Sunday, September 15, 2013

TWISTED NERVE (Ray Boulting, 1968, UK)

Martin is a spoiled son eclipsed by his mother’s dark secret, kept hidden in an institution, his life an apology for his brother whose handicap is written in DNA. Roy Boulting directs this twisted tale of obscene masquerade and creepy sexuality.

After visiting his brother in the mental hospital, Martin is disenfranchised from his mother and step-father who have locked away their guilt and thrown away the key. When Martin has a chance encounter with the lovely young Susan, he pretends to suffer an intellectual disability in order to gain her trust. He eventually insinuates himself into her home: a rooming house run by her promiscuous mother, a pessimistic and racist film editor, and an intelligent medical student completing his education. Martin is now “Georgie” and plays his role to maximum effect, as his infatuation grows his identity begins to shrink. 

Boulting paces the two hour run time with clockwork precision, allowing the plot to unwind believably while ratcheting up the tension with enigmatic eroticism. We see inside Martin’s mind through his actions, and one wonderful mise-en-scene involves a stack of magazines adorned with muscle bound men and his naked body reflected in a shattered mirror, his face and genitals obscured by the spider web of broken glass. It becomes evident that he feels inferior, a boyish young man trapped in an underdeveloped body. Another scene shows him chopping wood as Susan’s mother reaches deep into his front pocket for a handkerchief, then begins to caress his chest: remember, she believes him to be a mentally challenged boy, ready to sate her own desires. But “Georgie” knows the charade will soon be revealed, and he disposes of her advances by chopping more than wood. As the camera pulls back, we see the shed and hear only the monotonous sawing as metal teeth rend bone. 

Bernard Herrmann's playfully nervous score transcends the frame and becomes part of the story as Georgie often whistles the infectious tune; the music not only underscores the action but it becomes relevant psychologically; the abstract translated into bloody and demented action, yet filled with child-like inspiration. 
The final act is a race against time as Susan discovers his despicable act, and rushes home to warn her mother. Capture by the now psychotic Martin, he begs her to endure some perverted sexual act which is drowned out by a voice-over, a nice touch that makes his plea terrifying and mysterious. Boulting then flashes a montage of murder projected from Martin’s damaged psyche as his umbilical to reality is severed, his ganglion terminally gone awry. 

Final Cut: (B+)