Torso Review

The Film

After the likes of Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento, the directors acclaimed for their work in the giallo genre are a less famous lot. The most well known of them is probably Sergio Martino, who was responsible for some of the finest examples of the slicing, dicing and copious flesh that this Italian variant on the thriller could offer. As a director, Martino was versatile as he was responsible for sex comedies, spaghetti westerns, a cannibal film, crime epics, monster movies and a rather good sci-fi movie in 2019: After the Fall of New York. Working frequently with his producer brother, Luciano Martino, Sergio's career is a familiar tale of following the trends in exploitation before the Italian film industry dried up and only TV remained. However, he is currently listed as working on another feature with Lino Banfi so perhaps a motion picture resurgence is around the corner.

His third movie from 1973 and his fourth Giallo, they didn't hang around in those days, is the splendidly titled Torso aka Carnal Violence. The project brings together stalwarts of the genre such as Bird with the Crystal Plumage's Suzy Kendall, a young Luc Merenda, John Richardson(Eyeball) and the writer Ernesto Gastaldi(The Whip and The Body, Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, and Death Walks on High Heels). The film was one of three Martino made for producer Carlo Ponti and had a fine score from the ever reliable De Angelis brothers, and it seeks to give enough nudity and nastiness to satisfy all but the most twisted fan.

Starting in Rome we are introduced to the lives of some fine art students, in particularly a gang of four young women. We learn about their romances with professors, older men and each other, and the world of promiscuity and free love that they live in. Into their lives comes a set of murders of fellow female students where the women have their eyes poked out and their chest hacked open. The police gain a clue when a friend of theirs is killed with a red scarf and soon the women are trying to remember which one of the shady men they know has such an item of clothing. They decide to holiday in the country at a villa in order to leave the city behind but the maniac follows them until a knock on the door in the middle of the night heralds an orgy of violence and hacksaws. Will anyone survive long enough to discover the killer's identity?
is a film that has brilliant component parts and a couple of the best set pieces of the type in this genre. The opening murder of a snogging couple in a car, and the second murder in the forest are truly brilliant with an energy and mood that matches anything that Argento ever did in terms of ferocity and obscenity. The forest murder has a dreamlike quality and a superb setting that is fully utilized by a terrific pounding score and superb framing and rhythmic editing. As well as these fine executions, there is a powerful and revolting sequence when the maniac cleans up after a massacre unaware that one victim has escaped him and we get to share her perspective as bodies are carved up in front of her eyes.

Where the film is less successful than the best of Martino's genre work is in the constant and excessive creation of maguffins in order to turn the film into a mystery when it is more successful as a prototype bodycount movie. This is attempted through lots of shots of the whole male cast, bar one, looking shifty and a pervasive seediness in all their characters which makes the one exception so obvious that when the killer is revealed it is hardly a surprise, unless it is a shock because of the flimsiness of his motive. This excess of plot points and red herrings creates a sadly mechanical approach at times which means that the last third of the film is not as impressive as the first, and the whole piece whilst intermittently brilliant lacks a complete impact or consistent momentum. In particular, the prosaic expositional moments play like poor sex comedy and the tone changes from titillation to evil butchery can often leave a funny taste in the mouth.

Still, great moments abound, beautiful women get naked and there is a surprisingly graphic amount of gore. Torso is nowhere near as successful as the director's best giallo The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, but there are plentiful commiserations for this lack of coherence in its cheerful depravity and glorious exploitation. Torso is very effective, entertaining but erratic. Forgive this fault and there are a lot of kicks to be got.