to see in the movie trailer business. With the colorized film cells, and seductive outlines of what’s happening that let you almost experience the brutal murders as if through a colored veil. See for yourself, it’s gorgeous:
Twitch of the Death Nerve is arguably Bava’s most influential film, given it controlled the tenor of bad horror movies throughout the 80s, even more so than the US classics like Night of the Living Dead (1968), Last House on the Left (1972), and Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). The formula was simple, and like most Bava films, he focused on aesthetisizing the gore, and playing with effects and stylization, caring little or nothing for the convoluted plot. All the more the case when you get the crazy ass ending of this film, which for me stands as one of the most shocking endings I have yet to see on film. It’s Mario Bava in a cinematic fever pitch, playing fast and loose with the horror genre—and coming up with the Slasher film formula in the process.
And then there are the 13 murders, each one more preposterous than the previous. And as a special Summer of Love treat. you can find them all below in a chronological filmic collage documenting all the sumptuous blood tones of bava on a killing spree:
That radio clip is terrific. And I agree about the trippiness of the video trailer.
It’s been a while since I first saw the movie, but do recall appreciating its role in the history of horror.