Friday, February 6, 2009

Torso (1973) review


Directed by Sergio Martino

Suzy Kendall (Jane), Tina Aumont (Daniela), Luc Merenda (Roberto), John Richardson (Franz), Roberto Bisacco (Stefano Vanzi), Angela Covello (Katia), Carla Brait (Ursula), Cristina Airoldi (Carol), Patrizia Adiutori (Florence), Ernesto Colli (Gianni Tomaso), Carlo Alighiero (Uncle Nino)

***WARNING! This review contains pics of nudity and graphic violence***

A sadistic killer wearing a ski mask carves up beautiful college girls in Rome. Viciously slicing up their bodies, he leaves a black and red scarf at the scene of the crime which becomes a point of scrutiny in the investigation. Daniela and three of her friends take a vacation to the Villa St. Alba to escape the looming air of the vicious murders. Once there, it becomes quickly apparent that the killer has followed them there and has no intentions of letting them leave the villa alive.

Below is a list of the possible suspects. Who do you believe the killer may be?

Stefano: a sexually repressed, and somewhat unhinged man with an unhealthy fixation on Daniela.

Roberto: the doctor...

Franz: the college professor...

Uncle Nino: Daniela's uncle and owner of the Villa St. Alba...

Gianni Tomaso: scarf seller...

A motorcyclist with scars on his neck...

Aside from many of the works of Dario Argento, I've seen relatively few giallo pictures, but TORSO (1973) has to be one of the finest of the genre. Sergio Martino expertly handles every scene of this Carlo Ponti production fluctuating between highly stylized scenes of extreme violence and sensational sexual shenanigans punctuated by a throbbing score from the De Angelis brothers. There's even an awesome, and unusually well choreographed fight scene at the end that shows (a bit too late) how fights in Italian westerns should have been pulled off.

There's also an incredibly high quotient of sexual situations here. The camera lovingly lingers on exposed breasts on both live women and dead ones. The camera also creeps into the cracks of womens behinds, barely concealed by their cut off jeans. The sexual act itself is also mulled over by the voyeuristic cinematography of Giancarlo Ferrando. Lesbianism and orgies are also on display; it's all here, and shown rather explicitly sometimes bordering on hardcore, and other times rather artfully captured onscreen.

Martino's movie showcases a very horny society frequently melding sex and violent death in an uncomfortable manner. This is especially prevalent in the way the killer massacres his prey; not content with merely strangling, or drowning his victims. He then gropes their naked corpses before slashing them brutally, or gouging out their eyes, or even dismembering the bodies with a hacksaw.

The gore, while not as accomplished as it would be in later years, is still very strong and spectacularly ruthless. In addition to the cruel misogyny, a man is repeatedly crushed by a car and another has his throat cut. To top all of this off, the last 30 minutes is surely one of the best, most nail biting scenes in horror movie history.

After an opening onslaught of sex and ferocious murder including a love making couple, the police find traces of a red and black scarf under the fingernails of one of the victims. Daniela, the dead girls friend, then tries to recall where and who she saw wearing such an accoutrement. Daniela soon receives a threatening call from an unknown man telling her to never reveal who she has seen wearing the accessory. Her odd and peculiar uncle suggests she take a trip out to his villa in the country. She runs into the sexually aggressive Stefano, who tries to force himself on her. She then remembers he was wearing a red and black scarf. To Daniela, Stefano is the lead suspect.

After her friends have left ahead of her, Jane goes to speak with Stefano but learns he has seemingly left town. While on the train to the country, someone watches the girls from outside. Suddenly, a handsome man, Roberto, joins the car taken by Daniela and her two friends. Once they reach their destination, the Villa St. Alba, the local men stare and gawk at the beautiful frames of the women. Jane arrives soon afterwards.

When two of the girls, Katia and Ursula, indulge in a lesbian encounter with one another, a peeping tom is pursued by the watching killer and receives a slashed throat for his trouble. The next day, Jane falls down the stairs, twisting her ankle in a hurry to receive breakfast from a delivery boy who also slobberingly ogles the naked girls stretched out in the sun. Roberto, the doctor traveling on the train, sees to Jane's bruised ankle. Giving her some pills, she eventually passes out. Later, Daniela, Ursula and Katia are by a river and Daniela believes she spies Stefano watching through the trees.

That night, while Jane sleeps, the three girls get a ring at the door which turns out to be the cruel killer. The next day, Jane awakens unaware of what has transpired downstairs the night before. She goes outside and calls out to her friends, but no one answers. As she limps down the stairs, she finds the mutilated corpses of her three friends. Hearing footsteps outside, she quickly hides, as the killer is unaware that she is in the house. Watching from behind a door, she sees the killer dismember the dead girls bodies.

While the killer leaves temporarily to bury one of the corpses, Jane attempts to get help by signaling with a mirror. When that fails, she sees the killer returning up the hill. She then smartly hides all traces that anyone has been in the room. Noticing her shoes are missing at the moment the murderer re-enters the house, she opens the door and sees them lying on the steps. To reveal anymore would be criminal as Martino expertly handles this lengthy sequence wringing every ounce of suspense and virtual terror he possibly can. This grueling scene takes place over the course of an entire day and into the night.

After an hour of various gore murders and sexual perversions, the remaining 30 minutes cuts loose for an unsettling and nerve rattling cinematic assault on your senses. Martino shows nothing short of brilliance in this elongated string of shock moments guaranteed to have any hardcore fan of horror on the edge of their seat.

What's most interesting about Martino's movie is not just the overflow of misogyny, but the way in which most all of the male characters are depicted. Either the males are all sexually intimidated, scarred from some past indiscretion, or they are rabid sexual machines constantly lusting after the female frame. Not a bad notion, that last one. There is also the hint of incest as Daniela's uncle shows an unwholesome interest in her in a couple of scenes. TORSO (1973) is a fantastic and ferociously nasty little horror movie that is highly recommended to any horror fan and those not easily offended.

NOTE: This release is completely uncut and features scenes not dubbed into English. For this AWE release, these portions of the film are presented subbed in Danish, Norwegian, Finnish and Swedish, but not in English. The times are displayed below and only account for dialog spoken between the time the film switches from English to Italian and back to English again...

0:02:39 to 0:03:48
0:10:47 to 0:11:25
1:16:20 to 1:17:04
1:27:47 to 1:28:07

This review is representative of the Another World Entertainment (AWE) region 2 PAL DVD. It is also available on Italian region DVD (PAL) from Alan Young Pictures, on British DVD (region 0 PAL) from Shameless and was previously available in the United States from Anchor Bay.

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