Inspired by Arbogast's recent post and enabled by a gracious gift from Absinthe of Gloomy Sunday, I dimmed the lights in the Apartment of Erotic Horror and curled up in front of "Torso" last night. What can I say except that this Italothriller stole my heart during the nudity-filled credits montage and held my interest right through to the unveiling of the murderer's ridiculous motivation. Striking a balance between style and sleaze, this nasty bit of business delivers. I think my love for director Sergio Martino blossoms upon each exposure to his work.
Set in the picturesque squares and Renaissance halls of Perugia, Italy (known as a center of the arts), the film's backdrops are steeped in history. Granted, this isn't really capitalized on as in other gialli I've seen with similar settings (see "House with the Laughing Windows" for a movie that takes its countryside setting and runs with it), but it's easy on the eyes and lends a visual texture to the proceedings.
Within the context of the plot, setting the film in this city makes sense--the main players are art students at a campus that is being terrorized by a "psychosexual" killer. After two of their friends are murdered, a group of girls takes a vacation at a countryside villa, but they are followed by the murderer. One of the things that sets this movie apart from other thrillers of its sort is the structure--there's a Hard Left at the sixty-minute mark that turns the movie from a simple "body count" picture into a "home invasion" story arc. The tension mounts and there are some really great thrill moments leading up to the eventual unmasking of the killer.
In addition to the unexpected plot development, there's a real misanthropy present in this film that coats everything on screen with a thin layer of ick. Virtually every character is a creep, a slut, an idiot or otherwise all messed up. Pegging the Final Girl is simple from the first frame in which she appears; identifying the killer is a tougher bit of business because, if this movie is to be believed, Italy is a country populated entirely by leering men. Every man is a suspect, regardless of age, profession, and social status. It's quite a downbeat view on the male gender--almost Dworkinian, in fact! This review almost got the rapey half-mans-half-monkeys tag as a result of all the lip-smacking, goggle-eyed, mumbling, gropey dudes in this flick. From the untrustworthy, blackmailing scarf seller in the town square (really, what village would be complete without one?) to the art history professor love interest who has the Garfunkel all over him to the creepy, to the lecherous uncle who peers in on the girls as they bathe, every man is a exudes sliminess.
Moving on to the ladies--with the exception of the one Chaste And Pure Paragon Of Womanhood (and even she can't help but give her pal a post-shower backrub), these are chicks cast in the Girls Gone Wild mold. Illicit smoking! Hanging out in mixed-gender company! Riding motorcycles! Reckless necking! Hott backseat action! Surely this is signing one's death warrant in a stalk 'n' slash film.
I'm awarding this film bonus points for the inclusion of a hippie party, which kinda implies the participation of KILLER HIPPIES in the murder of one of the victims. The murder that follows is a really creepy, almost over-extended assault in the thick of a misty swamp. Violent hippies + eerie swamp = horror movie excellence. The coda to all this is a gory-yet-beautiful shot of blood seeping along the victim's arm into the mud. Yikes!
The film has a strong theme of voyeurism--many shots are framed through open doors and windows. When the girls go to chateau, they just hang around skinny dipping and sunbathing (AS YOU DO), and much of the action is framed in such a way that the viewer is peering through curtains or branches. The effect is a bit uncomfortable! Of course, this viewer found herself shaking her tiny fist when the uber-hott lesbian kiss got cut off by the WORST PLACED NEWEL POST IN HISTORY.
All told, "Torso" is a ghoulish thriller with nice pacing and some unexpected twists to accompany its over-the-top moments of ridiculousness. Click here for the Flickr gallery of stills from "Torso."