Suzy Kendall - Jane
Tina Aumont - Daniela
Luc Merenda - Roberto
John Richardson - Franz
Roberto Bisacco - Stefano Vanzi
Ernesto Colli - Gianni Tomasso
Carlo Alighiero - Uncle Nino
Luciano De Ambrosis - Inspector Martino
Genre - Horror/Mystery/Slasher/Giallo
Running Time - 89 Minutes
PLOT (from IMDB)
Someone is strangling coeds in Perugia. The only clue is that the killer owns a red and black scarf, and police are stumped. American exchange student Jane (Suzy Kendall) and her friends decide to take a break from classes by going up to Daniela’s (Tina Aumont) uncle’s (Carlo Alighiero) villa in the country. Unfortunately the killer decides to follow, and the women begin suffering a rapid attrition problem.
When people bring up the film term giallo, one of the first films that will probably be mentioned is Sergio Martino’s 1973 film, TORSO. While it’s not as visually stylish as his 1972 film ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, or as memorably titled as his other 1972 film YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY [probably the best film title ever], TORSO is certainly Martino’s most popular and possibly most influential in his filmography. This is probably mainly due to TORSO being presented as a porto-slasher at times, clearly showing how later films like 1974’s BLACK CHRISTMAS and 1978’s HALLOWEEN may have been inspired in terms of presenting certain tropes and visual effects. But for the most part, TORSO clearly follows more of a giallo outline, crafting a mystery around the identity of a masked killer who is murdering female college students for reasons unknown until the end. There have been much better giallo films made prior and since TORSO’s release, but the film is still a solid watch for both good and bad reasons.
The best thing TORSO has going for it is Sergio Martino’s direction. Like I mentioned before, TORSO isn’t as stylish or as visually interesting as ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK. But visually, TORSO does what a giallo needs to do. Martino keeps the killer out of the frame for majority of the film, just showing his feet as he stalks, or using a first person perspective as he targets his unsuspecting victims. We also see the killer, wearing his ski mask and black gloves a couple of times, briefly, making his rare appearances creepier than they probably ought to be. Martino also builds a lot of tension and suspense during the stalk sequences, building up the anticipation for when he strikes as the killer’s mystery grows until it’s revelation at the end. TORSO definitely has a mood and an atmosphere only Italian horror films capture really well.
You’d expect a giallo to have some gory sequences, but TORSO lacks in that department unfortunately. Still, there are a couple of graphic moments that occur - one scene where someone is rammed repeatedly against a wall with a car, crushing their torso and skull; and the killer using a bone saw to dispose the bodies of his victims. But usually, the death sequences take place offscreen, or just involve a person getting strangled by a scarf and then getting their torso sliced by a knife. Considering that most giallo films go for really memorable death moments, TORSO was kind of disappointing in that department.
But it seems the violence has been replaced by sex and nudity, because you get a whole lot of that in TORSO. At times, I was wondering if I was watching a soft-core porno - with random lesbians seducing each other naked, a nude photography session gone awry, and your typical outdoor college sex orgy that all the cool students attend. In fact, most of the women in this film get nude at one point, as all the male characters in the film pretty much ogle them without shame. There’s one hilarious moment where a female character is just relaxing on a car in the middle of a town square, as all the men there form a circle around her and just stare lustfully at her. Probably misogynistic since women are treated as objects and the killer has issues with only women and murders them in a brutal way if looked in today’s eye, but I just found it unintentionally funny since Martino doesn’t shy away from his intentions at all.
The story for TORSO plays out as any typical giallo film would, focusing on the mystery of the killer’s identity with the use of multiple red herrings to fill up its runtime. It actually helps the film since there are a lot of candidates for who the killer could possibly be. Some are pretty obvious, while others just appear from time to time, but seem to have some sort of lasting impression on the female characters. I do think the killer’s reasoning for his actions is really dumb, but at least we get a kick ass fight scene afterwards that was obviously inspired by a martial arts film [this would make for a great companion movie along with 1982’s PIECES in that regard]. But while the resolution was a bit silly, I did enjoy that the characters caught certain hints about the killer’s modus operandi and tried to decipher who he could or couldn’t be. Sometimes, the survivors and the murders don’t always connect throughout the film until the final act. But TORSO tries to make the killer seem like it mattered to these characters somewhat as they tried to live their lives as safely as possible.
Speaking of the characters, TORSO falls apart when it comes to their development. Or should I say, lack thereof? Gialli and slasher films should have at least several colorful characters that one could relate to. Besides maybe Jane and Daniela, none of the other female characters have much personality and just feel as if they are there for a body count. Even Jane and Daniela aren’t the most fleshed out people, but at least we follow them enough to get a sense of who they are. Their scenes are the strongest because of that aspect, while the other moments either live or die by their direction and overall atmosphere of the sequence. I will say that when it comes to Jane and Daniela, the twist that the film presents with the two respective characters is pretty neat and catches you off guard when it does present itself. That misdirection makes TORSO stand out a bit, making you think the film is focused on a particular person, when it’s really focused on the other. This leads to an awesome final act where the killer and final girl have their cat-and-mouse chase that’s super tense and suspenseful, making you wish the rest of the film was as exciting throughout.
The acting is also pretty solid in TORSO. I watched the dubbed version, but it’s one of the better dubbed Italian giallo films I’ve seen, as the characters don’t sound silly. The voices match the characters pretty well, making me not notice the dubbing for much of the film. Of the actors who stand out, both Suzy Kendall and Tina Aumont have some good moments as Jane and Daniela respectively. Both convinced me that their characters had been long time friends, as Aumont played a more damsel-in-distress role while Kendall was a bit tougher and more clever when it came to eliminating suspects for the killer. I also liked Roberto Bisacco as Stefano a lot as well, as he played the creepy college student with a crush on Aumont very believably. He had these intense stare downs with her, and even an explosive moment where a hooker mocks him for not being able to get aroused, which doesn’t end too well. Everyone played their parts well, but I felt these three had the most to work with and carried the film as well as possible.
THE FINAL HOWL
TORSO may not be the best giallo film ever, as it has some flaws you can’t really overlook. But it still manages to be an easy and fun enough watch to be worthy of a recommendation for any fans of the sub-genre to see where some later slasher films would get their inspiration from. Sergio Martino’s direction is very strong, bringing a ton of suspense to the stalk and slash sequences. Also, Martino’s final act of the film is really well-executed in terms of atmosphere and tension, making it one of the more memorable conclusions to a giallo film. The acting, mainly by Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont and Roberto Bisacco as creepy Stefano is pretty solid. And while the film isn’t as gory as one would expect, the kills we do see are quite decent. At least you’ll get a ton of female nudity and sex to distract from the lack of violence. The characters could have used more development and it’s hard to care for them, but at least the build up to the killer’s identity is nicely done, providing the audience with many suspects that are all believable in terms of their relationships to the survivors, or how Martino presents them onscreen. I think Martino has done better work as a director, but TORSO is still entertaining enough to slice through 90 minutes of your time.