I freely acknowledge that Mario Bava’s 1971 Euro-trash classic Twitch of the Death Nerve probably does not show up on most people’s lists of favorite Halloween movies, but with so much gruesome in the news these days, I thought it might be good to lighten things up with a dose of mayhem you can actually see and perhaps run away from.
Plus it involves many useful ingredients for rollicking good/dreadful ride;
1) I actually do like director Mario Bava’s work, especially his Black Sunday (1960), featuring the ultimate scream queen, Barbara Steele. It’s an excellent “first film” if you’re looking to dip your toe in the cheapo-Euro horror film pool of the 60’s. Of course you may not get that toe back.
2) There’s a “Bond Girl” in the flick. That alone will probably prick the attention of half the audience. Claudine Auger is featured here a few years after her turn as the tragic heroine “Domino” in 1965’s Thunderball.
3) The body count in Twitch is jaw-dropping. Not since A Fistful of Dollars or the final scene of “Hamlet”…
4) The gamut of death-inducing weaponry exceeds that of a game of Clue. It includes a spear, a shotgun, a rope, and a hatchet…not to mention weird insects and a freshwater (?) squid.
You’d think with all that going for it, how could it miss?
I started watching this jewel with Chloe, our resident canine critic.
Her opinion? “If you want me, I’ll be in the bar”.
One night while watching an exquisite double feature on TCM (Creature From the Black Lagoon and Tarantula), I was able to put aside, for a moment, the fashion questions posed by these flicks (Julie Adams’ stunning white bathing suit – white always being the sensible choice for swimming in the Amazon – and Mara Corday’s inexplicable white gloves in a crusty desert town with dirt roads), and consider the respective screaming techniques of those actors. Ms. Powers’ pitiful squeak came out a poor second to Ms. Adams’ flawed, but lusty bellow. Ms. Adams’ technique was probably better suited for the stage than the camera. She paused, registered the menace (as implausible as it was), took a deep breath, and cut loose with a face-shattering, but perfectly coifed shriek. Not bad. I’d give it an eight (the bathing suit, brooking no discussion, gets a solid ten).
The female star/victims of these cinematic expressions of the 19th-century penny dreadfuls are often referred to as “scream queens”, but how often do we really evaluate their screaming abilities? We (or at least I) revere Barbara Steele, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Adrienne Barbeau, Judy Geeson, Evelyn Ankers, and so many others for their contributions to the horror genre. However, their contributions are usually visual; big eyes, big hair, big…? (I believe the traditional euphemism for this moment is “charms.”) The exception in this group would be Ms. Geeson. Her screaming in the sublimely crude It Happened in Nightmare Inn (imagine a Spanish Motel Hell) was spot on.
As fine a shrieker as Ms. Geeson is though, there’s one old yeller that’s truly the queen.
My first play on the Guignol stage at the University of Kentucky was “Playboy of the Western World”, directed by Charles Dickens (yes, that was his real name) in September, 1969. One evening in rehearsal Professor Dickens coached me in a reactive moment to let forth a “Fay Wray” scream. I had to confess my complete ignorance as to who Fay Wray might be. Charles muttered “dull…flat…literal undergraduate students…” and moved on to presumably more literate and direct-able cast members.
However, I took this admonition to heart and later in the year I had a chance to see Ms. Wray’s piéce de resistance performance opposite the titular character on top of a New York skyscraper in King Kong. Keep in mind this was before Netflix, TCM, Youtube, cable television, Tivo, streaming, dvr’s, and vcr’s. I didn’t even own a television set! I had to be on TV Guide* alert to learn when a local channel (two channels – count ‘em – two!) would be showing the movie and then impose on some classmate (probably Chuck Pogue) to let me come to their place watch it. Watch it I did, and to this day for me, no one screams like Fay Wray. It’s spontaneous. It’s instant. It’s totally committed to the moment.
The next fall, I was cast in the Guignol’s production of “Billy Budd”. This jolly little play takes place on a British ship in the 1800’s. Why a college theatre department comprised of about a dozen active male actors and about five dozen active female actors would choose to do a play with a cast of 26 males and no females is beyond my pay grade, but schedule it they did, and the predictable result was that there were a few guys in the cast that had seriously limited experience on stage…like…none. There’s a big moment in the first act of the play in which a sailor falls (offstage) from the heights of the ship’s rigging to his death. His screams are the audience’s only connection to the tragedy of the moment. Unfortunately, this part was being played by an English major whose previous stage experience consisted of accepting his high school diploma. The director (Ray Smith) held auditions for offstage screamers to create the moment.
Guess who got the part…and killed it.
Fay Wray will always be the ultimate scream queen to this grateful geezer.
TV Guide was an indispensable weekly digest-sized magazine that listed the program schedules of the two local channels and included jaunty puff-piece articles about the programs and actors. You had to pay for this. Ah…the good ol’ days when America was great. How did we survive?
On a cool spring afternoon at Keeneland, eat the burgoo. You can’t lose.
If you ever find yourself in a horror movie and someone says to you; “Everything’s gonna be alright”, rest assured…it won’t be.
Yes, boys and girls, it’s Movie Night!
Tonight’s 1973 delight might be known to you as Crypt of the Living Dead…but probably not. Or you might know it as Hannah, Queen of the Vampires…but probably not. In fact, if you know this film at all I have to assume your parents did NOT know where you were at night.
Understand, I’m not qualified to judge the fine points of film production but;
I know when I can’t decipher half the words spoken, the sound is poor.
I know when half the scenes are 90% totally dark, the lighting is poor.
I know when half the cast (male and female) are wearing turtleneck sweaters, a bit more thought could have been put into the costuming…or some re-e-e-ally intriguing tattoos are being denied examination.
You get my gist; this film’s not good.
However, it does feature a cast of interest (interest, not quality, mind you).
Teresa Gimpera, fresh off her triumph in Love Brides of the Blood Mummy, is deadly, silent, and pretty. These acting choices seem to work for her.
Mark Damon reminds me of the lead singer of Paul Revere and the Raiders. This acting choice…not so good, but the hair looks great.
Patty Shepard, fresh off her triumph in the title role of The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman (also silent and deadly), is actually not bad. She’s sort of a cross between Barbara Steele and Barbara Bach; not a bad scream queen pedigree.
As for Andrew Prine; imagine, if you will, Roddy McDowell playing a role written for Steve McQueen. McFoolishness!
No, the film’s not good, but just keep telling yourself; “Everything’s gonna be alright.”