TORSO (1973) BY SERGIO MARTINO

Reviews

Alternative Titles: I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale; Carnal Violence; Torso – Violencia carnal; The Bodies Presented Traces of Carnal Violence
Director: Sergio Martino
Writers: Ernesto Gastaldi, Sergio Martino
Year: 1973
Starring: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, John Richardson

Synopsis:
Students at a Perugia summer school are being killed with the only clue being a red and black scarf. In order to get away from an obsessed, spurned suitor, American Jane and her friends decide to travel to an isolated villa in the country, only for the spate of killings to follow them.

Review:
Beautiful women and ugly violence combine in this psycho-sexual thriller from Sergio Martino. Wasting no time in getting to the point (or arguably also the clichés) TORSO immediately introduces us to the power, or rather temptation of the flesh, placing it at the heart of this violent mystery. As a camera shoots pornographic images, white flesh becomes entangled inside a black, featureless room and a child’s doll is shown to us, clearly hinting at a future significance and perhaps perversion.

This intriguing beginning soon gives way to a summer school in the beautiful Italian city of Padua and after a quick introduction to our key group of characters we jump to yet more sex although this time it is rudely interrupted by a menacing POV shot, a technique by  now firmly established in the genre. It is here that first exemplifies one of the values that Sergio Martino and Ernesto Gastaldi bring to the genre as what could be an exploitative, simple yet mediocre sequence is imbued with genuine moments of tension before giving way to moments of light relief, for the viewer at least, as post-murder, the assigned Detective Martino questions a local peasant who was in the area.

As a result of these slayings the local police make a plea to the art students providing them with one key piece of identifying evidence and one of our group, Dani (Tina Aumont) just knows that she recognises it from somewhere…but where, although she seems desperate to pin the blame on her creepy and infatuated classmate Stefano.

In a bid to get away from it all, her voyeuristic Uncle sends her and her friends off to his isolated rural villa as he needs to leave the country on business. Needless to say the group of girls arrive in the village and cause quite a stir with the local men including with the local part-time Val Kilmer look-a-like and full-time village idiot, but they aren’t the only ones with their eyes fixed on the group as death follows them too.

Culminating in a tense and engrossing final act, including the inversion of the conventional (killer) POV scene where in this case we witness our protagonist spying on the unaware killer, the film will have you screaming for the final girl to not try and escape and these scenes really are a credit to the terrific pacing which never once loses the viewers attention in its orgy of suspicion, violence and sex.

This is thanks to the skill and experience of Ernesto Gastaldi and Sergio Martino that throughout the films tight 90-minute runtime that it manages to spend enough time on the supporting cast and wider narrative allowing for not only the foundations of the overriding mystery to be set but also for the successful framing of the narrative allowing the possibility of a few potential killers to remain instead of relying on a cheap trick at the end.

As a result we have a decent story that manages to divulge information and implicate with every turn and although a little heavy handed at times on some beats (the fall down the stairs for example) this is at least done out of necessity in order to drive the narrative forwards. Credit also has to go to the duo for the subtle injection of humour at work, primarily provided by the background characters, which helps provide a tonal break for the viewer allowing the films more convoluted aspects to remain fresh and engaging.

Featuring almost as many suspects as breasts and a rampant killer this top tier giallo will undoubtedly entertain fans of the genre. Despite having a motive based upon a slightly flimsy origin, albeit one that perfectly conformed to the tropes of the genre at the time, TORSO works because it manages to strike that perfect balance between exploitative sleaze, violence and mystery.

If you are yet to watch this film get online or to your local store and pick up a copy. You won’t be disappointed and in all likelihood will love this film to bits. If the dodgy cover is putting you off, don’t worry it has a reversible sleeve which you will most certainly use.

Finally I would like to give regular Sergio Martino cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando (ALL THE COLOURS OF THE DARK; YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM…;THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS; the list goes on but you get the picture, and the pun I hope) credit for his work on this film in which he creates many iconic moments while maintaining that level of consistency and visual coherence that to me, helps define a Sergio Martino film.

Version Reviewed:

The 2017 blu ray release from Shameless Films is as one would expect, superior to the previous DVD versions. In direct comparison to the 2007 Shameless DVD it is not only a nicer looking HD version but includes English language scene inserts, which although not necessarily vital do add an extra level of completion or rather variety .

Shameless have also answered my gripes with the previous DVD release, in so much as they have now included an ‘Italian version’ with revised English subtitles (although the inserted scenes remain in Italian with English subtitles as the English language track was never recorded for these) and this time they have actually included a genuine ‘extra’ feature away from the usual company portfolio showreels (but don’t worry a couple of trailers for the most recent blu’s is included here) – in the form of a new, 22 minutes interview with director Sergio Martino.

In this interesting and somewhat (although minor) revealing interview the director briefly discusses the influences of the character traits held by the killer as well as how the production came about. Sergio Martino goes on to speak rather candidly, and sadly fleetingly, about a few of the casting choices and also some elements of the film that he is now not so keen on…and a few sections that he is, not to mention the origins of the now iconic white mask.

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