Friday, October 5, 2007

Twitch of the Death Nerve

This late effort by Mario Bava has a major historical relevance to it. It’s the first slasher movie, and as such ranks up with Night of the Living Dead as one of the most ridiculously over-imitated horror movies in all existence. If that were all it had to offer, though, I would be an unhappy reviewer today, having to write up two negative reviews at once. Fortunately, however, it actually manages to be fairly entertaining, if not really one of Bava’s best movies.

This is a definitive “body count” movie, as its advertising openly proclaimed that there were thirteen characters, and the fun was to be had watching all thirteen dying in different and generally exciting ways. It didn’t quite hold up to the promise of an exciting new way for each character, as a good chunk of them die from machetes, spears, and strangulations, but the film maintains a good pace, and provides enough humor to make up for any other shortcomings.

The DVD also comes with an essay on the making of the film, in which we can learn just how many shortcomings the film had to overcome. Apparently partway through filming the producer fled with all his money, so there was a great deal of making do and creative maneuvering to shore things up. One thing I was amused by was how, despite the script calling for a good chunk of the film to take place in a forest, they were unable to get permission to shoot in any real forests, so Bava had to improvise by buying branches from a local florist’s and holding them up to the sides of the camera to simulate a forest, something that I was somehow completely oblivious to while watching the film.

It’s not one of Bava’s best movies (he only made one truly great film in the 70s in Rabid Dogs), but it works more than it doesn’t, and it’s just fascinating to watch this and see just how much was blatantly lifted from it for a number of slasher movies from the early 80s (the first couple Friday the 13th films certainly come to mind). It’s not the best starting place for Bava’s work, unless you happen to be a huge slasher fan, but it’s certainly worth picking up.

Rating: ***

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