FILM– Torso begins like every Giallo should- lesbian sex. Two girls, who are later revealed to be students at the art university, are watched by an unknown man as they cuddle each other and play with an eyeless porcelain doll. Yes that’s right, a baby doll… No eyes… This is immediately followed by a lecture at the aforementioned art museum by the charismatic Professor Franz. Several girls in the audience seem to have the hots for him, making Franz the Professor Indiana Jones of the “sex murders” genre.
After some odd eyes from the students, Jane (played by the beautiful Suzy Kendall) and her friend Dani talk to the professor about disagreeing with his opinions, then everyone parts ways. One student, Flo, decides to head under the overpass to make out with her boyfriend- and I’m sure we all know where this is going.
They finish making boom-boom, only to realize a masked man has been spying on them. The boyfriend, furious as the lurker seeing what they were doing, chases after him. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching Giallos over the years, it’s never follow the masked man who spied on you during sex, no matter how pissed you are. This man is a maniac and will kill you.
And of course the boyfriend never returns, only to be found in the morning behind the bridge with his throat sliced. After waiting a few minutes, Flo steps out of the car, leading to a brilliant game of “guess who’s playing with the headlights and is about to kill you”. Eventually the maniac strangles the girl with a scarf, fondles her dead boobies, pokes her eyes out, and dismembers her body.
The campus is buzzing the following morning about the murder, and what begins is the greatest showcase of red herrings ever. After class the resident wild girl, Carol, hitches a ride with a motorcycle-riding hippie, and they head out into the woods for a drug party/ strip show/ orgy at some abandoned shack. Holy shit I love Italy in the 70’s.
At the party one of the motorcycle douchebags begins getting a little too frisky, so Carol scratches him across the face and leaves. Zooted out of her mind and chased by the cycle dickheads, she flees into the woods. The muddy, foggy, pitch black woods. The same woods where our masked friend from earlier is waiting.
Using the fog instead of car lights to play his mind games, the killer eventually corners Carol, strangling her while simultaneously drowning her in a mud puddle- you know, just for efficiency. He does the same ritual as before, playing hot fingers with the corpse before eventually gouging out the eyes and carving it up.
The police are in Franz’s classroom the next morning, asking if anyone had seen someone wearing the scarf left around Carol’s neck, which was a black on red design. Dani sees the scratches on the neck of Mr. Motercycle that Carol left with the night before, and begins to think he is the killer. This assumption quickly changes when she remembers seeing someone wearing the scarf used to murder her friend, but she can’t recall who was wearing it.
Dani goes home that night scared and frustrated at not being able to remember who was wearing the scarf. Things go from bad to worse when she gets a phone call warning of impending death. Her uncle, Nino (“Dr. Jeff Goldblum” from Cat o’ Nine Tails) suggests she leave town for the weekend to get peace of mind- offering her full access to his mountaintop villa a few towns over.
While Dani and her friends Ursula and Katia get ready for the trip, Stefano shows up to talk with her. She suddenly realizes it was him she had seen wearing the scarf the previous day. Stefano is a socially awkward student who lurks around after class spying on the girls. One night he spontaneously backhanded a prostitute he had picked up, so he’s not exactly the best guy who could be following you around. After a scuffle, Dani manages to get inside her apartment and lock Stefano out.
Later that night, the sleazy scarf vendor with a penchant for peeking up the co-eds skirts makes a phone call demanding money from the killer, who bought the scarf from him several weeks ago. After collecting an impressive two million bucks, the vendor trots away. Well since blackmailing an established murder is always a sure fire way to get your ass killed, the vendor eventually ends up with his head split open like a gourd, all thanks to the killer’s front bumper.
The girls take the train the next morning, but Jane stays behind to talk with Stefano. She doesn’t find him in his apartment, but she does find a note professing a childhood love towards Dani. Also, propped up on a chair sits an eyeless baby doll. Jane laughs off Stefano as the murder, considering him a harmless stalker. After finding concert tickets left on her windshield by Professor Franz (who Jane seems more than taken by), she heads towards the villa.
