Torso (US - BD)
Gabe revisits Sergio Martino's psychosexual giallo masterpiece...
Sergio Martino’s Torso, aka: I Corpi Presentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale ( The Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence) gets my hesitant vote for favourite (not best) non-Dario Argento, non-Lucio Fulci, non-Mario Bava giallo. It doesn’t have a as strong a story as Paolo Cavara’s Black Belly of the Tarantula, the gravitas of Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die?, or the arthouse aspirations of Pupi Avati’s House with Laughing Windows, but it’s brimming with good, old fashion entertainment value. Like Argento, Lado, Martino’s name is forever attached to the giallo genre, even though he moved from genre to genre depending on the current cinematic trends. Unlike other Italian workhorse jacks of all trade (Fulci, Antonio Margheriti, Umberto Lenzi) his skill set was limited mostly to gialli, and most of his non-gialli output is only watchable on a so-bad-it’s-good level, including the cheapo nature run amok anti-epic The Great Alligator, the negligible cannibal ‘thriller’ Mountain of the Cannibal God, and the mind-numbingly boring Isle of the Fishmen. But starting with The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (aka: Blade of the Ripper), only his second narrative feature, Martino started a string of Bird with the Crystal Plumage cash-ins that distinguished themselves with tense set-pieces, and a slightly more explicit focus on sex. Films like The Case of the Scorpion's Tail, All the Colors of the Dark, and Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (whew) don’t accomplish anything particularly innovative, and don’t surpass the psychedelic, ultra-violent, or sexual perversions achieved by the ‘big three’ during giallo’s golden era, but are generally among the most entertaining genre entries, and good places for a genre virgin to start.
Assuming you’re watching the original Italian cut, the film opens with a reasonably racy ménage a troi that is mostly seen through the eye of a still camera, with a few close-ups on the mechanics of the camera itself set between blurry images of rollicking flesh. It’s not unlike a similar scene in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (when Dirk films his first sex scene). In the next scene Martino sets up the bulk of his cast, both the victims and possible killers. He quietly moves his camera throughout a class lecture, dropping in and out of focus on the key players. In the next scene he somewhat awkwardly introduces them by name for the audience, in a wholly giallo fashion (complete with somewhat goofy theological discussion), but there’s still a unique, artful quality, and a clever efficiency to the set-up that’s rare to the genre (not to say it the genre itself doesn’t normally value image over content). The middle section of the film is somewhat weak in terms of plotting, and mostly acts as a thin, but occasionally entertaining, and definitively well made bridge between the graceful opening, and the perfect ending (more on that in a bit). The story here follows a series of interchangeable co-eds with healthy sexual appetites, as they are stalked by a mystery killer who likes to watch them perform sexual acts before killing them, and mangling their bodies (those ‘traces of carnal violence referenced in the title’). After school is temporarily canceled three girls, and their older looking, non sexually active friend Jane (Suzy Kendall), take a trip to an isolated country villa. The mystery killer, not surprisingly, follows them.
Torso is overflowing with sexual aggression and lechery, taking the erotic violence inherit in most gialli to a near extreme (which Lucio Fulci would piss all over when he made New York Ripper almost a decade later). Occasionally the dripping sex actually damages the flow of the film as it detours into brief trysts with soft core exploitation (sexy, yes, but tonally kind of goofy), but even breaks with overall quality drive home the central point of voyeurism and sex equaling death and pain. Torso also predates Argento’s tradition of making the entire universe of a giallo film inhabited by generally despicable people. It’s difficult to care about any of the characters, which renders their untimely, bloody murders less than heartbreaking, but it does approximate an atmosphere where anyone could be the killer. Martino implies so many red herrings it’s almost impossible to even bother guessing whodunit, because, as with many genre films, whodunit is kind of besides the point of the exercise. Besides, Martino’s skill with suspense ensures that even the fate of jerks (some of who blend into each other due to a lack of unique character traits) has the audience biting their nails. Torso is quite violent, but not excessively violent for earlier genre work. It’s actually less gory than some of Martino’s other gialli, and much less gory than most of Fulci’s genre work. The most graphic stuff (the stuff that gets the film its English title) is mostly shown quite briefly or left to our imaginations.
The entire film builds not only to the brilliant final act confrontation between our killer and our main protagonist (who isn’t really set up appropriate as our main protagonist besides the fact that she’s portrayed by the most recognizable actress in the film), but to a single image that shocks in its utter simplicity. I really don’t want to spoil anything, and don’t want readers to expect a shock scare, or gory bit, but there is one simple moment that I imagine Hitchcock and Argento (assuming they ever saw the film) immediately smacking themselves in the collective forehead for not thinking up themselves. Okay, I’ll spoil just a little. The film ends with a largely dialogue free sequence of events that begin with the killer taking out the bulk of the female cast off-screen. The lone survivor awakes unaware of what has happened, and she’s left to hide out from the killer as he disposes of the victims. This is the point at which the killer’s identity, and almost everything else the plot has offered us is rendered practically moot, but the tone still key. The lack of dialogue, and Suzy Kendall’s acting skill (which sits above the average giallo heroine) certainly help build the suspense, but Martino’s choice of angles, willingness to draw out the situation, use of minimal sound, and his simple cutting techniques all set this practically stand alone mini-film apart from the majority of other giallo favourites.
