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1st Dec 07
There's a killer on campus so four girls head to a house in the hills to escape.
Originally titled Bodies that Bare Evidence of Carnal Violence in its native Italy, Torso is an Italian giallo stable from Sergio Martino, the man who later brought us such classics as Big Alligator River, 2019 and, err, Atomic Cyborg. It tells the story of a young Roman University student named Daniella, whose friends appear to be getting themselves bumped off left, right and centre when a new killer comes to campus. One thing leads to another and Daniella and her remaining friends decide to sneak off to a villa in the hills for the weekend to get away from it all, but they make such a song and dance about the whole thing and cause such a stir when they get there with the local villagers (naked sunbathing, that kind of thing) that it doesnít take the killer long to find them and inevitably things get even messier than they already are. Thatís pretty much whole film right there in a nutshell.
So, seen this all before then, yeah? Right, thatís what I thought when I started watching it. But thatís not necessarily a bad thing if itís done well and one thing that does strike you about Torso is the number of things that are done extremely well. Take the opening scene; a couple are making out in a mini, when the girl looks over her should and spots a guy in a balaclava staring at them through the window. The girl screams, the guy gets mad and promptly leaves the car to go confront this guy while the camera stays with the girl as she waits for him to come back. Obviously he doesnít, and we all get a bit uneasy as she calls for him, turns the headlights and steps out of the car to look for him. Sheís only a few steps away from the car when, inevitably, the headlights suddenly go off and the audience produce the kind of mutual gasp that makes going to the cinema worth itís wild.
That scene carries on and Iím sure you can predict the end, but thatís not the big deal here. What is very impressive about Torso is the use of editing, music and pacing to give each scene the kind of appropriate feel that, to the untrained eye, youíd think was ripped off many of the American slasher films from the early 80s. But itís not the early 80s and itís not America, itís the early 70s Ė 1973 in fact - and itís Italy. That means this pre-dates every American slasher movie, including Black Christmas and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which makes me think the American slasher owes a lot more to the Italian giallo than it is usually given credit for.
Take the scene where Carol gets stoned with two hippie bikers at some big hippie commune type place. Itís all going well until those goddamned hippies start getting frisky so Carol takes offence and storms off. Soon sheís wandering stoned around a swamp, with an uneasy feeling growing inside her and then the next thing you know sheís being stalked by the killer. This all culminates in an exemplary stalker-slasher scene thatís shot, lit and scored brilliantly and Iím sure was the benchmark for swamp based killings for years to come, if there ever is or was such a thing.
Anyway, like most giallos we get a pile of red herrings which we have to discount by ourselves in the run up to the final slaughter. The lamest of these is the death of the mysterious red scarf seller (is it black on a red background or red on black?) who gets his head squished against a wall even though for a few frames in the middle of his adventure his head bares an uncanny similarity to a dead pig. Yes itís as funny as it sounds, and I wish this kind of thing happened more often in movies. Thereís also the sub-plot about the red and black scarfed Stefano having a crush on supposed lead character Daniella, which is also pretty amusing, and the parading in front of the villagers scenes at the end, which is funny because of the sheer amount of nudity on show, especially when the village idiot canít take it. Youíd think girls having a quiet weekend to get away from a killer on their campus would be a little more subtle about it, donít you?
Perhaps the biggest twist though is the final 20 minutes. After now listing every male village member as a suspect Ė from the baker to the garage man to the village idiot Ė and bigging-up Daniella as the central character in this mystery, itís Suzy Kendallís Jane that falls over lamely, sprains her ankle, and decides to take a sleeping tablet to help her sleep through the pain. And when she awakes the next morning letís just say the dynamic in the house has changed considerably and that the consequential cat and mouse mystery stalker chase is one of the most thrilling Iíve seen in a while Ė and Iím talking the flesh crawling chills kind of chilling done by simple but effective editing and scoring as opposed to using any cinematic trickery or special effects to keep us enthralled. I guess thatís all you had back in í73.
Admittedly compared to some of the later and more masterful attempts at this kind of film, Torso does come across as perhaps too early an entry to be called a classic, but what this movie lacks in polish it more than makes up for in the style, effort and innovation categories, and any big fan of the genre would be making a huge mistake overlooking this title. And thatís doubly true for this particular transfer, which is arguably the best available, it being sourced and cleaned up from the same negative as the US Anchor Bay print from a few years ago. A warning though, occasionally the film slips in to Italian with English subs as some scenes were never dubbed in to English for the original and much shorter English language version, so donít accidentally try to watch this late one night when youíre a bit pissed and chuck it back into the DVD pile assuming itís only in Italian, just because the opening 60 are like that. Because Ė you know Ė obviously thatís not the case and youíd be a fool to think that. No really, I mean, youíd think people actually read the back of the case these days eh? Sheesh.
Versions Available for the first time uncut in the UK now thanks to Shameless Films but also available uncut in the US thanks to Anchor Bay.
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