Did Appellate Judge Tom Becker like Torso? Of course-o.
Death is the best keeper of secrets!
In 1973, Torso must have been a deeply shocking and unsettling experience. A predecessor of the American "slasher" films, Torso is a violent and sexually charged Italian import. It's gory, suspenseful, and features more randy coeds than a late-night Cinemax marathon.
The story's a fairly simple one: Coeds in Rome are being offed by a masked maniac who strangles them with a scarf and then brutalizes their corpses. When four girls decide to go to the country for a few days to get away from the horrors, the killer follows them, leading to a gruesome and suspenseful showdown.
Unlike the slashers of the following decade, Torso is a mystery/thriller, the villain only revealed in the final moments (and providing a convoluted explanation for the grue that had been unleashed). Herrings of every shade of red are tossed out as a variety of likely suspects is paraded by—it seems every male actor in the film was cast based on his general resemblence to the other male actors. It almost gets a little confusing at times.
The women are all beautiful and look great naked, except for Suzy Kendall, who, unfortunately, remains fully clad throughout. Kendall is the nominal name here, an actress and model famous at the time for her striking good looks rather than her emotive abilities. She'd previously appeared in another imported shocker, Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. In Torso, she's Jane, a level-headed student in the midst of the madness. Like the rest of the cast, Kendall is clearly a few years beyond college age. While the "obviously too old for (high school, college)" thing can be glaring, it actually works in Torso's favor, adding to the film's gravity and making the myriad sex scenes seem less unsavory.
As behooves "a journey into the bizarre and terrifying world of the psychosexual mind," there are lots of sex scenes here, and not the giggly camp-counselor kind. We get two orgies—one involving pot-smoking hippies dancing to some sprightly lounge music!—as well as a nasty encounter with a prostitute, a loving lesbian couple, and a bit of heavy hetero petting. While the women are consistently topless (including some nude sunbathing and skinny dipping), their nether regions are always masked by a convenient prop or handily placed arm or leg. These lascivious goings on, naturally, make the killer lethally aggrieved; on goes the mask, out comes the scarf, down goes the victim, then after a little kinky play with the corpse cross-cut with a few of the murderer's twisted memories, sharp objects are employed to further insult the victims' bodies. While the killings are pretty graphic, the gore effects are fairly low rent, but the idea of what's happening is more than a little disturbing.
Unlike later American slashers, where the sex is fun and games until the killer shows up, there is something sinister about many of the situations here. In some cases, it's because we're seeing it through the eyes of the maniac; in others, the sex is just discordant. In the hippie-orgy scene, for instance, the goings on are fairly joyless, taking place in some dank abandoned building, with random couples coupling while a girl is being molested by two guys (one of whom is wearing a red jacket that says "Bronx YM-YWHA" on the back). This is a lead-in to one of film's more horrifying episodes of carnage.
The characters here are better fleshed out than in many such films, with back and side stories that contribute to the mystery. Director Sergio Martino plays up the mystery and suspense aspects of the story without skimping on the brutal aspects of the deaths.
I've seen Torso referred to as a giallo, the violent and sexy Italian thrillers popular in the '60s and '70s. Martino directed a number of gialli, including The Case of the Scorpion's Tale and The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh. While Torso contains many of the earmarks of the genre, including copious gore, lots of nudity, and the ever-present mysterious masked killer, it lacks the delirious, often over-the-top stylistic flourishes often found in gialli. It reminded me of the superior Black Christmas, which was released a year later, more than Bava's Blood and Black Lace or the other seminal giallo films. Strangely, the closest thing America had to a giallo back then was Faye Dunaway's ludicrous high-fashion horror The Eyes of Laura Mars.
In the extras department, get a load of the lurid and explicit US trailer, which contains abundant nudity and sexual shenanigans, some graphic, if bloodless, violence, and a narrator who murmurs about "erotic games" and young girls "eager to test the limits of pleasure" before giddily coughing up the title like an enthused carnival barker. For a trippier take on the material, be sure to catch the Euro trailer (for "Carnal Violence," as Torso was called overseas) with its pop-art graphics and quick cutting.
Unfortunately, these trailers are the entirety of the supplemental material—a shame, given its pedigree as a cult item. This, evidently, is just a re-release of the disc Anchor Bay put out in 2000, and as far as I can tell, nothing new has been done. The transfer is fine, but the audio's a bit weak, and we only get English subtitles over the few segments that are in Italian. Apparently, these—along with some of the more graphic stuff—were cut from the original US and UK releases and were never dubbed. Frankly, few of the Italian-language scenes add much to the proceedings.
Blue Underground must have bought out some of Anchor Bay's old catalogue, because they've re-released a number of their titles—including The 10th Victim and Cannibal Man—on discs that were identical to the first releases, down to the extras (or lack thereof). It's great that these titles are getting a new life and not being consigned forever to the OOP bin and overpriced Ebay auctions, but it would be even greater if the good folks at Blue took account of the cult geeks like myself who'd like a little more context with our discs. Tossing in the occasional interview or essay goes a long way to inspiring high fives and better sales. I'd certainly be interested in knowing a little more about the making of this film and its release history.
Torso is a goofy but fun mystery/slasher. I wish Blue Underground had
brought a little more to the party, but overall, it's still not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
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