42nd Street Cinema

Torso / I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale (1973)

Torso (1973)Sergio Martino's fifth gialli is a violent and sexually-charged thriller, co-written by Martino and Italian screenwriting legend, Ernesto GastaldiTorso / I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale is arguably far removed from what would be considered a purists idea of a giallo film. Instead, it sort of acts as a precursor to the soon-to-be slasher boom - I'm desperately trying to avoid that now all too common phrase of 'proto-slasher', but the point I'm trying to make is that while other gialli from this period still, for the most part, pushed a tightly woven plot with an air of sensuality, scenes of verbose exposition, peppered with brutal, yet brief murders, in Torso the focus has shifted from an attempt at telling an intricate story of deceit and murder to becoming a Grand Guignol-style bodycount movie.

Starring: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, John Richardson, Roberto Bisacco, Angela Covello, Conchita Airoldi and Carla Brait.

With that being said, I've fond memories of watching this as an impressionable teenager beginning my backwards journey through the ages of horror cinema, looking to broaden my horizons and delving for sights less seen, I took a trip down the winding path of Italian genre cinema.

Deftly lensed by regular Martino collaborator, Giancarlo Ferrando - All the Colors of the Dark (1972) and Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972), the mixed locations are brought to life, ranging from the busy bustling of city/town streets to the relaxed and sumptuous atmosphere of an isolated villa.

Torso relishes in bodily destruction, the lingering shots and closeups on acts of violence really show that Martino set out to shock the audience and to boldly breakaway from what had been previously seen in giallo film. There's a little humour injected into the events, maybe to take the edge off the viciousness of the attacks and the hateful misogynistic motive of the killer. An example being the scene immediately after the first young couple are murdered and an old trap is being interviewed by police after discovering their mangled remains. He admits to police that he found the bodies of the couple while "littering" and by littering he means taking a shit.

There's a haunting, yet beautiful sequence of Carol (Conchita Airoldi, christ isn't she stunning?) walking through a misty marshland, the scene is extremely well photographed and bathed in the blue light of morning. A tense and languidly paced stalking scene follows; Carol notices a silhouette off in the distance which swiftly disappears into the fog like a spiritual apparition, this short sequence sets-up a decidedly ruthless execution of her character, including a shocking moment of Fulci-like ocular violence, as poor Carol's orbs are ruptured by the killer's black gloved fingers after a muddy strangulation and drowning. The sequence ends with a closeup of a profusion of crimson running down Carol's forearm and mingling with the mud, still bathed in the blue tint, the camera then jerks upwards to the sky ushering in a brief moment of calm after the frenzied attack.

The killer's look, so to speak, is more akin to that from a typical slasher; eschewing the fedora and overcoat in favour of a ski mask and black & red scarf, while still retaining the black leather gloves, Torso's faceless sadist is altogether menacing, brutalist, and unforgettable.

For the last act there's an almost-complete tonal shift with the film now taking a different approach to the pace and narrative to what the previous 40 minutes were. It begins when Jane (Suzy Kendall) wakes up from a nap, she finds that the quaint villa has become a total bloodbath. While asleep, all 3 of her friends have been eviscerated, Torso now becomes a single location thriller; a battle of wits and survival between Jane and the killer. Martino chooses to actively skip the on-screen murder of the three girls, however he manages to uphold the severe tone and deliver on the gruesome goods with glimpses of bodily mutilation via hacksaw.

All is not lost, however, for our plucky final girl Jane, as fortunate would have it local doctor, Roberto (Luc Merenda - gosh isn't he handsome?), has taken more than a shine to our Jane and is on-call to save the day. Go Roberto!

Remaining true to gialli contemporaries, Torso has a scattering of red herrings and potential suspects spread over its runtime and I think it's a pity that every time I watch this I still remember who the killer is. I wish I could experience the excitement of the killer's reveal over and over again. This becomes the case with most gialli on repeat viewing, but the moment of unmasking on a first time watch is one of the most thrilling and unique aspects of the genre. The rush of excitement from either complete surprise or confirmation, if your suspicion or intuition is on the money, is a point of engagement for the audience and in a subtle way allows the viewer, in some respects, to participate in the films events.

Even after all these years and repeated viewings, Torso still manages to shock, surprise, and keep you on the edge of your seat with the numerous kills, red herrings and near-misses, and the change in pace for the final act manages to bring the whole piece together for an ever increasingly dramatic climax.

Four Stars


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