Torso (1973)

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*. Torso. That was the title they gave it for American release because they thought it was catchy. They might as well have called it Tits. That would have been even catchier, and had more truth in advertising.
*. I have nothing against ogling naked bodies, but if you get too much of it you can’t help but feel that the director doesn’t have anything more interesting to do. And the flesh on display here, particularly at the hippie party, has no purpose at all. It isn’t even good bait-and-switch tease-and-slash, the kind of thing that Eli Roth does so well. (Roth is a big fan of this film, borrowing from it in various ways in Hostel: Part II. He also provides an introduction to the DVD where he calls it the pinnacle of the giallo genre, which it isn’t, but more on that later).
*. With so much flesh on display, the usual giallo basket of red herrings is enlarged even further since all the girls are being stalked by the lecherous Italian gaze. But the pervy camera eye drains this of effect since we’re all looking up the girls’ skirts or at their tits.
*. The sexploitation angle here also leads to some confusion. When we first meet the gaggle of girls they appear to all be students. But then they also seem to be models. And Carol is referred to by the bikers as a prostitute. You start to wonder what the difference is.
*. It’s hard not to think of the Amanda Knox story, Knox being another American student studying in Perugia when a knife-wielding psychosexual killer struck. I wonder if she’s seen this movie.
*. As noted, this is a giallo (or Italian slasher) film, and pretty much a textbook example of the genre. The victims are mostly attractive young women, we see them hunted from the killer’s point of view, there’s a dopey or mentally disabled figure who raises our suspicions but is innocent, the killer wears dark gloves, there’s a heavy use of sudden zooms, and at the end we get a quickly-introduced psychological back story that purports to explain the killer’s madness (here abbreviated so much it’s laughable).
*. In addition to these giallo staples there are also a number of other touches here that subsequent slasher filmmakers would mine extensively, like the heroine with an injured leg/foot (which requires her to limp) and the shocking “discovery of the bodies” sequence.
*. All of which is just to say that this is pretty standard fare, with a slightly higher-than-average sleaze quotient. Indeed, through the first two-thirds of this film I wasn’t enjoying it much at all. Even the gore was well below average, with obvious cutaways to fake body parts for the stabbings and a laughable scene where one victim’s head is pulverized repeatedly by a car’s fender driving it into a wall, only to finally reappear in pristine form with some blood coming out of the mouth.
*. But then there’s a shift and the movie turns into something much better: a very suspenseful thriller backed up with some nice camerawork and effective scoring. As Jane (Suzy Kendall) tries to evade the killer in the villa we move from one great sequence to another up to the final reveal.
*. The finale, alas, goes back to being disappointing. The fight in the stables is pure Star Trek, complete with leaps, flying kicks, and double hammer fists. Then the killer is dispatched in the dark and tossed over a cliff. It’s a shame they couldn’t come up with something better (like what happens to the killer who goes over a cliff at the end of Don’t Torture a Duckling, perhaps).
*. I never stop learning new things, even watching slasher films. Like the word “foulard.” They kept using it here, interchangeably with “scarf.” But it’s not quite a scarf. I looked it up, as I’d never heard it before. I guess technically it’s a type of material and not an article of clothing, but in practical use it has several associated meanings. Live and learn!
*. You have to be a big fan of gialli to want to bother with this one, and if you are such a fan you will have seen better. Sergio Martino is not in the same league as Bava and Argento, or perhaps even Fulci (at his best). That said, the final section is very good, and gives further evidence of the potential the genre always had for rising well above its sordid roots.

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