"Enter… if you dare, the bizarre world of the psychosexual mind!" You've got to love a tagline like that, right? How much more salacious can you get? Throw that over top of an image of a guy wielding a giant hacksaw and a foxy lady in a tight-fitting nightgown and you've hit movie marketing gold!
While not quite as popular as Dario Argento and Mario Bava, the giallo films directed by genre-hopper Sergio Martino are popular with fans for the genre for good reason. Even if his films weren't quite as hyper-stylized as the aforementioned Godfathers' efforts, Martino still managed to crank out some stylish and influential films before the popularity of the genre started to wane… and one of his most entertaining efforts is Torso.
The picture begins in Rome where four young female art students are busy studying and periodically getting it on with their professor. This is a fairly randy lot, everyone seems to be having sex with everyone else, but hey, it was the Europe of the early seventies, wasn't it like this all across the continent? Regardless, a couple of girls from the school are found dead, the victim of a maniac with a penchant for sharp instruments of destruction and a thing for strangulation. All the local cops have to go on is a red scarf found at the scene of the last crime, though that turns out to be a more important clue than they first realize.
The girls try to figure out why that scarf looks familiar but decide their efforts would be better put to use by focusing on a countryside vacation (which seems to involve drinking a lot of J&B, smoking, playing the piano and even indulging in a little girl on girl lesbian sex!). The whole group heads out of the city to get away from it all for a bit, in hopes that the cops will solve the crime and no one else will get their eyes poked out or their fun-bags carved in. However, as luck would have it, the killer has followed them and he's not even close to finished with them yet.
Stylishly directed and quite quickly paced by Martino, who is probably best known for All The Colors Of The Dark and The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh (both of which are better films than this one, at least from a critical perspective if not an entertainment value perspective), Torso is a pretty grisly thriller with enough sex and violence to satiate all but the most demanding of exploitation and horror junkies. Martino keeps the action moving quickly and if the few red herrings aren't so successful in throwing us off the real identity of the killer, at least this slightly predictable Giallo delivers lots of naked ladies and blood.
Speaking of those naked ladies, the film really benefits quite a bit from the presence of the lovely Suzy Kendall (best known for Argento's The Bird With The Crystal Plumage) and sultry Tina Aumont (star of Salon Kitty), along with a couple of other lovely Eurobabes who frequently get naked for Martino's leering lens. Not nearly as sexy or naked is Luc Merenda, the stoic and heroic star of cult favorites like The Big Racket, The Last Round and Gambling City (also directed by Martino). His role, while more of a supporting effort, is an interesting one even if the English dubbing doesn't quite feel right (thankfully the disc offers up an Italian track that improves on that somewhat. More on that in a bit).
While, as mentioned, the film is a little on the predictable side, it remains a surprisingly mean-spirited slasher picture with a lot of crazed energy, bizarre if very creative murder set pieces, and a great score from the De Angelis brothers. It makes excellent use of its locations, from the courtyard square of a small town full of horny guys eager to ogle the ladies right to that fancy villa up on the hills where the girls go to relax. It's also an unusually voyeuristic film, putting SEX in the forefront of the viewer's mind right from the opening scene and upping the sleaze ante considerably by doing so. It might not be the highpoint of the giallo cycle but it's certainly a worthwhile entry that, to some fans, really does embody what the genre was all about.
Arrow Video's Blu-ray release includes the ninety-minute ‘uncensored English version' and the ninety-four-minute ‘director's cut.' When watching the director's cut with the English track enabled the footage that was never dubbed will switch over to Italian with English subtitles automatically. The differences are minor (a couple of dialogue bits and some different shots here and there) but it's nice to have both versions included. These were also included on the past Blue Underground release, however, on top of that we also get a ninety-minute Carnal Violence version or a slightly shorter U.S. version that uses different sources including a tape to recreate the cut that Joseph Brenner brought to theaters in its original North American release.
Arrow brings Torso to Blu-ray for a second time, following Blue Underground's release, with a ‘brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative' on a 50GB disc framed at 1.66.1 and presented in 1080p high definition. This is noticeably darker than the first Blu-ray release, but it also looks much better and much more natural. Detail is excellent and color reproduction is great. There's no print damage to note, while grain remains intact, as it should. Skin tones look nice and natural and there are no noticeable issues with compression or noise reduction. This is a pretty strong upgrade over what we've seen before.
The original Italian and English language mono options are provided in LPCM format with proper English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack and optional English SDH offered for the English track. Both tracks sound pretty decent, with properly balanced levels and clear dialogue. However, Arrow does note the following:
"The English audio track on the original, longer cut has some portions of English audio missing. English audio for these sections was either never recorded or has been lost. As such, these sequences are presented with Italian audio, subtitled in English."
As to the extras, they start off with a new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger, author of All the Colours of Sergio Martino. As you might expect, there's a good bit of focus here on the director and his work not just on this film but on the other giallo films that he was involved with over the years. Ellinger has quite a bit to say about what makes his films effective in this area but in addition to that she also lends some insight into the cast and crew, the score, the camerawork and quite a bit more. She manages to cover a lot of ground and the track is quite thorough.
After that, we dive into the first of a series of new interviews recorded for this release. Sergio Martino speaks for thirty-four-minutes about where the inspiration for the story came from, earlier versions that he had written, how the film fared at the box office and a fair bit more. Actor Luc Merenda gets his shot next in a thirty-five-minute piece that finds the actor talking about how he compares personally to some of the characters that he's played, different films that he's appeared in, some of the people that he's collaborated with and more. It doesn't really cover his work in Torso, but Merenda's a legend and it's nice to see him included here. From there, co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi talks for twenty-nine-minutes about some of his early work before then going on to cover much of the work that he and Martino collaborated on… again omitting Torso for some reason. Filmmaker Federica Martino, daughter of Sergio Martino, speaks for twenty-five-minutes about her time at film school in New York and her thoughts on this film and how it compares to other pictures that her father has had a hand in creating over the years. The last interview gets Mikel J. Koven, author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema And The Italian Giallo Film, on camera for twenty-five-minutes to offer up his thoughts on how Torso compares to a lot of the slasher films that would follow in its wake and how the giallo cycle evolved over the years.
Arrow additionally provides a forty-seven-minute video documenting the 2017 Abertoir International Horror Festival Q&A with Sergio Martino where he talks about his career in quite a bit of detail before then discussing the evolution of Italian pictures, including but not limited to horror pictures.
Italian and English theatrical trailers, menus and chapter selection round out the extras on the disc. Included inside the case is an insert booklet containing credits for the feature and the Blu-ray release as well as essays from Adrian Smith and Howard Hughes.
While not the most sophisticated Giallo ever made, Martino's film is nevertheless an entertaining and sleazy slasher with plenty of style, loads of boobs and blood and an interesting cast. Arrow Video gives the film a welcome high definition facelift with a great transfer, fine audio and a decent array of extra features. Highly recommended.