I've been a big fan of Italian thrillers ever since viewing Anchor Bay's The Giallo Collection (released to DVD in 2002) but Torso (1973), a genre hybrid mixing giallo and slasher film elements, is a bit too unfocused and lacking in interesting characters for my tastes. It does, however, have a clever final act that's very suspenseful and imaginative.
Known in its native Italy as I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale ("The Bodies Show Signs of Rape"), Torso was first released to DVD in America back in 2000, and throughout much of the rest of the world in the years since. Blue Underground's new Blu-ray has a problematic transfer (discussed below) though it's good overall and includes new and, typical for the label, excellent extra features.
There's not much plot. College-aged women are being brutally murdered, their bodies mutilated by a black-gloved, masked serial rapist. Alarmed by this development, American art student Jane (Suzy Kendall, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) and three friends - Daniela (Tina Aumont, the daughter of Jean-Pierre Aumont and Maria Montez), Katia (Angela Covello), and Ursula (Carla Brait) - decide to spend a few days safely tucked away in a mountaintop villa overlooking picturesque Perugia, in central Italy. (The film makes excellent use of this visually striking university town and art center.)
The women may be scared but they're certainly not shy. The film finds any and every opportunity for the foursome to disrobe: sunbathing, skinny-dipping, etc. Katia and Ursula also engage in a little lesbian lovemaking on the side.
A seminal film in the mostly disreputable slasher genre, Torso has myriad scenes familiar to genre aficionados. An amusing one has a young couple having sex as the killer closes in, funny because the couple is making out in a Mini Cooper 1300, hardly ideal for such a purpose. Though tame compared to American slasher movies of later in the decade and into the 1980s, the gore is fleetingly explicit and was heavily edited in many countries where it played. One typical set piece has a would-be blackmailer (Ernesto Colli) crushed against a stone wall by the killer's car, the blackmailer's head squashed like a melon.
Jane is the protagonist by default but the movie doesn't really zero in on anyone in particular until it's nearly two-thirds over. At various times possible killers, including local doctor Roberto (Luc Merenda), university professor Franz (One Million Years, B.C.'s John Richardson), and crazed stalker Stefano (Roberto Bisacco), are the focus of Ernesto Gastaldi's and director Sergio Martino's screenplay.
But the final third sets up a very clever situation (Major Spoilers): Jane, heavily sedated in an upstairs bedroom after injuring an ankle, is completely unaware that the killer has struck in spades downstairs. When she awakens the next morning, she finds her friends dead and the killer methodically hacksawing and removing their bodies one-by-one, locking the only exit each time he leaves. Obviously, she doesn't want to alert him to her presence yet isn't too keen of sharing the villa with a bunch of hacked-up corpses, either. The whole thing is played out very logically and intelligently, and goes a long way to compensate for the film's other shortcomings.
Director Sergio Martino is one of those great genre craftsmen: his other credits include The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (aka Blade of the Ripper), The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (both 1971), All the Colors of the Dark, and Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (both 1972), all stylishly directed.
Video & Audio
Blue Underground's region-free Blu-ray presents Torso in 1.66:1 widescreen format in 1080p on a 50GB disc. Viewers have the option of selecting either an uncensored 90-minute English-dubbed version or an even longer 93-minute Italian cut, which adds a few brief, inconsequential scenes (Franz's lecture during the opening scene, for instance), but in terms of the picture quality is otherwise identical. The image is impressively sharp and the color good, but I did notice a lot of eye-straining blurring whenever there's sudden movement, particularly during dark scenes (e.g., at 23:44 and 23:54), the effect of which is like double-vision. Most of the time the image looks great but during those scenes - most of which involve the killer attacking a victim - there is that imperfection. The DTS-HD 1.0 mono audio, in English and Italian with optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles, is fine.
Supplements include a spoiler-filled Murders in Perugia, an HD interview with director Sergio Martino that's informative and funny. (Be sure to stay tuned until the very end.) Something's done here I've never seen before. Martino speaks in broken English, which is rewritten and grammatically corrected as well for the optional English subtitles. Those that find his accent impenetrable may find this useful but I found the rewritten English actually quite distracting and quickly switched off the subtitles.
Also included is a hilarious U.S. trailer (in standard-def) referencing producer Carlo Ponti: "From the man who brought you War and Peace and Doctor Zhivago!" as well as nearly identical HD international and Italian trailers, the kind that use that psychedelic visual scheme popular in Italian trailers back then.
Also included is a banged-up but high-def first minute or so of the American version's opening credits, TV and radio spots, and a superbly done poster & still gallery.
It's not nearly as good as the best Italian giallo, but it's also far superior to the vast majority of American-made slasher films Torso helped inspire. Blue Underground's video transfer does have that glitch, but all-around it's another feather in their cap of fine releases. Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.