Reviewed Jun 16, 2012
Robert Cettl’s review:
"Where Whores Meet Saws! He’ll Love You to Pieces.”
In the early 1970s, Sergio Martino’s Torso was hand-picked by distributor Joseph Brenner, along with Armando Crispino’s Autopsy, to introduce the Italian “giallo” film to American audiences. The “giallos” were lurid thrillers featuring black-gloved sex killers and an abundance of women to be stalked and slashed before the camera after appearing cock-teasingly nude. Often leeringly violent, they took their name from the cheap, yellowing paperback crime and horror pulp fiction on which their subject-matter was based. The giallo’s popularity following the release of Torso led to the eventual critical attention given to directors Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento as spearheading a movement in Italian horror that would generate a wide variety of zombie and cannibal flicks, demented mysteries and pornographic exploitation known collectively as “spaghetti nightmares”. This label was essentially applied with the same admiration for Italian genre filmmaking that a generation earlier had responded to the Westerns of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood with the enthusiasm that coined the critical term “spaghetti westerns”. The spaghetti nightmare filmmakers included not only Fulci and Argento, but Ruggero Deodato, Joe D’Amato, Umberto Lenzi and Sergio Martino.
Martino is often dismissed as a cynical hack in comparison to the better directors of the cycle, best known for somehow persuading former Bond girl Ursula Andress to disrobe in the jungle for Slave of the Cannibal God. His films aren’t usually given critical scrutiny, but that is perhaps an oversight, and this Shameless DVD re-release of the fully uncut Torso is a revelation of a neglected craftsman at his cynical finest. Indeed, the avid collector should note that Shameless DVD have just released a selection of spaghetti nightmare classics onto DVD in complete, uncut versions. Alongside such as The Black Cat, The New York Ripper and Venus in Furs, Torso is the most intriguing of this batch of releases for fans of “slasher” movies in particular. Slasher movies proliferated over American screens in the early 1980s after John Carpenter and Bob Clark released Halloween and Black Christmas respectively. Yet although the slasher was a mad-killer figure, he often lacked the psychological depth accorded to films specifically about serial killers, of which Torso uniquely managed to foresee the slasher film in its fragmentation of the human body as forbidden sexual spectacle. Coming some years before the slasher boom, Torso clearly anticipates it perhaps more than most giallos.
Whilst the film art of stalking and murdering attractive women may have been perfected by Dario Argento and Brian DePalma in particular, Martino responds to the sexual pathology of the homicidal, lustful gaze with a ferocious irony, delighting in nudity, sexual come-on and the forbidden thrill of sex-murder. Torso tells the story of a hooded, gloved killer who stalks and kills attractive women, then stripping them for slice and dismemberment sexual fantasies of his own, his perverse desire originating in a childhood experience revealed in flashback moments. A female student (Suzy Kendall) with issues of her own begins to look deeper into circumstances surrounding this killer and a University professor she is attracted to. But what is most effective about Torso is the delight it reveals in nudity and sexual excitement constantly juxtaposed to a predatory masculinity: thus, Martino’s camera elicits sympathy with a violent sexuality throughout the film, indulging it with both fearful dread and forbidden excitement. Torso revels in the psychology of sex murder with a blunt ferocity far more direct than, though not as elegant as, Argento or DePalma. Although the gory details of the sex murders are not shown in too explicit details, the film’s fragmentary visual style – always dividing the human body into sections – creates a mood of disturbing and malevolent sexual violence which Martino examines as possibly innate in the way men see women.
Though Torso is often a straight detective thriller, in its increasingly demented glee it emerges as one of the more psychologically intense and confronting of the giallo films. It shows the details of pot-smoking, free sex Italian collegiate society and in its characterization of an art professor drawn to sexualize his female students reveals an intriguing portrait of predatory masculinity. Seductively decadent although rife with a reactionary conservative need to punish the permissive society for its appeal, Torso is a rewarding trip through disreputable, sleazy crime horror fiction. Martino provides the dedicated dope fiend and gorehound with gorgeous Italian women, a clever assessment of sexuality, a suspenseful tour through a sexually licentious world, gleeful scenes of sex murder and delivers an engaging, stylish thriller representative of the giallo form. If you are not familiar with the giallo genre, then Torso is an ideal introduction to it, though with more emphasis on nudity than most. If you are familiar with the voyeuristic sexuality saturating these mystery-detective thrillers, then Torso is a sheer delight, one which genre history has shown is essential viewing for fans of serial killer movies.