For the record, this is Blue Underground’s third release of Torso, and the fourth release on US digital format home video if we count the earlier Anchor Bay release of the first Blue Underground version. This Blu-ray includes both the Italian ‘director’s cut’, and the unrated English language cut, which runs about two minutes shorter. As far as I know no sex or violence is lost between the cuts, only parts of the opening lecture scene. Some other minor stuff at the top of the film is moved around too. I personally prefer the Italian cut because it keeps the original opening structure in tact, and I like the structure very much, but there’s certainly something to be said for the more straight forward exploitation approach of the English cut.
After receiving criticism for apparently missing major problems with DNR, and other unneeded Blu-ray production tinkering on previous Blue Underground releases, I’m taking extra effort to pick out such problems in this release. There are signs of DNR, mostly present in the somewhat flattened grain structure, most evident in the night scenes. The sequence where a character is killed in a swampy area during what appears to be dawn is a good example of both what is right and what is wrong with this transfer. The sequence is much clearer than it ever was on DVD, but looks a bit over-smooth, and there are some blocking and ghosting effects on the swifter camera movements. Ghosting and minor blocking artefacts are generally the transfer’s biggest problems, and I do suspect there’s a digital reduction program of some type at fault. Concerning the matter of the accused artificially added Gaussian grain effects, I personally don’t see any sign of it here myself, mainly because the included grain more or less matches the grain structure on the DVD release. Despite these attempts at treating the transfer more critically, I have to concede that Torso has never looked this good. On the whole this 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer is clean, reasonably sharp, and more colourful than previous releases without mucking about with colour timing in unnatural ways (unnatural based on my perception of Martino’s intent, of course). None of the details are as sharp as most viewers have come to expect from newer and bigger budget releases, but feature more texture than the DVD release, especially in the complex interiors, with all their patterned wall paper and baroque production design. Colours are quite vibrant, especially during the film’s third act, when out heroines walk around a lush, green countryside dressed in bright, monochromatic outfits. The brightest of these colours create noticeable compression effects on the DVD release, which are absent here. Contrast is keyed a little high in some scenes, blowing out some of the lighter images, and the darkest nighttime sequences feature black impurities all around the edges of the frame, but the overall mix works for the majority of the images. Still can’t see what the hell happens to the bad guy at the end though.
There are three tracks total present on this Blu-ray set – DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono English on the US cut, and both a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono Italian and mixed Italian/English on the Italian cut. This comes down to a case of taste, as Torso was filmed without sound, and all tracks are dubbed. Unlike the case of Deep Red, Suzy Kendall’s vocal performance isn’t nearly as important as fellow English speaker David Hemmings’, and her Italian dubbing counterpart pretty much achieves the same thing. Personally I tend to lean more towards English tracks in the case of Italian gialli and horror, and prefer watching the long cut with the mixed track on, which means the majority of the dialogue is English, but the brief scenes that don’t exist in English are featured in Italian with subtitles. This was good news for me, as Blue Underground only included a compressed Dolby Digital mix for the mixed language track on Deep Red. The Italian dialogue is generally harsher and sharper than the English dialogue, but there’s no real lack in clarity between them, and no sure signs of compression distortion, though in the normal filmed without sound tradition stands, and there are some high end distortions. Guido and Maurizio De Angelis’ score is kind of hit and miss, and mimics Ennio Morricone’s superior, jazz influenced gialli scores a bit too much, but when it hits it hits hard. The piano motifs during the climatic game of cat and mouse are a perfectly melancholy and suspenseful, working well with the expert use of silence and subtle sound effects. The musical track is slightly higher pitched and tinny on the Italian track.
Things start with a brief introduction with movie nerd done good, and Hostel and Cabin FeverI director Eli Roth, who based parts of Hostel Part II on Torso, and even recycled an actor in Luc Merenda. Roth points out just about every point I was going to make about the film, only in a much more brief, and entertaining fashion. Bastard. Next up is a new interview with co-writer/director Sergio Martino called ‘Murders in Perugia’ (HD, 10:40). Martino, who speaks in broken English with subtitles, discusses the film’s American title, his early life in film, his first films (documentaries, Arizona Colt Returns, his earlier gialli), before discussing Torso itself in more detail, including casting, his thoughts on the gore, and why he thinks the film still works. Stay tuned through the credits to watch him poke fun at the US trailer. The disc also includes some very rough looking US opening credits (featuring a silly guitar sting heard in the US trailer, 1:20), the US, International, and Italian trailers, two TV spots, a radio spot version of the US trailer, and a poster and still gallery (including a poster that gives away the killer’s identity).
Readers looking for a good place to start with the giallo genre should probably first look into the work of Argento, Bava and Fulci, but those already somewhat versed in the tradition, and ready to move on need to get their hands on Sergio Martino’s Torso. Fans of generally thrilling cat and mouse cinema might not enjoy the whole film, but the last 30 minutes or so are among some of the best of their kind. Blue Underground presents the film as beautifully as I’ve ever seen it on this 1080p Blu-ray disc, but in an effort to cover my ass I’m going out of my way to note some evidence of DNR influence. The soundtrack is mono, but uncompressed, and the extras are really brief, but relatively informative.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 27th September 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono English, Italian, and Italian/English Mix
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Two Cuts, Murders in Perugia: Interview with Director, US Opening Credits, Trailers, TV Spots, Radio Spot, Poster and Still Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Sergio Martino
Cast: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, John Richardson
Genre: Horror and Thriller
Length: 0 minutes
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