Twisted Nerve (1968)

Wow. What's there to say about Twisted Nerve? It's difficult for me to review a movie without making fun of it. It's a beautiful, criminally underrated gem of an unreleased film. At times it reminded me of Micheal Powell's Peeping Tom, other times it reminded me of Freddie Francis' Girly. But more than either it has a distinct Hitchockian flair yet still maintains it's own flavor and originality. In fact, Hitchcock himself liked the movie so much that he cast Barry Foster and Billie Whitelaw in Frenzy.

Twisted Nerve follows a sweet faced young man who has some disturbing hang ups. The movie begins with him playing catch with his "mongol" (a horrible and out dated term for those with Down Syndrome, but it's repeatedly used in the film) older brother in a "special" home. Upon leaving the facility Martin learns that his brother has shown progression but probably doesn't have much longer, although he's surprisingly lived longer than most. I believe this was foreshadowing of Martin's own grim future.

At a department store he steals a toy duck while gazing at a devastatingly beautiful Hayley Mill, as he's walking out of the store behind her, they're both stopped by security and brought back to an office to be questioned. The managers assume they're a couple, she denies and when he's asked he declines into a babyish voice and appears to be mentally retarded. At first I thought this was a ruse to get himself out of trouble, but as the film progressed I had my doubts. So begins Martin and Susan's (Mills) friendship.

Things aren't going well for Martin at home. His coddling Mother doesn't understand why her 22 year old son acts so strange. His assertive Stepfather is ready for him to get his head out of his ass and figure out what he's going to do with his life. He kicks him out and this sends our mentally afflicted unstable leading man into a downward spiral of ultimate weirdness.

Martin cooks up a plan to charm his way into Susan's home. When he's "playing" mentally retarded, he goes by "Georgie". He pretends to be stranded by his father in need of a place to stay for a week. Susan's Mother is apprehensive, but like everyone, gives in to his innocent face and child-like charm. Once he's found himself firmly planted under the roof of the girl he's fixated on (though I'm not sure I understand why he has a stash of fag mags if he's into Hayley Mills) he completely, murderously unravels.

"What a load of crap."

The pacing, cinematography, acting, EVERYTHING about this movie is pristine. Director Roy Boulting (who also made There's a Girl in My Soup) flawlessly created a suspenseful psycho-thriller on par with some of the best I've ever seen. It's a shame that the extent most people are familiar with this film is the Bernard Hermann theme making a cameo in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill. I normally don't mind his "homages" but this one is a bit personal. That theme IS Twisted Nerve. I'm really not sure why this doesn't have an official US release. It deserve the Criterion treatment.

I'm not used to seeing Hayley Mills in the late 60's. I'm used to her during her early Disney days, and then the 80's with "Good M Miss Bliss" ha! Though after this I'll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled. I'm a sucker for a pretty face and she was absolutely stunning in this. Great style too! I was the most impressed with Hywel Bennet's performance as Martin Durnley. He captured the character magnificently. He reminded me of a younger brother version of Alain Delon mixed with a very young Austin Pendleton. His ability to stagnate between an absent minded half wit and a sociopath ranks up with the likes of Norman Bates. He's also quite beautiful and upon meeting, most would be inclined to trust him.

This is one of the best movies I've seen all year and I could easily say that it's worth the effort to track down a copy by any means necessary.

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