Torso/Carnal Violence/I Corpi Presentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale (1973/1975) -**
Just in case you need convincing that European slasher movies can be every bit as stupid as the American variety, allow me to present Torso/Carnal Violence/I Corpi Presentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale. This movie is filled to overflowing with illogical plot twists, inexplicable character behavior, non-sequitur scenes, bogus suspense, and red-herring non-villains, topped off with what has to be the most unconvincing origin story for a psychopathic killer that I’ve ever encountered. And while he’s at it, director Sergio Martino (who would later give us The Mountain of the Cannibal God and The Great Alligator) largely eschews the kind of surrealistic imagery that so often saves otherwise contemptible Italian horror films.
Like many slasher flicks, Torso has rather too many characters for its own good. Among the first we meet are a group of college art students named Jane (Suzy Kendall, from Psycho-Circus and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), Flo (Patrizia Adiutori), and Daniella (Tina Aumont, from Salon Kitty and The Howl). Jane is busy hitting on the girls’ professor, a man identified only as Franz (John Richardson, of Black Sunday and Eyeball), while Daniella tries to fend off the advances of Stefano (Roberto Bisacco), a bug-eater with a particularly insistent crush on her. All the characters go their separate ways, and Flo hooks up with her boyfriend, who then drives her out to lovers’ lane. And because this is a slasher movie, a trip to lovers’ lane can mean only one thing: immediate, grisly death. Sure enough, Flo’s boyfriend sees a burly man in a tattered ski mask spying on them, and when he leaves the car to avenge himself on the peeping tom, he never returns. The ski mask guy does, though, and after a short struggle, he strangles Flo, rips off her clothes, and eviscerates her.
Another friend of Flo’s, a girl named Carol (Christina Airoldi of Next!), meets a similar fate the next day. She goes with a couple of dirt bike boys (again with the dirt bikes!) to some hippy doping-and-screwing party in an abandoned warehouse out in the middle of fucking nowhere. She ditches the party and her dates, however, when they make the understandable mistake of believing that her presence at a doping-and-screwing party means that she wants to dope and screw. She doesn’t exactly win herself any bonus points, either, by making her lack of interest felt by burning one of the boys with her cigarette, so it’s hard to completely blame her dates when they go chasing after her on their bikes. She loses them by ducking into a nearby marsh, but in the long run, she really would have been better off had they caught her. This is because the ski mask guy just happens to be hanging out in that particular swamp, and after a lengthy and actually halfway suspenseful pursuit, Mr. Ski Mask strangles, strips, and guts Carol, just like he did Flo.
The two murders come as a major blow to Daniella, who was close to both victims. Jane is rather shook up, too, but she’s much older and more worldly than Daniella, and in any event, she has her canons-of-ethics-defying romance with Franz to keep her occupied. Daniella has no such distractions in her life, and more importantly, the police have just released the important information that Carol was strangled with a silk scarf very much like the one that Stefano was wearing the last time Daniella saw him.
So when psychos cut up your girlfriends, and life starts getting you down, what do you do to compensate? If you said, “go stay a week or two at Daddy’s country villa with two of my closest lesbian buddies, for a little vacation filled with nude sunbathing, skinny dipping, and Sapphic sex,” then you and Daniella are on the same wavelength. She, Ursula (Carla Brait, from What Are those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body?), and Katia (Angela Covello, of Baba Yaga and So Naked, So Dead) take the train up to the mountains, where her wealthy-ass father has a veritable castle, perched on top of an unscalable cliff overlooking a small town. Jane arranges to follow them there after a couple of days, and oddly enough, so does just about every other character in the movie. Stefano is there, of course, and so is an evil-looking young doctor named Roberto (The Nuns of St. Archangel’s Luc Merenda), whom we saw buying a silk scarf just like Stefano’s and the killer’s shortly before Flo was murdered.
Mr. Ski Mask, inevitably, also relocates. Mainly, he just hangs around and watches for most of the second act, because otherwise it would be even harder to justify all the stripping and pawing Daniella and her friends do, and it would appear that even Sergio Martino knows how hard it would be to watch this movie if the whole female cast didn’t spend pretty much its entire midsection parading around naked. So when Mr. Ski Mask strikes, it is very late in the film, and he is forced to kill just about everyone in one go, rather than spacing out the killings like the true craftsmen of his field. Surprisingly, Stefano is his first victim. After doing the bug-eater, he goes to the villa and waltzes right in carrying the boy’s head. Daniella, Ursula, and Katia are all done away with in short order.
But what about Jane? Well as fate would have it, she took a nasty fall down the stairs the day before the killer’s visit, and she has been laid up in her bedroom, doped to the gills on pain killers, ever since. So when Mr. Ski Mask gets busy in the living room, Jane sleeps through the whole thing, and doesn’t find out about the massacre until the next morning, when she goes downstairs for breakfast and finds the bodies of her friends. But before she has a chance to do anything about it, the killer comes back to clean up his mess, and Jane is just barely able to get back up to her room without being seen. This should have been an incredibly tense and suspenseful scene, as Jane watches from the top of the stairs while the mostly off-camera killer dismembers his victims’ bodies with a handsaw, and one suspects that it would have been in the hands of any other director. But Martino’s handling of the scene is so flaccid that what ought to have been the highlight of the film is actually sort of boring. The cat-and-mouse game that begins a few scenes later, when the killer overhears some of the neighborhood studs discussing the four hot chicks who are staying at the villa, is a bit better, and also contains the most unintentionally hilarious shot in the whole movie. Jane has been locked in her bedroom, and is attempting to call for help by using a small mirror as a sort of makeshift heliograph. Take a close look at the mirror while she waves it around to catch the sun, and you’ll plainly see the production crew reflected between flashes of sunlight. The killer’s identity, when finally revealed, really is sort of surprising, but only because it is so ineptly justified. Not only is he not one of the suspects the movie has tried so hard to set up, he has no possible motive whatsoever, and a flashback to his childhood is necessary to provide any kind of excuse for his behavior at all. But at least we do finally get an explanation for the out-of-focus menage-a-trois that unfolds beneath the opening credits of the original Italian version and the new Anchor Bay reissue. (This scene was excised from the extensively re-edited 70’s-vintage American version, which played its credits over one of the murders.)
Among those who know of it, Torso is notorious for two things: sex and violence. Sex it certainly does have in abundance, especially the lesbian variety, but gore is another matter. From a strictly quantitative perspective, I suppose you could call Torso a fairly bloody movie, but the gore effects are so incredibly unconvincing that they have no real impact at all. When a minor character who tries to blackmail the killer is run over by Mr. Ski Mask’s car, his body looks more like a department store mannequin than anything else, and the dismemberment-by-handsaw scene isn’t much better. There are plenty of Italian horror films with makeup effects every bit as bad as those in Torso, which still manage to have some effect, but they all share an important feature that this movie lacks. They have visual flair. Torso looks like a bargain-basement American slasher flick from ten years later, and the only reason it doesn’t also feel like one is that not even the worst of the U.S. slashers are so utterly illogical. There are just as many “Wait a minute— what?!?!” moments in Torso as there are in The Gates of Hell, but they never come close to adding up to an overall aura of surreality. With Torso, we’re looking at bad scripting, pure and simple. Bad scripting plus shitty gore effects minus anything that might honestly be described as atmosphere leaves Torso with nothing to show for itself beyond a couple of funny screw-ups and a whole lot of naked girls.