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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Twisted Nerve Roy Boulton 1968

Twisted Nerve, Chapped Ass

To mix things up a bit, I think I’m going to start my review of rarely-seen 1960’s cult fave Twisted Nerve with all of the things I hated about the movie. Tough love, babies. Tough love.

First, it’s way too long. Sure, the seats at the BAM Rose Cinemas aren’t exactly Barcaloungers, but if I can sit on cold bleachers for an entire high school football game without getting piles or bruising my bony ass, I should at least be able to sit through a horror movie without needing to pack my jeans with Charmin. Granted, the whole “football game” scenario is entirely imagined (and ends with a Tiger-Balm-slickened series of “misunderstandings!” in the visitors’ locker room) and I usually have to pack my jeans with Charmin, regardless. But still, Twisted Nerve totally gave me an ass-ache because it’s really long and quite slow; while I of course see the charm of a slow-boil thriller, these stories really are better enjoyed at home, on a couch, with ample opportunity for bathroom breaks and ass-massages. They really don’t make movies like this anymore, and there’s good reason – the Movie of the Week phenomenon basically took the “drawing room thriller” genre for a test-drive in the early seventies and never returned it to the dealership, which freed up Hollywood to focus on the bigger, more violent and sensational pictures that led to our beloved slasher boom. So while I did like the movie, I wouldn’t exactly recommend suffering through its considerable length at a cinema, where it will really just seem like an extra-big television show (some of my favorite movies of this era, including the fabulous The Baby, suffer the same fate when seen on the big-screen – just a wee bit yawny).

Second, this movie is so Freudian it hurts. Sure, when Psycho came out in 1960 it was a big, exciting bit of mother-hating whoop-de-doo and likely knocked people on their tits with its “progressive” use of psychoanalytics and complex villain. But a good 8 years later, and we’re still playing the same riff? It’s a bit too pat for me, to be honest – while our lovable loony Martin (quite a popular name for lovable loonies with mop-tops and tight pants, really) may not have the traditional “split personality” that earned Norman Bates his ticket into the pantheon of iconic horror baddies, he still has pretty much the same situation: smothering mother, absent father, homicidal tendencies aroused by attraction to pretty blondes, “fussy” nature. Not surprisingly, many people think that Martin might be a repressed queer, much in the same way that many assume Bates is, even though this couldn’t be further from the truth in either case – sexual attraction to women is the lynchpin of their psychoses. In Bates’ case, people might have mistaken actor Anthony Perkins’ own bisexuality or rather effeminate demeanor in playing Bates as being a suggestion of gayness, while in Nerve, Martin has a fixation on old muscle pictorial magazines (which is actually kind of hilarious). But Martin doesn’t want to have sex with these men, he wants to be one of them – they represent the fully-formed masculine ideal that his mother’s smothering attentions have made all but impossible for him to achieve (this is also why his erections are apparently so horrible for him to endure that they can literally shatter mirrors – they defy his conditioning as a mama’s boy). There’s also quite a bit of bizarre talk of “Mongols” – and I don’t mean Ghengis Khan here – and the possible genetic connection between mental retardation and psychosis. Okay, say what you want about How’s Your News?– the songs may be cheesy, the music tinny, and the singing atrocious – but those retards certainly aren’t killers. It’s this kind of goofy awe for the genetic/neurotic possibilities that Freud brought into the public mind (as well as the writings of Krafft-Ebings, which Martin pointedly reads here, in an odd display of useless self-awareness) that let the air out of the tires of what starts as a psychologically complex story – it instead becomes a sort of reactionary pop curiosity with a decidedly short shelf-life.

Oh – and third, I hate the British.

I keed, I keed! I actually love the British, especially the ones that have money and exceedingly well-fitting clothes, like the characters at hand here. First and foremost, there’s silly little Martin Durnley (Hywel Bennett, looking every bit like a Williamsburg hipster), a spoiled rich twentysomething who has an understandable attachment to his retahded brother and a healthy disdain for both his overbearing mother and his gruff, wealthy stepfather. When Martin attempts to steal a toy duck from a shop and gets innocent (and lovely!) bystander Susan Harper (Hayley Mills, who is SMOKING HOT at 22) involved, he puts on the character of lovable-but-slightly-“special” Georgie in order to get out of the charge and get on Susan’s good side. And it works – for the rest of the film, Georgie works his way into Susan’s life and home, getting rid of her boyfriend and turning her life upside-down. While he’s at it, Martin also uses the opportunity of getting kicked out of his house to stage a scheme to murder his stepfather. As he’s supposed to be in Paris (even though, as Georgie, he’s staying at Susan’s mother’s boarding house) and none of his new acquaintances knows that his real name is Martin Durnley, he’s able to mastermind the murder very effectively from mere miles away.

But bumping off dad is just the icing on the cake, really – what Martin’s really out to do is screw with poor Susan, a good girl with a kind of sad, trashy mom (the fabulous Billie Whitelaw, better known as Mrs. Baylock from The Omen) who is studying to be a teacher and works at a library on the side. What I loved about Susan – aside from her stunning assortment of late-60s clothes and gorgeous, flawless skin – was that while this type of person could easily be played as an annoying saint, she’s really not – she’s not a prude, she just doesn’t want to mess up her opportunities and has her nose to the wheel. Susan is patient with Georgie, who proves to be a wonderful tenant (he mows the lawn shirtless – which is pretty funny considering he’s anything but strapping – and makes his own bed), but as his advances become more pronounced and the holes in his story begin to stretch, she becomes suspicious and drives the story to its inevitable revelation and conclusion. And thank God, because things really do get a bit ponderous in there. The dialogue is snappy and the acting uniformly excellent, but it’s still just so dry and predictable that it does wear thin after a time.

Luckily, the whole “psychosexual” angle of the story gets considerable play, and there are some moments that are downright shocking for a film that is otherwise pretty chaste and measured (there’s a scene at the lake between Martin and Susan that’s pretty awesome). Thank god, because there's certainly not any gore or other prurient thrills to speak of -- for a movie that boasts the so-delicious-it-hurts tagline "Cleaver, Cleaver, Chop, Chop! First the mom and then the pop!" (which isn't even accurate), this is as dry as burnt toast when it comes to the red stuff. But still, the performances are fabulous -- Hywel Bennett is wonderfully droll as the casual psychopath Martin, and his scenes with "don't call me Miss Bliss" sexpot Mills are fantastically sick (and it's lovely to see that Bennett is the godfather to Mills' firstborn -- nice to see that people who spend their workday terrorizing one another can still maintain a healthy friendship off-set). Whitelaw's fading beauty (which unfortunately gets her into big trouble with Georgie) is perfectly suited to the lonely single mother role, and even the supporting characters are wonderfully realized, particularly Barry Foster as the lecherous-yet-lovable boarder Gerry (you may also know him as the sicko necktie killer from Hitchcock's gleefully amoral Frenzy and from the gay romance Maurice). And let's not forget the legendary whistled theme, courtesy of Bernard Herrmann, which Quentin Tarantino would later borrow for Kill Bill's killer nurse.

So while all the pieces are there, I can't really justify giving it more than a 3-Skully review, because it's honestly a bit long and from the vantage point of 2006 doesn't really offer much to the genre that hadn't already been done or that it will really be remembered for, save a few bars of music. So while I definitely recommend checking it out if you get the chance, it's definitely one better enjoyed in the comfort of your well-appointed living room, with plenty of pillows for support.

Rating (out of 5):