Twisted Nerve – 1968 | 118mins | Thriller | Colour
No puppet master pulls the string on high,
A twisted nerve, a ganglion gone awry,
Predestinates the sinner or the saint.
Twisted Nerve ventured into the world of the gory psycho-thriller and was the Boulting brother’s first attempt to break into the increasingly lucrative exploitation market. Co-written by Roy Boulting in collaboration with Leo Marks, the film’s unwitting implication of a link between Down’s Syndrome and homicidal madness is likely to be an offensive untruth to many and decades on Twisted Nerve is regarded as an aberration and an unfortunate lapse of taste by the usually reliable Boultings. After their role as the unfortunate couple in the Boulting’s Family Way, Hayley Mills and Hywel Bennett are reunited in what would be an important step for Mills in trying to shed her adolescent image and establish herself as an adult star.
Martin Durnley (Hywel Bennett), who has a childish alter ego “Georgie”, lives with his mother Enid (Phyllis Calvert) and a nouveau riche stepfather (Frank Finlay) he resents intensely. Enid dotes on Martin, largely because her first son Pete is a “mongol”, and she is afraid that Martin may inherit a similar affliction. One day whilst shopping Martin encounters Susan Harper (Hayley Mills), an attractive student currently working as a librarian. When he is caught by the store detective shoplifting a toy duck baby-faced Martin adopts the guise of retarded Georgie, consequently Susan takes pity on him and offers to pay for the item rather than create a fuss. This moment of kindness captures Martin’s interest and the following day he shadows her from home to the library.
Following an argument with his stepfather, Martin leaves home telling his parents that he is going to Paris. That evening he arrives at Susan’s guesthouse posing as Georgie Clifford, and persuades her mother, Joan Harper (Billie Whitelaw), a frustrated woman abandoned by her husband, to take him in as a lodger. Having constructed this elaborate alibi, Martin sneaks home one night and stabs his stepfather to death with a pair of scissors. Susan remains friendly to Martin, but is unsettled when he makes sexual advances towards her. After finding his notebook, containing the signature of Martin Durnley, Susan becomes suspicious about “Georgie’s” true identity. Her suspicions are confirmed by a visit to Martin’s mother Enid. Back at the guesthouse, Martin realises he has been uncovered and becomes dangerously unhinged.
©The Boulting Brothers and British Film Culture. Alan Burton, Tim O’Sullivan and Paul Wells.
Roy Boulting: Director
Albert Witherick: Art Direction
Harry Waxman: Cinematography
Hazel Graeme: Costume Design
Bridget Sellers: Costume Design
Martin Charles: Film Editing
Bernard Herrmann: Original music
George W George: Producer
John Boulting: Producer
Roy Boulting: Script
Leo Marks: Script