Nubile young college girls become the target of a depraved black-gloved killer in this deliciously sleazy giallo from exploitation maestro, Sergio Martino. Art student, Jane (Suzy Kendall) joins three of her pals, Daniela, Katia and Ursula (Tina Aumont, Angela Covello and Carla Brait), who are on vacation at a secluded mountain-top villa to escape the stress of a police investigation into the murder of two of their friends. But all of them are unaware that the killer has followed them! Jane ends up as the only surviving member of the group since the killer doesn't know of her presence, and she finds herself trapped alone in the empty villa with the madman as he disposes of the bodies of the other girls: one by one!
With its constant undertones of psycho-sexual dysfunction, the gialli genre (that particularly Italian breed of thriller) has always been renowned for its frank and often lascivious attitude to sex. Early works by Mario Bava featured thinly veiled references to (then) taboo subjects such as lesbianism; and wasn't there always something vaguely kinky in the idea of leather-clad killers chasing semi-nude European models around while brandishing a phallic-looking blade?!
Because of their beautifully lit and highly stylised murder set-pieces, Bava's early gialllos from the sixties came, quite perversely, to eroticise the possibility of violent death at the hands of a murderous psychopath in a way that still seems absolutely outrageous -- especially in these more politically correct times! In his semi-ironic "Bay Of Blood" (1971), Bava introduced a heady mixture of explicit nudity and gory violence to the well established giallo mix, and other gialli directors soon followed. Rather than continuing the early cliché of featuring animal names in their titles, later gialli began to sound more and more like porn films ("What have They Done To your Daughters?" ; "Strip Nude For Your Killer" ) and were often quite explicit in their dealings with seedy subject matter.
If there was ever a director ideally suited to profit from this development it was surely Sergio Martino! The director dabbled in many genres, from Spaghetti Westerns to violent Poliziotti, as well as the occasional sex film; and he was always willing to go the extra-mile when it came to incorporating exploitation elements into his films: as the animal cruelty and bestiality scenes in his notorious cannibal flick, "Mountain Of The Cannibal God" (1978) so ably demonstrated! Today he is mostly dismissed as a bit of a hack, but there is no denying his talent. Martino was actually responsible for some of the best loved gialli films from the seventies which, as well as exhibiting some crafty plotting, never held back on the sleaze factor!
"Torso" (it's Italian title translates as "The Bodies Show Signs of Carnal Knowledge") is one of Martino's best films and also one of the most explicit gialli in terms of its depiction of sexualised violence. It is also an early for-runner of the slasher genre: with Suzy Kendall becoming the "last survivor" in the film's final act. In fact, the film is probably best thought of as two-parts gialli, one-part slasher!
The opening credits play over a three-way sex scene between two women and a man, leaving us in little doubt that Martino intends to leave nothing to the imagination! But one of the interesting things about "Torso" is the way in which it captures the nervous mood of mainstream society in the early seventies -- with it's radical student movements and the increasingly liberated attitude of the younger generation to sex. One of the more popular interpretations of early slasher movies was that they were puritanical morality plays where the promiscuous, drug-taking, alcohol drinking teens who populated the films were punished for their moral indiscretions, while the survivor at the end would always be the goody-goody, straight-laced virgin. "Torso" at first seems to fit this mould perfectly: the large cast of female characters indulge themselves fully in every kind of sexual and drug related vice going -- and all get killed-off by the psychopathic assassin! (Who, besides following the traditional fashion rules of the gialli by sporting a fetching pair of black leather sports-gloves, also dons a menacing mask like all true slasher greats.) The only exception is, of course, the lovely Suzy Kendall who is the only female to keep all of her clothes on, and who's love interests never exceed the bounds of innocent flirtation with her Art History professor. (OK, so students dating their teachers could be seen as being a bit dodgy -- but this is Italy remember!) No surprise then that she ends up being the only female character to survive to the end credits. But rather than just enshrining rather biblical attitudes to moral mores, there is actually a rather ironic (and disturbing) commentary on male reactions to female sexual liberation buried in the film's subtext.
To put it bluntly, the male characters are the sleaziest, most fucked up bunch of good-for-nothings you could ever imagine! Stalkers, perverts and inadequates of every conceivable description make up the entire Italian male population according to this film! All the girls in the cast seem to spend most of their time fending off unwanted sexual or violent male advances of one sort or another, but, of course, the main motivation for this is to generate a list of suspects for the killer's identity; but even when the three student girls arrive in the mountain village for their vacation, the male residents are, to a man, portrayed as a bunch of sexist scum who quite openly leach over them! (The English dub track has one of them drooling "Look at those knockers!" while the girls sun themselves in the city centre as the males stare open-mouthed -- giving the impression that we have, momentarily, been transported into a mid-seventies "Carry On" film!) It's not a pretty picture of male machismo, but like any good exploitation film ("I Spit On Your Grave"  for instance, is a prime example of this) Martino gets to have it both ways since his camera, which often views the females from the males' point of view, lovingly ogles their bodies at every given opportunity. The film reaches a level of sleaziness rarely seen even today as the killer likes to molest and then mutilate the bodies of his victims after having killed them, even massaging mud into the breasts of one girl before gouging her eyes out! The overall impression that the viewer comes away with is one of great sympathy for the plight of the world's females at the hands of us bastard males... sorry girls!
Martino's gialli are usually very tightly plotted, with all sorts of clever twists and turns in the plot before the denouement when the killer is finally revealed. "Torso" is slightly looser in it's construction than the others; writer Ernesto Gastaldi (who worked with the greats such as Ricardo Freda and Mario Bava early in his career) introduces a complicated cast of characters in the first half of the film, but then abandons any intricate plotting for the sake of suspense in the second half, which concentrates on Kendall trying to avoid capture by the killer while trapped in the secluded villa. This means that the killers motive turns out to be very sketchy in its conception, turning on a childhood trauma and a vague blackmail plot -- both of which are only hastily revealed in the last few minutes of the film. But what it lacks in satisfying plot is easily made up for by the fabulous suspense sequences, some no-holds barred stalk & slash scenes and beautiful photography from cinematographer, Giancarlo Ferrando which perfectly captures the ambience of Italy. This is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of filthy giallo fun which grips from the beginning and never lets go for the duration. A must-have in any giallo fan's collection!
The Anchor Bay disc offers a fine anamorphic transfer but extras are limited to two trailers. The English dub and the original Italian soundtrack are included, but the disc does not include English subtitles.