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There comes a time in every genre where the founding figures step aside (or become less relevant) and the new blood steps in. These are not the groundbreakers, but rather those who craft in a tradition established by other people. Sergio Martino is one of those people. He's undoubtedly a talented director whose versatile work in many genres is a testament to both his work ethic and eye for cinema. Many of his early films fit squarely into the Italian giallo genre, a particular brand of sleazy murder mystery that amped up the sex and violence to lurid heights. In fact, his talent behind the camera is almost totally eclipsed by his gift for creating memorable giallo titles. Names like All the Colors of the Dark, The Suspicious Death of a Minor, and my personal favorite Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key are all beautiful, evocative, and dangerous. He outdid himself in 1973 with a title that translates into The Body Shows Traces of Carnal Violence. It was retitled Torso in America, and both titles are equally nonsensical (also in the tradition of the giallo). Although it's not quite a perfect film, Torso is a decent slice of '70s Eurosleaze, and Blue Underground continues their commitment to bringing exploitation fans excellent hi-def version of their favorites.
Facts of the Case
A mysterious killer is stalking the young ladies of Perugia, a killer with a particularly sexual motive for his violence. A group of female friends decide to escape the dangers of their college atmosphere and retire to the country for the weekend. Naturally, the killer follows them, and we watch as suspects and victims are eliminated one by one.
There's often not much to recommend a giallo. The mysteries can be a bit perfunctory, the overdubbed acting so-so, and the plot a bit lackadaisical. No, a giallo lives and dies by its atmosphere and its kills. Torso has both in spades, though not in a way that all fans will appreciate. Dario Argento is generally acknowledged as the master of the giallo, and his entries into the canon tend to have a menacing, hallucinatory atmosphere. Martino doesn't try to ape that style with Torso—instead, he goes for a slightly more off-kilter, maybe even goofy atmosphere. As Eli Roth points out in his video introduction, Torso occurs in a world where we can believe that any of the male characters could be a rapist because they're all that pervy. The abundant nudity and bright colors also do a good job balancing out the sometimes excessive violence of the film. That violence is also what puts Torso ahead of the giallo competition. There are several excellent set pieces in the film that culminate in gory deaths. The gore doesn't always work, but when the film is successful (like the last twenty minutes, where our heroine is trapped in a house with a killer), Martino creates "pure cinema" to borrow Eli Roth's phrase. Even if Torso doesn't quite break ground like other Italian flicks of the period, it's a solid entry into the genre.
In recognition of Torso's standing, Blue Underground has treated it with some serious TLC. First up, there's the fact that we get two different edits of the film. There's the slightly longer Italian cut, and the truncated American release. They're not branched, so we get two separate transfers on the same disc. Despite putting both transfers on a single disc, the 1.66:1 AVC-encoded transfers are gorgeous. Aside from the obvious cuts, it's impossible to tell these transfers apart. Detail is surprisingly strong, and grain is especially well-handled for this film. Except for the film stock (which retains its early-'70s color scheme), there were several moments in the film where I could have been convinced it was shot yesterday (like House of the Devil). Finally, the prints used for this transfer are in good shape, and fans of the old Torso discs will especially appreciate this upgrade. The audio options include DTS-HD 2.0 mono tracks in Italian and English (one for each of the cuts). They too sound surprisingly good for a film of this vintage. Dialogue is clean and clear for the most part, with the tracks' added fidelity only highlighting the industry standard practice of dubbing in Italian movies.
The film's main extra is a short interview with Sergio Martino. He's frank in his discussion of the film and its place in giallo history, and obviously has a love for the film. We also get an alternate set of U.S. titles along with a bunch of promo material like radio and TV spots as well as a poster/still gallery. It's not advertised on the box, but Eli Roth gives a loving and informed optional video introduction. I kind of wish they'd gotten him to sit down for a commentary, especially if he could have interviewed Martino or some of the actors for the track.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
To some, Torso will be just another cheesy Italian exploitation film, filled with so-so gore and an excess of naked flesh. There's no real message or redeeming value in the film, and it doesn't have the kind of plot-driven quickness that many people expect from contemporary films. The mystery, too, feels a bit anemic; the red herrings are great, but it becomes obvious who the killer is a bit too early.
Blue Underground has done another great job giving Torso a hi-def upgrade. The look and sound of this disc are stunning in the context of Italian exploitation fare, and fans of the film are going to want to upgrade. For giallo fans who haven't seen Torso, this is the way to go. For anyone else looking to dip their toes in these Italian waters, you could do much worse.
Slice it any way you like, Torso is not guilty.
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