Published on July 22nd, 2014 | by Clint Davis
Twitch of the Death Nerve (AKA: Bay of Blood) 
Summary: This infamous video nasty is pure camp by today's standards, with a plot that Lewis & Clark couldn't navigate. Some of the disgustingly awesome makeup effects are quite impressive but at the end you'll wonder what was the point.
R | 84 min.
Director: Mario Bava
Screenplay: Mario Bava, Giuseppe Zaccariello, Filippo Ottoni, Sergio Canevari
Starring: Claudine Auger, Chris Avram, Anna Maria Rosati
Distribution: Hallmark Releasing Corporation (U.S.)
If you measure a horror film’s excellence strictly by its body count, Twitch of the Death Nerve belongs up there with The Godfather on A.F.I.’s next “Top 100” list. Let me put it this way, there are two deaths before the first line of dialogue is spoken — unless you count the gurgling noises.
This 1971 Italian bloodbath, also released under the title Bay of Blood, was one of infamous “video nasties,” a list of movies that were censored or completely banned by the British government in the mid-’80s for rocking their country’s delicate sensibilities. The 72 video nasties were almost exclusively made up of Italian and American horror flicks with B-level production values that mostly seem camp by today’s gruesome standards.
For as many cold-blooded murders are carried out in the 84 minutes of Twitch of the Death Nerve, its opening minutes are so serene that it may lull you right to sleep. We start with a tranquil shot of a golden sunrise hanging over a waterfront, then tight focus on a few rain droplets streaking down the outside of a window as we hear crickets and wildlife — cut to an elderly, wheelchair-bound woman who is strangled to death right before our eyes.
Its clear that director Mario Bava, whom also served as co-writer and cinematographer, delighted in messing with the audience’s heads a bit. Several times in the picture, a scene will end on one very clear visual before an edit juxtaposes it with another similar-looking but often very different image. This thoughtful shooting is the greatest strength of Twitch of the Death Nerve from a purely cinematic viewpoint.
On the other hand, if you dig exploitative horror flicks full of carnage, good-looking women and a bit of casual sexism, you’ll think I’m seriously underrating this movie.
This is typically the place in the review where I recap the movie’s plot, trying to give you a brief sense of the action and motivation of the characters, but with Twitch of the Death Nerve, you’d need a compass and Sacajawea to navigate this story. The serene waterfront we opened on is an area simply known as The Bay, which will be the catalyst for the film’s events. After the area’s owner and her husband are murdered, a group of people including relatives and caretakers begin a bloody spree to secure their inheritance of the prized land. Bodies begin piling up and the audience is left only with process of elimination to figure out who has blood on their hands.
One-third of the way through Twitch of the Death Nerve I still had no clue who was doing the killing or frankly, why they were doing it — the inheritance bit only became clear later. If it’s not bad enough to be completely in the dark plot-wise, I didn’t even know any of the characters’ names about halfway through (body count = 6), and by the ending I may have been able to name three. It’s so ridiculous that about an hour into Twitch of the Death Nerve, one of the main characters doesn’t even know what the hell is happening in the plot, as a female companion asks him, “You still don’t understand?” And no, he legitimately doesn’t.
In addition to proving himself a thoughtful shooter, Bava sticks close to the visual style most identifiable with ’70s exploitation cinema. We get lots of lightning-fast zooms, shabby natural lighting and an overabundance of strawberry red blood. It does get pretty distracting when the time of day seems to change mid-scene, though. You can seldom tell if it’s day or night in Twitch of the Death Nerve, as the lighting will drastically change from one shot to the next when the characters are outside…which is often.
The musical score that plays out under Twitch of the Death Nerve resembles a Golden Era stag film, in fact it could have been lifted from one of John Holmes’s starring vehicles. However, like its video nasty brethren, not much about this movie is sexy. A buxom secretary character named Laura (Anna Maria Rosati) is quite fetching early on as she’s nude, wrapped in fur; later, she’s chic in an all-white getup. We also get a few memorable scenes from a free-spirited German girl named Brunhilda (Brigitte Skay) who is punished by the killer for go-go dancing and skinny-dipping in the bay.
There are moments where Twitch of the Death Nerve feels profound although I’m not sure if it’s intentional. The storyline comments on politics and environmental protection as a scientist character named Paolo (Leopoldo Trieste) is opposed to another man’s purchase of the bay in fear that he will turn it into a “sea of cement.” Perhaps the most weighty line in the picture comes from that lovable fraülein Brunhilda, who tells her yankee pals, “You are full of hot dogs and Cadillacs and you have no music in your souls.” Deep commentary on American consumer culture or the effect of allowing a drunken actress to improvise her own lines? You decide.
I must give credit to the movie’s special effects crew, led by Oscar-winner Carlo Rambaldi (the guy that designed E.T.) because there are some straight-up disgusting makeup moments in Twitch of the Death Nerve — which is one of the best compliments a horror makeup artist can receive.
Rambaldi’s best work in this movie includes an octopus that is stuck to a dead man’s face after his corpse is pulled from the bay. This is going to sound weird but I actually had to go back and watch the scene again because I couldn’t believe how revolting its was, especially when you actually hear the mollusk’s suction cups releasing their grip on his face as it’s ripped away! Without question, the best makeup effect in the movie comes when an unsuspecting guy catches a razor-sharp sickle through his face after innocently answering the front door. It’s so unexpected and gratuitous that it actually makes the scene funny, compounded by the fact that you can see the actor blinking on the floor well after he should be dead.
By the end of Twitch of the Death Nerve, the body count is as high as you’ll ever see in a horror movie, but honestly most of the killings are pretty tame. This would be one of Bava’s final films, as he passed away less than a decade after its release and subsequent British ban. The ending is silly and almost lighthearted, bookending the movie’s opening. If you’re hunting down the video nasties, Twitch of the Death Nerve is obviously required viewing but if you’re looking for one that can still shock you today, best to look elsewhere.