TORSO (1973) Blu-ray
Director: Sergio Martino
Arrow Video USA

Sergio Martino's giallo slasher forerunner TORSO saws its way back onto Blu-ray in the US courtesy of Arrow Video.

The sunny idyll of the summer school session in art history at the University of Perugia is shattered with the murders of students Flo (Patrizia Adiutori, GIOVANNA LONG-THIGH) and Jean (Fausto Di Bella, HITCH-HIKE), the girl having been strangled and mutilated post-mortem. The subsequent murder of Carol (Cristina Airoldi, THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH) in a marshland has Inspector Martino (Italian dubbing performer Luciano De Ambrosis) suspecting they are the work of the same assailant since both girls were strangled with the same foulard (scarf), the design of which classmate Daniella (Tina Aumont, SALON KITTY) recalls seeing someone wearing but cannot recall whom. She suspects childhood friend Stefano (Roberto Bisacco, CAMILLE 2000) who has obsessed with her, and threatening phone calls have her uncle (Carlo Alighiero, CAT O'NINE TAILS) suggesting that she should get away to the family's country villa. She invites lesbians Ursula (Carla Brait, THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS) and Katia (Angela Covello, BABA YAGA) as well as American friend Jane (Suzy Kendall, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) who has developed a tentative flirtation with her professor Franz (John Richardson, FRANKENSTEIN '80). Jane arrives at the villa late and a fall down the steps takes her out of commission as well as the notice of the killer as he moves in on the villa for the kill.

Perhaps more so a giallo forerunner for the American slasher genre than even Mario Bava's BAY OF BLOOD, Sergio Martino's TORSO ups the ages of the victims so that the presentation of free love and sex is less sensationalistic than other "schoolgirls in peril" gialli while the killer's ski-mask is more prescient of the slasher film killer disguises than his giallo black gloves. Although there is some rather unconvincing slashing, eye-gouging, head-crushing, throat-slashing, and limb-sawing, TORSO – its Italian title being THE BODIES BEAR TRACES OF CARNAL VIOLENCE – is still less of a body count film than a thriller with the suspense ramped up during the final half-hour as Jane discovers that she is the only one still alive in the villa and endeavors to keep the killer ignorant of her presence. The killer's identity is pretty obvious even if he is given scarcely more screen time than any of the other male characters in the film, among them crime film star Luc Merenda (SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER) putting in a couple days work as an obvious red herring, Luciano Bartoli (THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS) as one of Daniella's classmates, and comedy actor Vincenzo Crocitti (TO BE TWENTY) as an ogling delivery man. Although not photographed in scope like his other giallo collaborations with Martino, the cinematography of Giancarlo Ferrando (ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK) is artful and inventive, framing some of the gory highlights just out of view as well as the killer's facial features, while Guido and Maurizio de Angelis (A BLADE IN THE DARK) provide a wonderfully diverse score – originally released on a CD with Bruno Nicolai's score for Umberto Lenzi's EYEBALL and later alone on an expanded CD from Digitmovies – including a sultry sax main theme, jangling suspense cues, and a folksy piece for the pot party. The English export version lost an introductory art history sequence following the opening credits which visually introduced all of the principal characters along with a sequence of the inspector questioning a tramp in the aftermath of the first murders, Roberto giving a ride to a patient, and the last lines of dialogue.

Although the export title of the film was CARNAL VIOLENCE, the film was released theatrically stateside by Joseph Brenner Associates as TORSO ("It saturates the screen with terror!") in an R-rated version that removed some gore from a version already missing a few dialogue scenes never dubbed into English – presumably the same version was what was released in the UK under that title theatrically and on cassette with additional BBFC cuts going by the 84 minute PAL running time – which was later released on cassette by Prism Entertainment. The film made its DVD debut in 2000 from Anchor Bay Entertainment in an anamorphic transfer that restored the gore and Italian-only dialogue scenes and was uncut as far as the audio was concerned; however, the master was missing the image track for the art history lecture that follows the credits so the dialogue was played over the credits with English subtitles. A German DVD from X-Rated Kult Video featured a non-anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer but was uncut while the Italian DVD from Alan Young Pictures featured an anamorphic transfer and commentary by Martino but its composite English track was a mess. Blue Underground issued a direct port of the Anchor Bay edition in 2009 before they put out a Blu-ray in 2011 featuring Italian (92:59) and reconstructed English (90:06) versions as separate encodes (along with separate DVDs of the two cuts).

In the UK, Shameless first released TORSO on DVD in 2007 in an uncut edition with English subtitles for the Italian-only scenes, presumably from the same PAL master as the Italian DVD. Their subsequent 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen Blu-ray edition appeared to utilize the same master as the Blue Underground edition, with the notable difference between the two being Shameless' recovery of the English insert version of the note written to Jane on her windshield which was in Italian on previous digital masters. Arrow's new 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen Blu-ray is derived from a new 2K restoration of the original camera negative which is the source for four seamlessly-branched versions: The original Italian version with Italian LPCM 1.0 mono audio and optional English subtitles (93:36), a hybrid English/Italian audio version with optional English subtitles for scenes when the cut reverts to Italian (93:02), the export version with the CARNAL VIOLENCE title card, English LPCM 1.0 mono audio and optional English SDH subtitles (90:12), and the American TORSO version (89:33) with LPCM 1.0 mono audio and optional English SDH subtitles.

