Torso (1973)

Also known as:
I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale
Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence
Carnal Violence

The Giallo genre. One of the key elements of this fascinating set of films is the central mystery of who's doing the killing. Well, to better explore what I love about this little classic, I'm going to reveal the killer's identity during the course of this review. So, if not spoiling the ending is important to you, at least you have been warned. Director Sergio Martino has a nice resume behind him, including Island of the Fishmen, Slave of the Cannibal God and Your Vice Is a Closed Room and Only I Have the Key. Great titles! Torso has gotten a lot of bad press over the years, but I can't really understand why. I feel it succeeds in making you feel genuine pity for it's crazed killer, as well as delighting the senses with a multitude of visual delights, and not just a bevy of naked women! Let's board that flight to Italy, and soak up the beauty and horror.

Our first view of Torso is a stylishly filmed credit-sequence threesome with a man and two women, oh, and a doll. Later we meet Jane, an art student in Rome, played by pretty British actress Suzy Kendall. Jane's made quite a nice network of friends, including the debonair Professor Franz (John Richardson) and fellow student Daniela (Tina Aumont). Daniela's been having some trouble with a male student named Stefano (Roberto Bisacco) who's been hounding her for years. We also meet Daniela's friends Flo (Patrizia Adiutori) and Carol (Conchita Airoldi). Flo decides to head off with her boyfriend and the next thing we see is them necking in a car under a bridge. We briefly see the obviously troubled Stefano spying on Flo and her paramour, then he dissapears. Suddenly Flo becomes aware of being watched. They look up and a man in a crude ski mask is watching them through the window. Flo's guy jumps out of the car, and gives chase. After waiting some time and becoming increasingly nervous, Flo leaves the car to investigate. She finds her boyfriend with his throat slit, and no sooner does she makes this discovery than the same masked man strangles her to death with a scarf. He then rips her blouse open, and stabs her in the chest. Carol finds out about Flo's murder when Daniela shows her the headline in the newspaper. Carol takes it badly, and runs away.

Jane bumps into Franz in the city, and the two have a nice time together. Jane is clearly attracted to the stylish professor. Franz promises the young girl he'll get opera tickets for her and the two part for the time being, romance obviously being in the air. Stefano has picked up a hooker but he's clearly distracted, and when the girl says she'll charge him whether they have sex or not, Stefano flies into a rage and threatens to kill her. She flees his pad in terror. We have the first of our possible killers, folks. Carol is still acting distracted, and two of her male friends pressure her to ride off with them on their motorbikes. They end up in some abandoned warehouse with a bunch of hippy-bikers, who seem to be having an orgy of sorts. Stoned out of her mind, she lets the guys fondle her breasts, but when she asks one of them to take his clothes off, burns him with the joint. Carol then runs off into the fog-shrouded forest, with the guys enraged, and in hot pursuit on their bikes. Eventually they crash their bikes in a swampy patch and give up the chase. Someone else hasn't though. The hooded man pursues her through the mud, and finally corners her. Carol's drowned by the vicious killer, then has her eyes gouged out and is stabbed. Not a nice way to depart this mortal coil.

Shocked by carol's death, Daniela makes it clear to a number of people that she has a clue as to who the killer is. No sooner does she do this than she receives a threatening phone call from an obviously psychotic caller, telling her to keep out of the case. In a side-plot we see the killer murder a scarf-vendor who was trying to blackmail him, as he knew the police were aware of the type of scarf at each murder. The weaselly vendor is smashed into a wall, and has his head crushed by the murderer's car in one of the bloodiest scenes in the film. Still, Jane, Daniela and a couple of other friends decide to escape the horror encircling them and have a holiday at a country villa owned by Flo's uncle. We're shown in a brief scene that Flo's sleazy uncle harbours incestous feeling for her, but the girls don't seem to notice. The locals ogle them as they enter the village, and the 'village idiot' is particularly fascinated by them. Director Martino gives us ample opportunity to leer at them as well, as they insist on sunbathing naked and skinny dipping a number of times. I guess this is what women get up to, when they go on holiday. In addition, the two other girls are lesbians, not afraid to show their desire for each other in the bedroom. During one skinny dipping episode, Daniela believes she's spotted Stefano stalking them in the woods. The other girls don't believe her. It's true though, as we know Stefano has followed them all the way into the countryside. Later on, Jane (whom we never see naked) falls down a flight of stairs and twists her ankle. The handsome local doctor, Roberto (Luc Merenda) prescribes her some sleeping pills to get her through the night. Jane sleeps peacefully, but all is hardly well in the house. The girls hear a knock on the door, and open it to Stefano. Daniela screams as Stefano pitches forward, dead. Fade-out. We next see Stefano being buried in an unmarked grave.

