Saturday, April 17, 2010


Director: Sergio Martino
Year 1973

Torso is an amazingly stylish and highly overlooked italian slasher film brought to us by the great Sergio Martino, who adds this giallo style slasher to the large list of his stupendous films. This violent film is set in the beautiful streets of Perugia where we follow a group of college students, two in particular. Jane, an American exchange student, played by Suzy Kendall, and Daniela, a ravishing beauty, played by Tina Aumont. We are shown the group of girls as they attend class and then walk the streets of the city. During these segments we are given strange shots of a man in a red and black scarf as he follows the girls movements through the city. Right off we know that this man is a shady character, but we do not as of yet know his true intentions.

Taking a break from class, the girls wander the streets.

Throughout this film, we are constantly reminded of the red scarf and you'll see it crop up in the story over and over again. This clue, which seems quite obvious at first, is a key part of figuring out the film, yet as the story unfolds we are given twists and turns in the plot that make us question the true relevance of this scarf. This is what Sergio does so well with his direction of this film. He gives us so many options and red herrings, that we don't really know who is to blame for these rash of violent and deadly assaults that will soon plague the city of Perugia and its residing countryside.

My what a nice scarf you have.
The better to strangle you with my dear.

After this initial set up of the characters and the environment that they live in, we are treated to our first murder, as we follow a fellow class mate of the group of girls. She meets up with a man and the two go on a naughty night time hook-up in the middle of some ancient ruins. The suspenseful sequence that Martino sets into motion is filled with tension and doubt on the young girl's part. Her hubby sees someone watching them as they make out and he decides to chase the fiend away, leaving her to wait in the car. The moments of her waiting are long and drawn out and help build the tension she is feeling of being left alone in the middle of nowhere. After minutes of silence, the girl gets out of the car and goes to investigate, not knowing if the stranger has taken the life of her boyfriend and might be waiting out in the darkness somewhere.

Not a good place to decide to make out. Creepy as all hell.

Of course, this being a slasher, this girl doesn't have long to live and before you know it the killer appears out of nowhere and begins strangling her with, you guessed it, a red and black patterned scarf. After strangling the life out of her, the killer isn't satisfied and in true sicko fashion, he begins undressing the dead girl and begins slicing and dicing in morbid curiosity, even taking home a souvenir of flesh. This is one sick puppy and we're left to wonder if it is the man that we saw stalking the young girls earlier. At first this seems like an open and shut case, but the plot thickens and begins to blur as we are given brand new evidence and conflicting alibis from our various suspects.

A blade in the dark.

Sergio Martino really does know how to create a stylish and lavish film, providing a beautiful locale like Perugia and scattering his canvas with stunning and exotic women. He has made so many films that rely on these concepts, but also intwines his stories with marvelous twists and intricate plots. He's used this style to great effect, collaborating with the absolutely stunning and legendary Edwige Fenech to make some of the most alluring and interesting Giallos that the genre will ever witness. These wonderful films include The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, All the Colors of the Dark, and Your Vice is a Locked Door and Only I Have the Key. All of these Giallos are excellent and each one is great in their own way. Sergio also created some other memorable films like the fantastically adventurous Island of the Fishmen, the man against nature opus Big Alligator River,  and the Snake Plissken homage 2019: After the Fall of New York. He's really had a great career of making unusual but effect films that always deliver an experience you can't find anywhere else.   

Extra! Extra! Newspapers are dying!

Sergio also gives us many point of view shots of the killer and various other suspects that are lurking around in the girls lives. It's very unsettling and it's a staple of the slasher genre. No slasher would be complete without the killer point of view shot, and Sergio delivers these moments with a graceful sense of a professional voyeur. You can feel the creepiness of the character as he watches his intended prey with a detailed eye. One of these wonderfully still and quite moments occurs inside a car as we are driving by Daniela as she stands on the edge of the street. She sees the man looking at her and she looks right into the camera before the car begins to speed off. It's a strange scene and awkward for the audience to be put in the position of the killer, spying on his prey.

Here comes the voyeuristic peeping tom in his car.

