Some people point to ‘Psycho’ as the first real slasher film. Perhaps. Then again, there are people who think that Mario Bava’s ‘Twitch of the Death Nerve’ (alt. title ‘Bay of Blood’) deserves the title. Read on and decide for yourself.
A rich old woman is murdered one night by her husband, theoretically, for her money. A few minutes after that, he is murdered by an unseen assailant. A false suicide note is left with the Countess while her husband’s body is dumped into the water.
An ambitious real estate agent and his lover travel to the bay. They want the land so they can sell it to land developers and make a fortune. There are a number of residents all around the location who are either relatives in line to inherit the land or have an interest for other reasons. Murders begin to occur at a rapid pace and who knows if anyone will be left to enjoy the bay by the time this is over?
Things start off very quickly and memorably with a few kills. After that, there is about 15 or 20 minutes of exposition and introductions. Once that is out of the way, look out! The kills come fast and furious for the rest of the film. It is a lean film so there are relatively few slow points.
There have been assertions that ‘Friday The 13th Part 2’ was heavily influenced by this. A number of the kills were ripped directly from this and it would be hard to deny that they were done intentionally. The dumb, sex-crazed campers cliché is displayed here, perhaps before any other slasher.
The killer is revealed a little earlier than you might imagine. Don’t worry, there is a lot more going on. A few semi-twists happen and things are revealed.
From a directing standpoint, there are some obnoxious zooms and needless instant replays. If you frame these shots effectively, you don’t need to do crazy camera tricks to direct the viewer’s gaze. Take it easy Mario Bava! Aside from that, the film is quite good at establishing a nice mood, especially in the second half when night falls. It is genuinely suspenseful even though most of the characters are completely immoral.. It is also very gory, especially for the time. Too bad the ending can’t decide whether it wants to be scary or clever. It quickly and ungracefully goes from one to the other. While it achieves a level of intended irony, it comes out of nowhere and is more silly than anything else.
Sometimes it can be difficult to judge acting when you are dealing with a dubbed film. It really throws things off but if that’s the best version you can get, oh well.
The influence of ‘Twitch of the Death Nerve’ is inescapable. You can thank (or curse) it for all that it inspired in ’80s horror films. It even holds up rather well in its own right.
You don’t have a complete picture of the slasher genre, and all that it became, without seeing this. So….get to it.
Rated R 84 minutes 1971