While Dani and her friends have already made it up the mountain thanks to a townie with a tractor, Jane’s car can barely make the climb, so the village mechanic gives her a ride up, and agrees to fix her car, which she plans to pick it up when the trip is over. Jane tells Dani that Stefano is just a harmless weirdo, which makes her remember his scarf was red on black, the opposite of the killer’s.
Dani has already arranged to have a delivery boy bring groceries up every morning, so Jane and Dani settle in for the night. Ursula and Katia are lovers, so they begin to go at it- not realizing they’re being watched from someone outside the window. This turns out to be the village idiot, who just wants to get an eyeful. Well the killer has also followed the girls to the villa, and quickly eliminates the peeping tom.
The next morning the grocery boy delivers the milk, only to find Dani, Ursula, and Katia sunbathing nude (making for the best moment of his life). As Jane watches and laughs, she slips down the stairs and sprains her ankle. The grocery boy gets a doctor for the girls, who it just so happens was one of the guys buying scarves from the vendor outside the college. After bandaging her leg, Dr. Roberto leaves and the girls have more nude fun. Well except Jane, she’s forced to stay bedridden for a couple of days.
That night after drinking Champaign, the girls hear a knock on the door. It’s two people- the killer, and the other, well, not exactly breathing anymore (get it, because he strangles his victims to death? ZING!). What happens that night is not exactly shown, but when Jane wakes the next morning, she finds herself in a game of cat and mouse with the psychosexual madman.
*As much as I hate to leave the final paragraph of my plot summery that vapid and vague, I would ruin the entire film if I said anything else. Torso is one of the most inventive and unique Giallos ever, and the last half hour is essentially a dialog free game of hide and seek. Also while I do not spoil the identity of the killer, some of my wording and screen captures might spoil some of the last act. So with that out of the way, here’s the review.
Giallo are easily one of the most enjoyed sub-genres of Italian horror, and it’s easy to see why. What started out as sleek, leather coat wearing killers quickly turned into a genre with nothing but sleaze, depravity, and gore. Compare Deep Red to something like New York Ripper and you can easily see what I’m talking about. So where does Torso fit into all of this; right in the middle of the spectrum, making it one of the best (and my personal favorite) Giallos ever.
Director Sergio Martino was one of the best and most underrated filmmakers working in Italy during the Eurohorror craze. From Mountain of the Cannibal God (one of the “classiest” cannibal films ever made) to the dystopian 2019: After the Fall of New York, to The Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence (which is the official title of Torso in its homeland, sometimes shortened to just Carnal Violence). Martino even delved into Spaghetti Westerns and creature features with Mannaja: A Man Called Blade and Island of the Fishmen respectively.
While Martino dabbled in almost every subgenre of Italian cinema, he never lacked impact or talent during transitions. Martino wasn’t afraid to do something original, and he also wouldn’t hesitate to do something sensational if he knew the audience wanted it. Torso is his shining example of this, which even he says is the best film he has ever done. Giving sex and violence, enough suspects to actually engage the audience, and a completely unique ending- all with his cinematic flair.
The first striking thing about Torso is the look of the killer. While the typical black gloved killer is almost a phantom in many ways, this killer actually feels genuine. During his first murder he runs off, now if this was to lay a trap or out of panic is unclear, but regardless it’s an everyday response.
Also, the look is so distinct and perfect. A very flamboyant coat and scarf, cut-out motorcycle gloves, and a white mask with holes cut out for the eyes, nose, and mouth. The mask is probably one of the most unique I’ve ever seen, and almost mocks the look of the killer from the highly influential Blood and Black Lace, opting to have the areas of the face that show the most emotion visible through a crude hack job instead of the faceless hood.
