Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Twisted Nerve - film review

Twisted Nerve is a controversial film from 1968, a horror story about a psychopath in sub-Hitchcock vein. It combines a number of excellent ingredients with some questionable taste. It's almost always a mistake to judge films, or books, from the past by the standards of today, but even in 1968, I think there was something rather disturbing about this movie, not least in its rather dodgy (and, I think, unncessary to the plot) science about the nature of psychopathy and its relationship with disability. It's directed and co-written by Roy Boulting, but much, much darker than the Boulting Brothers' usual fare.

When I first saw this movie, as a student in the Seventies, I was startled to find that the lead character, played by Hywel Bennett, was an ex-Oxford man called Martin. To say that I didn't identify with him would be an under-statement. Not only was the young Hywel Bennett conspicuously handsome, he was playing a character who is seriously disturbed and very dangerous indeed.. A weird, baby-faced guy with an affluent but troubled family background, he becomes obsessed with a pretty young librarian (Hayley Mills) and concocts an elaborate scheme which involves him conning his way into the large house in which her mother (the superb Billie Whitelaw) takes paying guests, and contriving an alibi so as to stab his stepfather (Frank Finlay) to death.

The murder is investigated by a jaundiced cop played by Timothy West, while one of Martin's fellow lodgers is played by Barry Foster. By any standards, it's a terrific cast, and the Hitchcock connection is emphasised by the fact that Foster and Whitelaw appeared in the great man's late film, Frenzy - also about a sociopathic killer - as well by the haunting score, written by Hitchcock's favourite soundtrack composer, Bernard Herrmann.

Twisted Nerve is rather strange, not least because it is slow-moving with occasional bursts of lurid action. Yet it is undeniably chilling, in all sorts of ways. As for Hywel Bennett, his health problems have been well documented for a long time, but in his hey-day in the Sixties, he was not only very good-looking but also a very fine actor. It's sad that he wasn't able to maintain the brilliant standards of the first part of his career, but his best performances are genuinely striking..

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