Torso (I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale)

Director: Sergio Martino
Screenplay: Ernesto Gastaldi & Sergio Martino (story by Sergio Martino)
Stars: Suzy Kendall (Jane), Tina Aumont (Daniela), Luc Merenda (Roberto), John Richardson (Franz), Roberto Bisacco (Stefano Vanzi), Ernesto Colli (Gianni Tomasso, the scarf vendor), Angela Covello (Katia), Carla Brait (Ursula), Conchita Airoldi (Carol Peterson), Patrizia Adiutori (Florence Heineken), Luciano Bartoli (Motorcycle guy #1), Gianni Greco (Motorcycle guy #2), Luciano De Ambrosis (Inspector Martino), Enrico DiMarco (Village idiot)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1973
Country: Italy
Torso Blu-Ray
TorsoAmong aficionados who love the lower rungs of the horror genre, Sergio Martino’s Torso will always hold a place of no small importance. Like Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971), Torso was part of the wave of 1960s and ’70s Italian gialli (sex-and-blood-drenched murder mysteries), but is now best remembered as a particularly acute progenitor of the slasher film. With its knife-wielding psychosexual maniac, cast of nubile college students-cum-murder victims, and seemingly reactionary connection between promiscuous sex and violent death, Torso clearly paved the way for Friday the 13th (1980) and its many, many knock-offs, although it has a certain aesthetic flare that most of its stateside descendents lacked, owing largely to its European pedigree (it was produced by Carlo Ponti, who had worked with David Lean, Federico Fellini, and Michelangelo Antonioni).

The story takes place around an international university in the small Italian village of Perugia (Franco Zefferilli has used the same location a few years earlier for his 1968 film version of Romeo & Juliet). Director Sergio Martino, who penned the script with his frequent collaborator Ernesto Gastaldi (who previously worked with Mario Bava on the 1963 Gothic shocker Whip and the Body), sets the stage immediately with the opening credits unfolding over a fuzzy-artsy scene of photographed group sex that is punctuated ominously by a man’s hand pushing in the eyes of a creepy doll, an image that will be replayed over and over throughout the film. We are then introduced to a number of students attending the university, most of whom are relatively interchangeable owing to their generic good looks and lack of character. It is not long before one of them is viciously murdered by a hooded maniac after having sex in the backseat of her lover’s car. The killer favors strangulation with a scarf followed by some kind of ritualistic mutilation of the body, the sexual overtones of which are clearly alluded to in the film’s original Italian title I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale, which translates literally to The Bodies Present Traces of Carnal Violence. Martino delivers brief flashes of graphic gore, and the speed with which he cuts away probably owes less to decorum than to the obviously shoddy nature of the effects.

As in most gialli, there are plenty of potential suspects, including virtually all of the male students at the university, a professor who is having an affair with one of his students (Roberto Bisacco), and a lecherous scarf vendor (Ernesto Colli) who apparently sold the murder weapon and knows it. After several more murders, some of which follow the ritualistic nature of strangulation and mutilation and some of which appear to be necessary killings to keep the murderer’s identity safe, four students--Jane (Suzy Kendall), Daniela (Tina Aumont), Katia (Angela Covello), and Ursula (Carla Brait)--take off for a nearby villa where they think they will be safe.

Of course, they’re not, and once most of them have been knocked off and there is only one remaining, Torso turns into a surprisingly good thriller, with Martino drawing out lengthy moments of dialogue-free suspense that would have made Hitchcock proud. With the killer in the house sawing up the bodies of recently dispatched victims with a hacksaw, our final girl must try to hide all traces of her presence in the house, including the shoes she left on the stairs. Without any blood or nudity to revel in, Martino dials up some good ol’ fashioned tense filmmaking, aligning us completely with the would-be victim while teasing us with her possible demise.

Having already directed several well-received gialli, including The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971) and The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1972), Martino was clearly well-versed in the genre and knew how to rattle his audience. However, it is hard not to feel like he is slumming during much of the film, relying lazily on shock tactics and a general air of sleazy depravity to maintain interest. Perhaps it is because the underlying mystery in Torso isn’t that compelling, or perhaps he was just tempted to push some boundaries now that his career was fairly well established (as many critics have noted, by this time the giallo was pretty much thematically and stylistically exhausted, resulting in films of increasing gore and perversity and dwindling creativity and innovation). Either way, the result is a gory giallo that pushes all the right buttons, but never quite works until the final third, which is ultimately undone by both a ridiculously verbose talking killer and a last minute mano-a-mano battle that denies the final girl her much-deserved final say.

Torso Blu-Ray
This Blu-Ray of Torso included both the 90-minute English-language version and the 93-minute Italian-language versions.
Aspect Ratio1.66:1
  • Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 monaural
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 monaural
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
  • Introduction by Eli Roth
  • “Murders in Perugia”: Interview with co-writer/director Sergio Martino
  • U.S. opening credits
  • U.S. trailer
  • International trailer
  • TV spots
  • Radio spot
  • Poster and stills gallery
  • DistributorBlue Underground
    Release DateSeptember 27, 2011

    Blue Underground has gone to the original 35mm film negative for their high-definition transfer of Torso in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, and it looks excellent. The image has a slight softness owing to its age, style, and the quality of the film stock, but I can’t image it looking much better than it does here. Detail is still relatively crisp while maintaining a nice veneer of film grain, and colors look natural and well saturated (skin tones, in particular, look notably improved from previous DVD versions). The darker scenes hold up surprisingly well, with good shadow detail despite the sometimes murky cinematography. The disc offers both the 90-minute English-language version and the 93-minute Italian-language version, which is in and of itself a notable upgrade given that Blue Underground’s previous DVD (which was a direct port from the earlier Anchor Bay disc) attempted to created a single version out of the two cuts. While the two versions are separate transfers (no seamless branching), they look nearly identical in quality to my eye. Both English and Italian soundtracks are presented in lossless DTS-HD two-channel monaural, which preserves the original sound mix with great clarity.
    Blue Underground has also increased the supplements from their original DVD version, adding a five-minute introduction by Hostel director Eli Roth, who counts the film among his favorites, and “Murders in Perugia,” an 11-minute video interview with co-writer/director Sergio Martino (he speaks in English, but his accent is thick enough to warrant subtitles). Also included on the disc are the opening credits for the U.S. theatrical version of the film, which were transferred from what looks like a moldy 16mm print that has been sitting in someone’s basement. The disc also features the U.S. trailer, an international trailer, several TV and radio spot, and a fantastic poster and stills gallery.

    Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Blue Underground

    Overall Rating: (2.5)

    James Kendrick

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