Sergio Martino, 1973
Starring: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, John Richardson
A group of college co-eds begin to fall victim to a mysterious, masked killed who strangles his victims with a red and black scarf before mutilating the bodies after death. When two students and one of their boyfriends are murdered, the remaining friends — including an American exchange student named Jane — flee to a cliffside, country villa for a relaxing weekend away from harm. Unfortunately for them, the killer has decided to tag along and before long, the girls are trapped with a demented murderer.
While I love Sergio Martino, Torso — the Italian title of which actually translates to “Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence” — unfortunately marks the end of the director’s successful giallo career. It’s sadly on the dull side and what initially seems like an interesting plot quickly degrades into numerous scenes where both the audience and the characters are literally passing the time, waiting for something to happen. Compared to Martino’s earlier films, there is little plot or character development, and surprisingly little sex and violence, despite the relatively high body count and lurid themes. Martino often cuts away from moments of violence, though many are implied, and the focus is honestly more on short skirts and shapely figures than anything else.
Much of the proceedings revolve around the question of the killer’s scarf. Is it red on black or black on red? It seems like everyone acquainted with the girls owns one of these and tedious minutes are wasted on exposition explaining the scarf, multiple times through the film. There is an usual amount of red herrings, which, when done ham-fistedly as in Torso, only help to point out the murderer faster. As with The Case of the Scorpion’s Tale (and the much earlier Psycho), there is also a bizarre switch in protagonist from one girl (Tina Aumont of Fellini’s Casanova) to another (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage's gorgeous if daft Suzy Kendall), which doesn’t help develop the plot much at all. Unlike The Case of the Scorpion’s Tale, this film suffers from some poor acting, vague characterizations, and a flimsy plot.
There are several ridiculous death scenes at the end of the film (particularly one involving a fight over the cliff) and no one in the audience could help laughing when I had the fortune to see Torso in a theatrical screening a few years ago. SPOILERS: The only scene that is truly effective — and that makes the film well worth watching — is when Jane wakes up from a drug-induced sleep (she badly sprained her ankle the night before) to find the rest of the girls in the house slaughtered. As the audience has seen or heard nothing along with Jane, it is particularly jarring and creepy. Another fine moment is one of the film’s signature scenes, which involves an early murder in an isolated swamp.
And in another bizarre turn, it seems that all the victims are guilty of blackmailing the killer with a series of sex games. Though not unusual in the realm of giallo, where victims can frequently become killers in a surprise thirty second plot twist, it just seems like an odd choice. The killer is — surprise — someone wronged by women who vows to get revenge on all overtly sexualized females, though fortunately here the sexual debauchery and intrigue that is the focus of so many later giallo films deals with college students instead of high school girls. Martino cleverly attempts to meld art, sex, and violence, but Torso is a far cry from something like Deep Red or The House with the Laughing Windows.
An early influence on the upcoming slasher genre, Torso is imperfect but still worth watching. Even though I've talked a lot of trash on it, there are some genuinely enjoyable scenes. It's one of the most popular of Martino's films, but not one of the best by a long shot. There's a basic Anchor Bay DVD available, as well as a more recent Blu-ray release. Shot in the countryside — mainly Perugia — much of the setting is beautiful and you’re bound to at least get some laughs from the dialogue, many shots of people staring at each other, or a very strange shot from next to a can on the ground.