Thursday, October 12, 2017

Torso (1973)

Director: Sergio Martino
Notable Cast: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, John Richardson, Roberto Bisacco, Ernesto Colli, Angela Covello, Carla Brait, Conchita Airoldi, Patrizia Adiutori, Luciano Bartoli, Gianni Greco, Luciano De Ambosis

Torso was one of those films that when I told my cinephile friends I hadn’t seen they would gasp in shock. ‘You really need to see it,’ they would say. ‘I know, I know. I’ll get to it eventually,’ I would reply. Yet, it took my sorry keister a decent amount of years to get around to it and if it wasn’t for the fact that it popped up to watch for free on my Amazon Prime account I would have probably waited longer. Even then, my initial plan was to put it on in the background as I folded laundry, so I didn’t plan to invest myself fully to the film. I’ll be damned though. Sergio Martino directs the hell out of it. Soon, I had forgotten my laundry and found the credits rolling and an hour and a half had disappeared. Torso was a much better film than the sleazy slasher/giallo hybrid concept made it sound and even though the film is flawed in many regards, Martino brings such a solid game to his direction that rarely did I get caught up in the problematic nuances while it was playing. It’s a film that was built to appeal to the more generic horror fans at its foundations of exploitation, but it’s shot and executed like it’s the best damn piece of cinematic art released that year and it’s that intent that carries the film through the tropes and clichés to being such a pleasant surprise.


Heroines or simply just victims?
However, don’t expect a lot of highbrow material in Torso. It’s a film called Torso about a sexualized serial killer slaughtering young women in a smaller Italian town. It’s ultimately predictable most of the time and the kills, for all their inherent realism as it’s shown with great tension and fantastic special effects, tend to be fairly mundane. If anything, it’s a pretty formulaic, although a very early indication, of the slasher film. One of those unique films that bridges the gap between the standard giallo murder mystery that was popular at the time and the blooming slasher genre that was ready to explode overseas in the US around a half decade later. It hits all of the traits from a gimmicky killer, to expansive nudity, to extensive kill sequences, and even as far as having a final girl. So keep that in mind before also cutting into Torso

The choice in title translation perhaps indicates this more exploitative slasher intent at its best. The Italian title for Torso is I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale which roughly translates to The Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence, which I’m sure we can all agree is just a much more giallo inspired titled (and much more memorable.) Yet, the film doesn’t necessarily feel like a giallo outside of Martino’s visuals. The characters are all young women with hardly a discernible trait of character between them and it’s immediately understandable that they are all meant to be fodder for the slaughter in the film. Even the mystery on hand is pretty generic as it throws every man with a lecherous gaze into the ring as a red herring (or killer) for the audience to point their finger at to warn our damsels in distress. The lacking foundation of characters is inherently problematic since the audience doesn’t really care much about them outside of the events of the film and when it’s revealed the motivation for the killings it comes off as a feeble attempt at creating a gimmick out of essentially nothing. Our killer has some interesting traits, beyond the black gloves, mask, and knife that comes with the territory of the giallo film, but along with the other characters he’s more of a cut out than a lived in being.

Killers come in all sorts of masks and gloves. 
Yet, as I mentioned in the introduction, I was glued to the film and caught up in it in a way that I did not expect. There is essentially one reason for this and it’s director Sergio Martino. Now, I’m hardly an expert on the director and I can only think of a handful of films that I’ve seen of his, although all of them I enjoyed to some extent, but he brings the A-game to this film to keep it sleek, chic, and intense. Visually, it’s something of a film that makes the most out of even the most outlandish sequences. As the film starts off, it hits all of the blueprint marks of a slasher as the killer starts knocking off college girls around the town. One with her boyfriend in the back seat of a car and one that wanders off from a party are the two initial ones that seem really cliché (at least by today’s standards) as just throwing victims out for the killer. Martino shoots each with an impressive sense of tension and visual flair that carries them though. The foggy and boggy woods of the latter sequence creates fantastic atmosphere and isolation while the use of the headlights and framing make the former surprisingly effective in its jumps scares and build. He threads this style all the way through the film. By the time Torso gallops into the third act, which does surprisingly pull away for the usual massive slaughter sequence to strip down the film into a more tense game of hide, seek, and get help for our final girl, Martino is playing in his realm now and creates some very memorable and heartstopping moments to hook his horror loving audience. It’s rare that a slasher film, even of the giallo style, gets stronger as it goes, but that’s exactly what Torso does and it’s very impressive.

This sequence always gets me all choked up.
So in the end, Torso does come out as quite the pleasant surprise. It’s certainly sleazy with its extensive gratuitous sequences of nudity and easily consumable with its slasher-formula foundations that will appease exploitation fans, but the style and atmospheric tension that Martino brings to the film carries it well above and beyond its foundational flaws and problematic writing. The audience may not care about the girls’ school lives or the sob story of our villain, but watching Martino build tension and direct the living hell out of the film is entertaining enough and keeps it feeling much more intense and effective than it ever should have been.


Written By Matt Reifschneider

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