The rhythm of murder is also very different in Torso. Instead of the systematic death every fifteen or so minutes, there are two initial murders (not including Flo’s boyfriend), a few out of necessity, and almost everything else is shown off screen. The first round of murders satisfy the gore lust in the audience, and the final set focus on the aftermath and the fear of being in the same house with a pile of corpses- not to mention the man who’s chopping them up.
Possibly one of the best things about Torso is the bombardment of red herrings. Everyone in this film could be the killer. Maybe it’s the panty peeking scarf vendor? Maybe it’s the silent doctor? Maybe it’s the charismatic professor? Maybe it’s the lurker Stefano? There really isn’t a single character who doesn’t strike you as completely capable of dismembering girls.
The last act is what most fans really praise about this film, and it deserves it. The typical slasher climax is the 20 or so minutes when the killer amasses the most victims, but in Torso, it’s one single character hiding from the killer after he’s already done his rampage (which is not shown on screen). Also, there is very little dialog during this finale, making every little sound break the silence of the last remaining victim, adding to the tension.
Now sure there are some flaws with Torso, but they’re really trivial. The effects aren’t the best, even for the time, but is it really that much of a breaker? And people whine about them constantly, blowing it up as something ridiculously goofy. Yeah you can tell its latex and fake blood, but you also can do the same during the decapitation scene at the end of Deep Red. And that’s not a stab at Deep Red; it’s just making a point that none of these films had perfect SFX.
My only issue is the tagline “psychosexual killer”. Psychosexual sounds awesome in casual talk, but it’s really not that perverse. The term was coined by Freud as part of human development, and if used in context, essentially means “puberty killer”. But in defense, the killer did develop his “problem” during the psychosexual stage of his life.
Torso is, in my opinion, the staple of Giallo cinema. Instead of just combining the sleek style of earlier films with the sleaze of the later, it actually mixes them together to create a distance look. This unique style, combined with Martino’s cinematic direction, beautiful cast, and excellent score forms one of the most interesting and creative Italian slashers ever made. 10/10
PICTURE/ AUDIO– I very rarely find nothing wrong with a transfer. Not even for scoring principals, I’m talking damage, distortions, ect. Well, there’s not a goddamn thing wrong with this transfer. Blue Underground has presented Torso with an absolutely perfect transfer, and there’s not much else I can say. These screen captures speak for themselves, and my words are entirely useless in a time like this. 10/10
I watched Torso under the Carnal Violence version (which is extended by three minutes as opposed to the Torso cut with is only 90 mins), and chose the English/ Italian hybrid track with subtitles. This is a DTS-HD Mono track that sounds perfect. There’s also an Italian track for the Carnal Violence Version, and an English track for Torso, both in DTS-HD Mono. Typically I would bitch about the lack of a 5.1 track, but it just sounds so damn good that I can’t even complain. I highly doubt anything will beat this sound mix. 9/10
BLU-RAY– The Blu-Ray section of my reviews are often a re-worded version of the same thing sadly, because most layouts are pretty much the same. Blue Underground really impressed me with the Deep Red/ Profondo Rosso release, and this is an improved version of that. Again different opening animations and menus depending on the version chosen by the viewer, but the small things are what I love. Things like the yellow background, very pulp-ish looking filter on the menu clip, and sideways navigation bar. Everything is legible and functions beautifully, really showcasing these design choices. Simply put, the best Blu-Ray design I have seen to date (click here to check it out in motion). 10/10
EXTRAS– The biggest feature is Murders in Perugia, which is an 11 minute interview with director Martino. There’s also the US opening credits (which spoil the murder of Carol and have the same logo and that obnoxious guitar riff that the US trailer has), US, Italian, and international trailers, TV spots, a radio spot, and an image gallery. Additionally, you can watch the film with or without an introduction by Eli Roth. Really great stuff on its own, but comparing it to past barebones releases, these extras put Torso in the running for best disk of the year. 10/10