Damn you Dario Argento! Damn you all the way to auteur Hell! Now, this is not meant as a criticism, or some stogy ignorant slam. No, the Italian maestro, memorable for such great movies as Profondo Rosso, Suspiria, and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, is just so goddamn good at what he does that he ruins it for everyone else. Quickly, does Lucio Fulci match up well against the man responsible for the amazing Three Mothers Trilogy, or is he just his own goofball gory self? Even better, are clear students of the macabre mentor like Michele Soavi expanding on the lessens learned, or are they merely mimicking the moves of a certified celluloid genius. The answers seem obvious. Take a movie like Torso for example. Director Sergio Martino remains well known for his clockwork giallos, delivering definitive titles like Case of the Scorpion's Tale and Your Vice Is a Closed Room and Only I Have the Key. But when compared by the work done by Argento in the same genre, this generic jiggle fest seems routine and redundant. While not without its entertainment value, it just can't compare.
American exchange student Jane is having a hard time getting used to college in Rome. The Italian way of life is so passionate, so mischievous, so...deadly. Indeed, a masked killer is knocking off our heroine's comely classmates one by one, and the police are baffled. The only clue they have? The murderer uses a red and black scarf as part of his crimes. With beautiful young coeds being picked with relative ease, Jane and her friends are on edge. Everyone is a suspect, including many of their male counterparts. When a relative suggests they spend the weekend in the country, they immediately jump at the chance. Unfortunately, this sexual psychopath is committed to completing his malevolent mission. Following the gals to the far off mountaintop villa, he will wait for the proper moment to strike - and do so over and over and over again.
Torso is a movie obsessed with three things - tits, red herrings, and a last act 30 minute stand-off between our psychosexual pervert and the lone last girl in a big brooding cliffside country estate. Had it paid as much attention to all other facets of the filmmaking, we'd have one groovy giallo on our hands. Instead, genre giant Sergio Martino clearly wants to make a commercial product, and he produces enough early '70s ta-tas to guarantee a healthy male turnout at the box office. Indeed, Torso more than lives up to its title. No matter the situation or the struggle, women find their fleshy bits exposed for the camera, all for the respectable raincoat crowd to ogle. Even sequences of pot-induced ennui turn into strip shows thanks to Martino (not that this red-blooded fan of grindhouse exploitation is complaining, mind you). Unlike current crime thrillers that would be lambasted for showing as much skin, Torso teases us with boobies before boiling down its narrative to a glorified guessing game. Sadly, if you paying attention to who's left alive, the killer's ID will be more than obvious.
Not that Torso cares, mind you. Martino also relishes providing us with enough obvious maniacs to keep the real nutjob's ID a secret, at least for about 50 minutes. There's the pervy scarf merchant, the stalker obsessive student, the drug-dude wannabe rapists, the tumbledown town mute, the sleazoid Uncle who enjoys spying on his undressing niece (EWWW!) and about three dozen other objects of Central Casting chauvinism. Every man in this movie - except for the equally suspicious "doctor" - seems overloaded with testosterone and ready to molest anything with a pair of breasts. Martino's method of expressing this is both obvious (these guys don't take "NO! NO! NO!" for an answer) and inferred (lots of hairy raised eyebrows and deep thought stares into the camera). This then turns every female in the cast into an interchangeable bit of chest candy. Even star Suzy Kendall - who doesn't drop blou, oddly enough - is reduced to a hubba-hubba afterthought. As her pals die off around her, all she can do is look fetching and then freak out.
But Martino saves the best for last. In perhaps the single most inventive moment in any giallo since Argento "revealed" his Four Flies on Gray Velvet murderer via retinal retention, Torso sets up Kendall as the final femme standing, and then puts her is a suspense-filled sequence to rival that of any Hitchcock hopeful. The plot point is both simple and disgusting: our killer is "cleaning up" his mess, dismembering the bodies of the girls he murdered while Kendall was upstairs in the villa, recuperating from a sprained ankle. As he goes about his bloody business, she awakes and surreptitiously heads down to see what's going on. Surprise! Seeing one of her friends in grue-soaked distress, she realizes her fate - and then Martino starts to turn the screws. It's cat and mouse with both sides struggling for the basics of survival. Sure, at the end, our filmmaker follows another famous whodunit. When the denouement occurs, one is instantly reminded of Fulci's take on the genre, Don't Torture a Duckling. While not as splattery, it's just as effective. Again, Torso is not a bad film. As giallos go, it's actually pretty good. But when compared to what would come both before and after, you can't help but feel a bit let down.
Blue Underground rescues this title from digital obscurity, delivering a completely uncut and uncensored version of the oft-edited 1973 original. The print has been cleaned up, though some sequences (a swamp attack, a late night assault) are overly soft on purpose. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is colorful, detailed, and loaded with ambience. This is early '70s Italian filmmaking at its finest, and this DVD reproduction of same really showcases such polish.
The Dolby Digital Stereo/Mono 2.0 remix is good, if a little flat. There is not much to work with, the original music by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis having little of the impact of that a group like, say, Goblin provides. Still, the dialogue is easy to understand and Blue Underground does give one the option of experiencing the film in either English or Italian.
Sadly, all we get here is a look at the international trailer for Torso (retitled Carnal Violence), and a hilarious US advert which mentions producer Carlo Ponti and his previous epic Dr. Zhivago. Imagine the mainstream moviegoer's surprise when they step into this nasty little thriller, thinking it's another sweeping cinematic spectacle.
Torso will take some getting used to. Again, those who think Argento started, or at the very least, set the standard, for the giallo will probably be a bit bored. As Martino dances around the many undressed lady accessories, you'll wonder what happened to the slice and dice. Similarly, this is not the most complicated of plots. The last act reveal is rife with childhood flashback traumas, but they more or less fail to fully explain what has happened. Still, as an example of how other filmmakers "fleshed" out the genre, Torso earns a Recommended rating. It may be a victim of its dated T&A tendencies and spend far too long getting to a really superb bit of suspense, but not everyone is capable of creating a masterpiece. Sometime, we have to set aside our distracting Dario biases and simply enjoy what's on the screen. In that regard, Torso and its equally important director succeed royally.