Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #456
Also known as I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale
Number of Views: One
Release Date: January 4, 1973
Country of Origin: Italy
Running Time: 92 minutes
Director: Sergio Martino
Producers: Carlo Ponti, Antonio Cervi
Screenplay: Ernesto Gastaldi, Sergio Martino
Cinematography: Giancarlo Ferrando
Score: Guido De Angelis, Maurizio De Angelis
Editing: Eugenio Alabiso
Studio: Compagnia Cinematografica Champion
Distributors: Joseph Brenner Associates, Shameless Screen Entertainment, Anchor Bay Entertainment
Stars: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, John Richardson, Roberto Bisacco, Ernesto Colli, Angela Covello, Carla Brait, Conchita Airoldi, Patrizia Adiutori, Luciano Bartoli, Gianni Greco, Luciano De Ambrosis, Enrico DiMarco, Renato Cestiè
Suggested Audio Candy
 Guido & Maurizio De Angelis “Torso”
 Guido & Maurizio De Angelis “Università”
When speaking about the origins of the slasher movie, it is all too easy to point towards American works such as Bob Clark’s Black Christmas and John Carpenter’s Halloween. While admittedly these films may have opened the door for the likes of Friday The 13th and the rest of the rowdy eighties rabble, it is too easy to forget the influence of the Italians during the early seventies, almost a decade before the movement picked up pace. Their output during this time was significant with the giallo laying the tracks for what was to come and 1971, in particular, was a pivotal year in planting the seeds. Mario Bava’s Twitch of The Death Nerve was way ahead of its time and far more accessible to Stateside audiences than many of its stablemates and, forty years on, is finally given the credit it richly deserves for leading the way.
Another curious catalyst appeared two years later in the form of Sergio Martino’s Torso and, similar to Bava’s film, featured a far larger body count than most gialli surfacing around the time. It was heavily censored upon its release and has only recently been restored to its original length, indeed, many scenes still incorporate the original Italian language track and include English subtitles. Martino’s seedy little number courted a fair amount of controversy, particularly for its treatment of the fairer sex, and was seen as misogynistic in some quarters for his fixation with their exposed flesh painted deep red. It’s crazy when you think about it, what became a major selling point during the eighties boom arrived a decade too early in Europe and folk just weren’t prepared for it.
Torso is something of a curate’s piece and certainly not to everyone’s taste. I wish to make that clear from the offset as, watching it in 2015, time hasn’t been necessarily kind in certain respects. The performances are a tad long in the tooth by current standards and, the dialogue, often hilarious for all the wrong reasons. If watching old relics with a crate of beer and a bevy of friends is your bag, then you’ll find few greater ice-breakers than Martino’s spirited effort. The pace is fast, the kills reasonably grisly, girls hot, black gloves on, and the Italian manages to wring rather a lot of suspense from his scenario. For the first act, it plays very much like a standard giallo, and continues its patient approach right through the second. The real meat here is in the final thirty minutes and most of the talking points also.
After several brutal mutilations in or around a college campus in Perugia, Dani (Tina Aumont) receives some anonymous and threatening phone calls and decides to flee with her friends to an isolated country villa while the whole sorry mess blows over. These include American exchange student Jane (Suzy Kendall). Having impressed three years earlier in Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Kendall is the perfect choice for final girl and grabs the bull by both horns during a tense final flourish that distinguishes Torso from other more accomplished efforts doing the rounds at the time. Martino seems aware that he’s punching above his weight and does what any red-blooded man would do when directing a number of stunning and rather game co-eds. He gets them to strip.
If this is a sneaky diversion tactic, then it works a treat. There are more red herrings flailing around than an Egyptian fishmonger and the mystery element really isn’t all that fundamental to our enjoyment, if truth be known. Bare naked ladies, on the other hand, are vital and Martino lets his roving lens do the talking on all of our behalf. In addition, Giancarlo Ferrando’s cinematography is both adept and graceful, with divine tracking shots and wide-framed photography allowing us to drink in the gorgeous vistas at full stretch. Again, the closing act is notable as it conveys Jane’s isolation whilst affording us a room with a view.
Alas, of the four females central to our anonymous dispatch artist’s vile obsession, two are little more than stock characters and barely share a line between them. So they drop their linen and keep on grinning until the moment comes for them to play dead. When this happens, it’s all over in a flash, and a little more private time with the ladies as they ponder their early showers would have been welcome. Having said that, it is some wipeout and paves the way for an excruciating showstopper of a conclusion and a little voyeuristic glance of our killer on clean-up duties. The famous hacksaw gets a run-out and we are made privy to as much as was feasible at the time. This proves to be more than sufficient.
I’m almost forgetting the men and who can blame me with the likes of Angela Covello, Carla Brait, Conchita Airoldi and Patrizia Adiutori prancing about in their glad rags and often out of them. The alphas actually provide infinite light relief as they largely consist of lusting Larrys almost bursting out of their denims every time a fanciable female is so much as mentioned in passing. They cluck like hens, unwittingly leading the killer straight to his unannounced house guest, and are candidates for date-rape, the lot of them. Then there’s Roberto (Luc Merenda), a suave local doctor with impeccable bedside manner and a warm stethoscope. You just know he has some Rohypnol in his medicine bag.
To add a little extra intrigue to proceedings, Martino negated to inform his cast as to who the killer was. It hardly matters to his audience but it must have done to the many ladies disrobing for camera. They scream in all the right places, pout where necessary, and engage in the usual voyages of same-sex discovery and all of this keeps us invested during any of the numerous lulls. The body count is reasonably high, as is the range of methods used to trim the numbers. By the time we reach the reveal, we hardly even care anymore, as we just appreciate having been put through the emotional wringer when it appeared as though Torso was in danger of running out of avenues.
Martino may not have been up there with the likes of Bava and Argento, but when you consider the early arrival of Torso onto the scene it becomes clear just how much his film inspired what followed. One of the many reasons why Halloween is so iconic is the final tug of war between Laurie and Myers in a house rigged with bodies. This may not be of the same caliber as far as story telling is concerned, but the wide-angled photography is present and correct, as is the rousing finale as our beloved Jane pits her wits against her now unmasked aggressor. The moment when she slides a newspaper under the door in an attempt at transferring the key to the inside and freeing herself from her trappings, only to be foiled at the very last, is utterly genial and the after taste left as the end credits arrive is sweeter than expected.
Sure, it’s not without its foibles, but suspense is its savior and it has this in abundance, particularly at its tail end. We all know that Italians love fine dining and Torso has all the correct ingredients to make one helluva antipasto. It’s hardly à la carte cuisine but then sometimes it’s nice to loosen the belt and binge on some fast food for a change. Salad is overrated if you ask me, just a load of pretty leaves and vapid drizzle. Give me a bloody rump anytime. Here you can take your pick and, on this occasion, I think I’ll take mine well done.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: The kills are nice and varied with everything from strangulation, eye gouging, throat slashing, general mutilation, and ultimate dismemberment to whet our appetites for marinara. Throw in a little shameless nudity for good measure and you have yourselves all the ingredients of a slasher every last bit worth its salt, almost a decade before the term was coined. Magnifico.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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