A fetishistic killer is on the loose, a madman in a balaclava who enjoys murdering young women (and occasionally men, if they happen to get in the way). When two university students drop dead, Jane (Suzy Kendall) and her three friends, Daniela (Tina Aumont), Katia (Angela Covello) and Ursula (Carla Brait), decide to high-tail it to a villa in the countryside until the whole thing blows over. Unbeknownst to them, however, the killer has decided to tag along and proceeds to stalk them before launching into a blood-thirsty orgy of death. It feels great to be a student!
The film's original Italian title is I Corpi Presentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale ("The Corpses Show Evidence of Rape"), but the more generic (although less tongue-twisting) US title, Torso, is equally appropriate. This 1973 effort from Sergio Martino, who previously helmed the likes of All the Colors of the Dark and Gently Before She Dies, represents the giallo at its sleaziest (and, for some, best), featuring copious amounts of soft-core female nudity with only a vague connection to the plot, a fetishistic murderer with a penchant for offing nubile young women, and little in the way of subtlety. This was Martino's final foray into giallo territory (he has since spent his time wasting his talents on banal TV-movies and tit-flicks), and although he abandoned the genre some time before its eventual decline in the late 1970s, it is interesting to see just how much it had evolved (or regressed, depending on how you look at it) since his earlier efforts.
Working once more with his frequent collaborator, veteran giallo scribe Ernesto Gastaldi, Martino here creates a script that at times seems to exist for no reason other than to get a lot of girls naked very quickly. Indeed, in the first half of the film, the breasts flow thick and fast as we are treated to all sorts of delights including, groping, a ménage à trois, bonking in the back seat of car and, the obvious crowd-pleaser, a bit of the old lesbian action. It's all pretty tame and probably contains nothing that the average 12-year-old has not already seen on page 3 of the Sun, but it's interesting to chart the giallo's descent into pure sleaze. It is also intriguing to note that Martino and Gastaldi walk right into the age-old trap of "punishing" their sexually active characters by killing them off, while the virginal heroine, who keeps her clothes on throughout, survives (in this case, Suzy Kendall). Whether or not this was intentional, it has always struck me as incredibly ironic that so many filmmakers present sex for the audience's enjoyment, yet are fairly obviously condescending of those who are sexually active or promiscuous. It reminds me of the rather amusing scandal involving Daily Mail film critic Paul Johnson, who for years preached morality from the rooftops, before being discovered to be involved in an adulterous relationship with a heavy sadomasochism quotient.
The first half of Torso therefore plays out as an enjoyable but not particularly riveting whodunit, with frequent interruptions to allow the exhibition of female flesh. In the second half, however, Martino pulls out all the stops to create an incredibly nail-biting affair as Jane finds herself trapped in the villa with only a sprained ankle and the killer for company. The killer, of course, is initially unaware of her presence, and the level of tension reaches fever pitch as Jane struggles to escape while at the same time keeping the villain oblivious as to her existence. The fact that this lengthy sequence is played entirely without dialogue is testament to Martino's abilities as a director. Nothing in the first half of the film matches this level of tension, although an extended stalk sequence through a marshy woodland area certainly comes close. Unfortunately, Torso is a rather flat-looking piece of work for the most part, lacking the director's usual visual flair - although, as usual, he shoots both his sex scenes and murders with panache.
Less impressive is the identity of the killer, which is reasonably satisfying and fairly logical, but is not helped by the fact that his guilt is so obvious that Martino could easily have slapped a sign marked "Guilty!" on his forehead. To say any more would spoil the movie for those who have yet to see it, but it seems only fair to warn potential buyers that they should look elsewhere if they want any surprises. For his final entry in the genre, Martino creates a reasonably enjoyable slasher/exploitation affair that is neither as good as his best work or as bad as his worst.
Anchor Bay presents Torso anamorphically in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, which I suspect may not be its original theatrical ratio, given that the opening credits are windowboxed to 1.66:1. The transfer is in fact somewhat below Anchor Bay's usual standards, with a consistently soft look with some obvious aliasing, heavy filtering and a bizarre banding effect that renders what should be smooth changes in light and tone in a way that I had only previously seen in direct digital transfers of animated movies. This transfer was, in fact, not created by Anchor Bay but was instead carried out by an Italian company called LVR. Why this particular title was outsourced is unclear, but it is incredibly disappointing given that the source materials appear to have been in great shape.
Equally frustrating is the audio presentation. As was the case with Anchor Bay's Profondo Rosso release, the process of assembling an uncut master was complicated by the fact that, in some cases, English language materials were untraceable or never existed in the first place. As a result, a handful of segments on the English audio track are presented in subtitled Italian. A full length Italian track is also included but, because subtitles are only included for the scenes where no English audio existed, watching the entire film in Italian is out of the question for anyone without a grasp of the language. Anchor Bay really should be eligible to win some sort of prize for stubbornness and plain old pig-ignorance, made all the more baffling by the fact that, of all people, those who specialize in the distribution of rare foreign titles should understand the importance of subtitles.
Bonus materials are limited to two trailers, one created for US markets and one intended for international exhibition (under the title Carnal Violence). Unsurprisingly, the international trailer is the more artistic of the two. What makes the situation all the more annoying is the fact that these two trailers, while grainy and overly dark, look a lot more film-like and show significantly more detail than the transfer for the film itself.
Anchor Bay's release of this competent but unremarkable giallo is a major disappointment in terms of its presentation, but a better alternative does not appear to exist. Given that Anchor Bay essentially has a monopoly over releases such as this, at least in the English-speaking world, it seems unlikely that a better version will be released any time soon, so slavish giallo completists should probably pick this one up.