Another great slasher moment in this film that is filled with suspense, is when Carol, one of the students at the college and fellow friends of the main group of girls, attends a stoner party, only to leave the stale scene and journey out into the woods high as a kite. She wanders through the swamps of the woods until she notices a masked man following her. The shot of the killer as he watches her in the distance, covered in a thick hazy fog, is just stunning and really shows how great of an eye Sergio has for producing haunting images. This woods scene is one of the highlights of the film in my opinion, only to be outdone by this films tension filled finale.

Now that is how you shoot a creepy scene.

After the killings continue and the police have no leads on who the killer is, Daniela starts to suspect a boy that she knows intimately as being the killer. She begins receiving strange phone calls and all the evidence seems to be pointing to him, but it all could be in her head. This paranoia that Sergio sets up really is established and effective to the characters perception of this rampant killing spree that seems to have no end. Not knowing if they can trust anyone, the girls are locked in a state of mistrust and they begin seeing the killer in anyone and everything.

Killer: What are you wearing Daniela?
Daniela: A white dress to match my elephant statue.
Killer: Oh. Sexy.

This heightened state of paranoia sends the girls to taking a much needed vacation at Daniela's uncle's villa, where they hope to soak up the sun and breathe in the country air, free of any psycho killers. This plan, though sound in theory, all falls apart after the killer decides to tag along. The location of the villa is spectacularly exquisite on film and it's a perfect location for a mass murder. Set high atop a mountain overlooking a small town far below, it really is breathtaking. The architecture is otherworldly and unique and lays the foundation for a memorable conclusion to this perverted and bloody story.

The symmetrically sound villa of death.

There is also a great voyeuristic sense to Sergio's choice of filming in this movie. We are given many reoccurring shots of the camera looking through things like window frames, trees, bushes, fences, and many other objects. This doesn't happen just once and awhile, but it is almost a constant and conscious decision on Martino's part, happening through most of the film. I for one really love the idea that we are always peering into these people's world, playing the role of the killer or just being nosy voyeurs. It's an interesting concept and one that disconnects you from the violence that is happening on the screen. We watch in the safety of our hiding place as the killer prepares to strike at these innocents, giving us a clear conscious and freeing us from any moral dilemmas or guilt.

Who is that mystery man hiding in the
woods and where did he get that snazzy scarf?

After a long build up and a surprising twist, the killer finally gets down to building up his kill count, taking a severe number of the girls out one by one and doing with their cold bodies what he will. It's chilling, the killer's cool and patient pace, as he proceeds to hack away at the bodies, manipulating them like a child would do with a rag doll. These moments are filmed in that same voyeuristic sense, as we watch from behind a chair, or under a table, or even through a stair's railing. It makes what the killer is doing that much more secretive and sacred as we attempt to peer in on his intimate ritual.

Strangely, we are given only a select
view of this macabre killer in action.

During these entire scenes of graphic mutilation, Jane is left to suffer the agonies of watching her friends being torn apart by this faceless killer, as she views these horrors from the safety of her hiding place. This ending is wonderfully put together, and the cat and mouse game that the killer and Jane have is so rewarding and earns the tension that it delivers. It's very classic in its approach and respectful in its tone as it builds to its frightening conclusion. Sergio Martino hits the mark right on in these sequences and gives us a real treat.

Here, try this scarf on for me.

Without giving the ending away, the killer is never who we're really pushed to believe it to be, but rather a person out of left field with a story point that has subtly been handed to us, but only in short and vague observations. It's a great way to end the film and a fitting way to conclude this moody and violent piece. Torso is known for its sleaze factor, but I believe this is a very respectable and classically filmed movie that rises above the shackles of the eurotrash stereotype and delivers a thoughtful slasher with a style all of its own.

What a beautiful shot on such a horrible day filled with murder.

Torso is an underrated slasher that really needs another chance at being discovered by a new generation of horror fans. This film is shot so personally and the stylistic choice of putting a voyeuristic edge on the visuals makes it that much more compelling. The setting, the cast, and the pace of the entire film make it such a joy to watch and the violence that is set upon the screen is unmatched in most italian Giallos. If you love the genre of either slasher films or Giallos, then I highly recommend giving this one a chance. It's got everything you need in either genre, including ladies, blood, and a psycho killer.

4 out of 5 stars       A Bloody Good Slasher Film With Giallo Roots.

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