Jane awakens the next day. It's a beautiful morning, but the country house is strangely quiet. Investigating further, she's horrified to find the corpses of her two friends, brutally murdered. She spins around at a noise and Daniela falls forward and dies, bloodily, in her arms. No sooner does her mind reel at the horrible events in the house, than the door begins to open. Jane quickly retreats under a staircase, having nowhere else to hide. The killer has returned to his victims with a large hacksaw, and Jane screams silently - desperate to not be discovered - as he methodically saws off the arms, legs and head of one of the girls. Suzy Kendall's acting is a tour-de-force of gruelling terror and the film's worth watching, acting-wise, for this scene alone. We don't see a lot of gore or actual dismemberment, it's just shown through quick cuts, and we certainly know what's going on. If that wasn't enough, the killer leaves with the body parts in a large cloth bag and proceeds to lock the house from outside. Jane is trapped. Bars on all the windows intended to keep local thiefs out keep her doubly imprisoned.

Jane struggles to escape as the killer returns to saw up the remainder of his victims, to no avail. Eventually she resorts to flashing sunlight from a mirror into the village, in an attempt to bring someone's attention. Finally she thinks she's found a key, and a way out, but it's actually a trap left by the murderer, who's cottoned on to the fact that's someone was left behind alive in the house. It's suddenly revealed who the killer is - it's Professor Franz, all along. As the madman explains, when he was a child, his brother fell off a cliff while reaching for a girl's porcelain doll lying precariousy near the edge. The girl had agreed to 'show them hers' if they retrieved the doll. The trauma lingered with Franz for years, then Carol and Flo both seduced Franz into the threesome we saw at the start of the film, then threatened to blackmail him afterwards. This threat unhinged Franz completely, and drove him to strangle and mutilate those he saw as females who manipulate to get what they want. As, he rants, they were 'only dolls, stupid dolls' to be killed and broken into pieces. Having killed Flo and Carol, he tracked Daniela, who was beginning to work out the killer's true identity, as well as anyone else who was a threat, to the villa. Now, although he sees Jane as 'pure', she now knows the truth. In a frenzy, and now believing she's as bad as anyone else, Franz attacks Jane and begins to throttle her. Who should show up but Roberto, alerted by Jane's flashing mirror. Franz releases his grip and attacks Roberto, the fight leading into a barn. Who will survive, and what will be left of them?

I'm not really sure why any fans of Giallo cinema - or just plain horror - wouldn't like Torso. It's got everything required by this type of film. The masked, gloved killer, the central mystery, beautiful women often seen in various stages of undress. The music's fairly pleasant but non-descript, but I loved the photography and Italian scenery. You've got art galleries, Rome itself, and the beautiful countryside and villages. Sergio Martino's inserted much atmosphere with the various killings, particularly Carol's, with the mist-shrouded swamp. Also with each murder we get glimpses of a child's hand reaching to poke the ever-present doll's eyes out, this almost subliminal image making sense at the big reveal. The ski-masked killer's an effective-looking figure of horror as well, with enough of his deranged expression showing through to evoke even more unease. There's nudity aplenty for fans of the female form, of which I know there are a few out there. The gore is actually minimal - Martino achieves a sense of blood and dismemberment with quick shots and edits, and even more with Suzy Kendall's horrified reactions to them. This leads me to what I love most about Torso, and that's the acting. While never disrobing in this film, Suzy Kendall grounds the film as it's 'final girl' of sorts. She looks convincingly afraid and horrified at what's going on around her, and also appropriately revulsed and appalled at silently witnessing Franz saw up her friends. Kendall's also very beautiful, but in a fragile way, which helps convince us of her 'female-in-danger' status. Now, why did I reveal the killer? Well, I really wanted to complement John Richardson on his acting efforts as the Franz character, particularly in the closing scenes. We really get a sense of his pain at the childhood trauma which drove him insane. He's still a victim of sorts, and even through the killer's mask we can see his suffering, rage and anxiety as he silences and mutilates the 'dolls' that torment him so. Is Torso a work of misogyny? I don't think we're meant to identify with Franz, maybe take some sort of pity along with our revulsion, but not cheer him on. It's true, we're given ample female flesh to stare at, but it's virtually compulsory in this type of film. All the locals who drool at the visiting women are shown to be buffoons and simpletons. Jane is presented as kind-hearted and three-dimensional enough to like and cheer on, we want her to survive and not be reduced to yet another 'torso'.

I can only recommend Torso to fans of Italian, and horror cinema. It's a stylish production that leaves you with a bit to think about after it's over. A visual feast of flesh, blood, angst and scenery, it's also scores high in the acting stakes which makes it doubly worth tracking down.

© Boris Lugosi, 2009.

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Review written: 05/20/2009 22:16:22