directed by Sergio Martino
starring Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda
Made in the wake of Dario Argento’s Bird with Crystal Plumage, Torso director Sergio Martino set out to alter the tropes of the genre while they were still being built and showed the path to the slasher movie for other directors to follow
The film opens with a soft focus menage-a-trois while an unseen photographer snaps photos. The scene dissolves into an art history lecture with the professor’s slide projector mimicking the shutter of the camera from the opening scene of voyeurism. Women at the university are on edge as two women have recently been murdered. The police have identified a red and black scarf as the murder weapon and all the men on campus look like potential suspects. A group of girls decide to hide out in a rural villa to escape the fear created by the murders. As you would expect the murderer has followed them. The girls relax and unwind sheltered away from the crime in the city and just out of leering distance from the rustic locals. Jane (Suzy Kendall) falls down the stairs and injures her ankle. The local doctor givers her some sleeping pills which she washes down with champagne. While she is passed out the killer invades the house and kills all the girls, apart from Jane who awakens to find her friends’ corpses throughout the house. The film cranks up the tension as Jane, hobbled by her ankle, has to evade the murderer without giving away her presence in the house.
Torso doesn’t fit all the tropes but does lay the ground work for the slasher film that would be built by the likes of John Carpenter, Sean Cunningham, and Wes Craven. The influence of Torso is especially evident in Carpenter’s Halloween. From the blank white faced killer, to forcing the heroine running the gauntlet of her dead friends that would become and even the beginnings of what would become known as the Final Girl are all on display several years before Halloween officially launched the slasher sub-genre.
The first half of the movie is pretty standard giallo fare. Beautiful naked women, tough cops, urban landscapes and an unnamed psycho-sexual serial killer and plenty of red herrings are familiar features. When Jane and her friends board a train for the country side the tenor of the movie starts to change. By the time they settle into their summer house the movie has evolved into a slasher horror film. It doesn’t completely work but does have some effective moments. Martino objectifies women in this film to the point that it begins to actually makes the viewer ponder the way the killer objectifies and fetishizes women to the point of actually hacking their bodies up with a saw. Torso is one of those films that gets more interesting with repeated viewings. You can forget the clunky mechanics and enjoy Martino’s experiment with the tropes of the giallo and horror genres.
The 2k transfer has obviously been cobbled together from disparate sources and in an attempt at visual cohesion the film has been noticeably darkened from some previous releases. It seems to help in the day for night scenes and with some of the gore effects, but for some of the beauty shots of the actresses the skin tones feel too dark and lose the glamour look they should have. There is a weird tic to the audio in some scenes where dialogue has a noticeable echo.
Diabolique magazine editor and author of All the Colours of Sergio Martino, Kat Ellinger, provides audio commentary for Torso. If you want a commentator to keep the discussion to what’s on the screen, you may to be disappointed. What you do get from Ellinger is an insightful, thorough, and opinionated breakdown on the film and Sergio Martino’s career including a failed collaboration with Bruce Lee. The standout extra on the disc is a lengthy discussion with giallo historian Mikel J. Koven that helped turn this reviewer from a skeptic to a believer in Torso. The disc also features interviews with Federica Martino, daughter of Sergio Martino, co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi, and director Sergio Martino.