Wednesday, November 2, 2011

TWISTED NERVE (1968), "I Whistle a Happy Tune ..."

Well, that Halloween Countdown madness is over, but now I can't get this Goodsell guy to go away, kind of like gum on my shoe, but I guess as long as he keeps coming up with material like tonight's feature, he's welcome to stay as long as he damn well pleases!

This is Greg Goodsell again, and HOOOOOO BOY, are we in for an aural treat today! TWISTED NERVE's score is by the great BERNARD HERRMANN, and it rates up there with his very best horror movie scores, PSYCHO (60) and SISTERS (71)! Quentin Tarrantino liked Herrmann’s whistling motif so much he used it in KILL BILL, VOL. 1 (03)!

We'll cut to the chase. The delectable yet innocent HAYLEY MILLS plays a circumspect young lady who's a librarian. HYWEL BENNETT plays Martin, an innocent-faced no-goodnik from the word go. It all begins innocently enough when Hayley shops around for some toys --

Whoops! Both Mills and Bennett are stopped by the store detective as they leave, accusing the two of being "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" working in tandem to shoplift toys! Nothing could be further from the truth, as this is the first time the two have laid eyes on each other.

Bennett cheerfully gives up the lie that he was shoplifting and Mills knew nothing of it. Like most shoplifters, Bennett has scored up a cheap piece of plastic that has no worth whatsoever – and as we shall soon see, he can well afford to buy the bloody damn thing if he wanted to!

Later, Bennett runs into Mills at the library. While Mills is fresh-faced and innocent, Bennett most decidedly is not, and Mills' "STALKER" big, red light doesn't immediately start flashing on her dashboard!

As you see, Bennett is a spoiled rich kid, 22 and having never worked a day in his life, living in palatial splendor with his over-indulgent mum and distant stepfather! I have lived in apartments smaller than this plush bedroom!

While he pretends to read Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” at Mills’ suggestion, this is what Bennett is REALLY reading behind locked doors. Highly interesting.

Phyllis Calvert plays Bennett’s mom, and she makes Angela Lansbury in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (62) appear positively stand-offish in comparison!

As you can see, Bennett has some major issues, and there's a lot of material in this here chiller that was highly daring for 1968! Seriously, this foreshadows Bennett’s most notorious role, PERCY’S PROGRESS (71), about …. Hey. This is a family Web site!

While Bennett's home life can be safely described as “dysfunctional,” Mills' homestead is far from ideal. Her large family manse is presided over by her sexually frustrated mum, played by great character actress Billie Whitelaw (most remember her as the murderous nanny from the original THE OMEN) who rents out rooms to boarders, insufferable wise-ass Barry Foster chief among them!

Here we go! Bennett shows up on Mills' family doorstep, with a new name --"Georgie" insisting that he rent a room. A forged letter from his mother insists that Georgie be put to bed at promptly 9:30 p.m. every night, and on top of everything else, calls Mills' mum "Mommy!" I would rent to him, wouldn't you?

Billie Whitelaw is intrigued... and more than just a little bit aroused at the prospect of this dripping, youthful man-flesh boarding under her roof!

The ever-bookish "Georgie" takes great care on boning up on the subject at hand!

Ensconced in Hayley's home, Bennett is now a member of the family -- and when one considers Bennett's family as depicted in this film, that's DEFINITELY not a good thing!

Uh oh. Bennett is up to NO GOOD as he dons cat burglar attire one fateful evening.

Bennett takes a decidedly phallic -- yet feminine weapon, sewing scissors, for some mayhem! Bennett's fey, sexually ambiguous psychopath ranks right up their with Laird Cregar's THE LODGER (44) and Shane Briant in STRAIGHT ON 'TIL MORNING (71)!

Bennett's distant stepfather (Frank Finlay, left), confident and duped into believing that his stepson is now in France en route to a job in Australia, is oblivious to his impending doom!

GOSH DARN IT! Bennett loses the pair of sewing scissors in his stepdad's body in a darkened garage! Oooooops!

The attack makes the morning papers, and the discussion around the breakfast nook the following day takes a decidedly morbid turn.

"Now, what soulless rat bastard would stab an unarmed banker in their garage late at night?" Georgie/Bennett tries his damndest to look innocent!

A popular girl, Mills throws an impromptu party as Herrmann's whistling theme is reused in a teenage dance song number!

Bennett/Georgie/Martin/whatever sure doesn't feel that terrific as the nascent feelings he has for Mills begin to burble to the surface!

Georgie sends the record player clattering to the floor and there is a bit of a row between him and Mills' erstwhile boyfriend!

The following day, Mills and Bennett take an impromptu swim in a nearby lake. Hayley looks rightfully perturbed –

Now, Georgie, THAT IS NO WAY to impress a young lady of Miss Mills' stature!!!!

To be brief: Billie Whitelaw espies Georgie working in the woodshed, is suitably turned on, but as Georgie is already embroiled in an Oedipal relationship with his own mother, he lets Billie have it with a nearby tool, and another one gone, another one gone, another one bites the dust!

NO extra points will be awarded to the lucky reader who guesses as to what happens next.

To quote that classic of British literature, "Cold Comfort Farm," there's something particularly NAH-STEE in that woodshed!!!!!!!

There is the expected showdown with Mills and Bennett as secrets become known and psychopathologies become explicit! Will the cavalry arrive in time? Will Mills live to see another day? Will Bennett lose another handy household tool in somebody else's body? What do you think?

Full of gorgeous cinematography and a capable British cast, TWISTED NERVE is not to be missed! Just kindly disregard the VERY misguided bit of pseudo-scientific nonsense about certain “genetic dispositions towards evil” as explained by certain “experts” in this film! The people who made this picture OBVIOUSLY didn’t put much faith in these theories either, as our sexually confused, horribly misguided protagonist is depicted as being VERY MUCH a product of his twisted environment!


TABONGA! said...

I saw this one in 1969 when I was a trooper stationed in Germany, and, I used to whistle that tune!

Mr. Banane said...

With us in Germany this film has not appeared once again. Neither in the cinema, nor on VHS or on DVD :(

Christopher said...

great music..and familiar too,which leads me to believe I've seen this film ..somewhere..somehow.

TABONGA! said...

Hi Mr. Banane, I saw it on an Army base.

Greg Goodsell said...

In the post, I didn’t get too involved as to why TWISTED NERVE is so hard to see today. The whole film is based on the flimsy premise that “Mongolism” – yes, that was the term they used before “Down’s syndrome,” – as the cause of Bennett’s psychosis! Now, everyone knows that Down’s syndrome is a developmentally disabled condition that DOESN’T turn people into homicidal maniacs! The psychology at work here is almost as embarrassing as THE BAD SEED’s theory involving “inherited evil.”

Douglas McEwan said...

Billie Whitelaw & Barry Foster both appeared a very few years later, in Sir Alfred Hitchcock's last true masterpiece, Frenzy, which came out in 1972. Herr Herrmann did not contribute to Frenzy though, after he and Hitch had had an unpleasant parting-of-the-ways over the score for Torn Curtain.

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