Thursday, 6 December 2007

Twisted Nerve

I’ve watched Twisted Nerve again, for the first time since I was a student about thirty years ago. It’s a disturbing film, in more ways than one. It dates back to 1968, but even then the weird suggestion of a link between Down’s Syndrome and sinister derangement raised many hackles. And the portrayal of racism, although probably designed to expose prejudice rather than to exploit it, is uncomfortable.

Yet, if these elements can be put to one side for a moment, as an example of the sub-Hitchcock psycho-thriller, the film remains quite gripping. The scientific premise may be wildly off-beam, but the script by Roger Marshall (whose television credits include episodes of ‘The Avengers’, ‘Public Eye’ and ‘Lovejoy’), and above all the quality of the acting. ensure that, whatever the flaws, it isn’t impossible to suspend disbelief for a while.

The cast is excellent. Hywel Bennett is truly creepy as the troubled Martin Durnley, Billie Whitelaw smoulders as mother of the gorgeous Hayley Mills, whom Bennett pursues with cunning and relentlessness, while Barry Foster (later to earn fame as Van der Valk) is terrific as Whitelaw’s randy and bigoted lover. Timothy West makes the most a small role as a detective, and Frank Finlay, as usual, is a formidable screen presence – at least until Bennett kills him.

Something else about the film is notable – the eerie music. The theme was later used by Tarantino, I believe, in Kill Bill, and was written by the legendary Bernard Hermann. More about Hermann shortly.

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