Starring Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, John Richardson
Directed by Sergio Martino
Distributed by Arrow Video
Confession time: I have seen director Sergio Martino’s 1973 giallo, Torso, on at least three or four occasions and each viewing has left me wondering just what in the hell is going on half the time. Italian horror is usually light on exposition, preferring to place more emphasis on style and sizzle than crafting a comprehensible story. And that’s fine. I don’t always watch films by Argento or Bava or Martino to be engrossed by a strong script; I want to revel in lurid lensing and super saturated scenarios filled with death and sex and abject violence. Torso has been hailed as a giallo masterpiece by the likes of Quentin Tarantino, and it was actually at his theater, the New Beverly in Hollywood, where I first saw it on a double-bill with Pieces (1982) back in 2008 during Eli Roth’s “The Greats of Roth” film festival. The experience of watching it with an audience completely blows away a solo screening on the couch, with the insanity of Martino’s unyielding sexuality and brutal murder galvanizing bloodthirsty grindhouse crowds. It isn’t among the genre’s best offerings, but it does occupy a place on the unofficial list of notorious shockers.
A ski-masked killer sadistically murders two young college students; his calling card: a red and black ascot used to strangle his victims. Jane (Suzy Kendall) recognizes the murder weapon and soon after finds herself a potential victim. Because of the at-large killer and the potential for Jane or any of her nubile college-aged friends to be killed at any moment, she and the gals decide to take a vacation until all of this blows over; somewhere far, far away… Just kidding. They choose a remote cliffside villa overlooking the town. Yea, sure, that isn’t a perfectly ideal place to kill four women staying alone, with no weapons or easy means of escape. Their only constant contact comes in the form of a grocery delivery guy, who brings bread and milk every day, though he’s mentally slow and clearly would be ineffective in stopping a murderer. Hell, he couldn’t even take out one of the ladies if he tried.
Things start off splendidly at the villa, with the girls drinking wine and sunbathing nude. There are red herrings aplenty (duh, it is a giallo) and while the film does attempt to misdirect viewers into the identity of the killer it should be painfully evident to anyone well versed in these films who is behind all the madness. After Jane breaks her ankle in a ridiculously freak fall from a staircase, she finds herself in a very vulnerable position because – shocker – this is about when the killer decides to strike. Suddenly, the decision to take a stay-cation in an isolated mansion atop a cliff doesn’t seem like it was the best idea.
Martino ramps up the sleaze factor to 11, and while much of the content here won’t play favorably to the P.C. crowd it does do wonders for what might have been an otherwise generic giallo. Most egregiously (again, by today’s standards) is the fact women have zero power – unless you count their ability to make men literally stop in the streets to froth at the mouth, staring at their toned legs and firm breasts. Martino isn’t interested in making any of these women complex characters; they exist to show off their tits and then die, usually in that exact order. As a man, I’m not going to complain about his love of mammoth mammaries but it’s hard to get behind a story when the plot is little more than “death, boobs, death, boobs, boobs, death, death”.
Also, once the Big Reveal comes to light in the final moments of the film it seems like a real stretch, not to mention the motivations of the killer are not entirely apparent. His distaste for women stems from a weird childhood incident (don’t they all?) wherein a young girl promised to show off her goods if he agreed to retrieve a doll hanging off the edge of a cliff. He tries, she screams, he falls, and suddenly we’re supposed to believe that was enough not only to destroy his trust in the other sex but also to motivate his killing spree some… 30-ish years later? Flimsy and convoluted, but then so are many of the denouements in this genre.
The kills here are not particularly gruesome – certainly not on par with the arterial airtime provided by Argento or Fulci – but it’s clear violence is second banana to Martino’s first banana: sex. A few of the murders are well shot, with atmospheric lighting and unique camera angles. In particular, when the masked killer offs a young girl in the woods, as she crawls and screams through the mud and roots, the aesthetic is grim, providing the most chilling moment of the picture. The lack of blood doesn’t mean the murders are light in any way, as each is performed with a level of brutality and misogyny capable of delivering palpable fear.
On a weird trivial note, this is (internationally) Martino’s shortest-titled film though in Italy it continues his tradition of making theater employees weep when it’s time to change the marquee. Torso rolls off the tongue much easier than the original title, The Body Bears Traces of Carnal Violence, though nothing can take the wind out of your lungs quite like his Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972).
Arrow Video presents a whopping four cuts of the film – various permutations in English and Italian – each with a 1.66:1 1080p image taken from a new 2K scan of the original camera negative. The results are much more pleasing than either the prior U.S. release from Blue Underground or the recent U.K. edition put out by Shameless. The picture looks much cleaner, with less damage and a more stable, faithful presentation. Fine detail is sharper than ever, allowing details in the merchant street town and lush cliffside villa to shine through with stunning clarity.
Audio is available in either English or Italian, with an LPCM 1.0 mono track carrying both options. Dialogue fidelity and syncing has never been a strong suit of gialli and this film is no exception. The track is serviceable in that regard and fans will know what to expect. The true highlight is Guido E Maurizio de Angelis’ score, which is a real delight. Acoustic guitars and wind instruments are used to bring the main theme to life, just one of many standout motifs. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
- Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative by Arrow Films
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations of both versions of the film: the 94-minute Italian and 90-minute English cuts
- Original lossless Italian and English mono soundtracks
- English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
- New audio commentary by Kat Ellinger, author of All the Colours of Sergio Martino
- New video interview with co-writer/director Sergio Martino
- New video interview with actor Luc Merenda
- New video interview with co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi
- New video interview with filmmaker Federica Martino, daughter of Sergio Martino
- New video interview with Mikel J. Koven, author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film
- 2017 Abertoir International Horror Festival Q&A with Sergio Martino
- Italian and English theatrical trailers
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais
- First pressing only: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Adrian Smith and Howard Hughes
Torso plays like a proto-slasher while also utilizing signposts endemic to the giallo genre. Arrow’s release is incredibly attractive, featuring multiple cuts of the film, strong A/V quality, and a host of great bonus features.