The 2K restoration is similarly framed to the earlier transfers but differs visually in some respects. The image is overall darker, making the more saturated colors richer while the contrast between live skin and prosthetic gore inserts is not as pronounced. The daylight scenes maintain their sunny warmth while the night scenes are not so murky; that is, the actual night-for-night scenes. Some previous transfers failed to tint the marsh sequence, while Arrow has given it a deep blue tint that has the effect of making the eye-gouging insert seem more shockingly realistic but otherwise seems too dark with the once red blood looking black and almost hard to discern from the mud. The most interesting addition is the TORSO cut which is a composite of the 2K restoration, a vintage print, and a VHS source. While we would have preferred that they had used the entire print with VHS inserts where needed, the BD50 would likely not have been able to hold two encodes and the extras without cheating the bitrate on one transfer and/or the extras. The effected portions include the Joseph Brenner title card, Ponti and Martino credits which come from a VHS source with the rest of the American credits coming from a faded, mottled, scratchy 35mm print before cutting to the 2K restoration for the recut, rescored version of the opening sex scene (with cutaways to the 35mm print for shots in which the Italian and export cuts included onscreen credits), and then the end credits sequence. The recut audio is okay for the most part, but there is at least one instance where it appears that the synchronizing of the digital source for the English track with the American version's VHS guide track leaves an echo at the end of a sentence.

The Blue Underground and Shameless Blu-rays each featured exclusive interviews with Martino. The latter left this reviewer thinking it was a missed opportunity for a Kat Ellinger/Samm Deighan commentary, particularly since Ellinger just wrote a book for Arrow on Martino. Arrow's Blu-ray partially fulfills this wish with a new commentary track by Ellinger drawing on her research. She notes that Martino has been acclaimed as a giallo director, although he only did a handful and each of them were very different, lacking the stylistic and thematic cohesion of the likes of Dario Argento, and that Martino's versatility in various popular genres tends to go unnoted even though it is comparable to that of Umberto Lenzi's abilities to work across genres. Ellinger note only provides a survey of Martino's gialli leading up to TORSO (along with the few times he returned to the genre in the eighties onwards) but also his sex comedies which are often dismissed as fluff and less discussed than his action films. Of the film, she notes that it began as a treatment titled FOUR GIRLS ALONE – combining his admiration for the British thriller SEE NO EVIL with a then-recent true crime story – that he passed along to his producer brother Luciano who did not have time to read it, so he pitched it to Carlo Ponti associate Tonino Cervi (QUEENS OF EVIL) who called him on Ponti's behalf after seeing ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK. She also discusses the film's deployment of exploitable hippie free love in a post-Manson era where a streak of cynicism polluted

"All the Colors of Terror" (34:02) is a new interview with Martino in which he covers his inspirations for the film and his meeting with Cervi and Ponti, the selection of Perugia as the setting to allow for an international cast, as well as how the Meredith Kercher murder has stirred up interest in the film again with Martino even being invited to the city to discuss the film (colleague Ruggero Deodato has already exploited the true crime with BALLAD IN BLOOD). He also recalls his dislike of the distributor's Italian title since the bodies bore no traces of carnal violence. "The Discreet Charm of the Genre" (34:53) is an interview with actor Merenda that actually focuses on much of his other filmography, including his crime films, and ACTION, the low-budget film undertaken by Tinto Brass in the aftermath of CALIGULA being taken away from him, with only passing remarks about TORSO no matter how many cutaways to clips from the Martino film the featurette offers. "Dial S for Suspense" (29:16) is an interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi which also focuses far more on his other genre works, his thoughts on giallo plotting – distinguishing his plots from so-called gialli that are just action or suspense – and only briefly touching upon the device of the key in TORSO (suggesting that Martino may indeed have had more to do with the plotting than Gastaldi). "Women in Blood" (24:59) is an interview with Sergio Martino's daughter Federica who reflects on the film and her ideas for a sequel that she may be undertaking after her current project GIRL HUNT about "femicide" – the featurette does draw some parallels between the characters she describes in her film and the central quartet of women in TORSO with some cutaways to clips from the film – as well as discussing her film education in New York with classmate Eli Roth who did not know that her father was Sergio Martino until he came to Italy to promote HOSTEL. "Saturating the Screen" (25:04) is an interview with writer Mikel J. Koven, author of "La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film", who reveals that he was initially interested in doing a book on slasher films only for his research into the influence of the giallo on slashers becoming a book in itself. He frames his analysis of TORSO as a discussion of how Gastaldi and Martino were sowing the seeds of the slasher with the film, pointing out the ways in which it does anticipate the latter genre and the ways in which it does not; for instance, the switch from Daniella as detective in the first half to Jane whose cat-and-mouse game with the killer in the second half does not entirely turn her into a "final girl" going by Carol J. Clover's definition. Also included is "Sergio Martino Live" (47:00), a Q&A at the Abatoir Film Festival, that encompasses everything from Martino's filmmaking family and their place in the history of Italian cinema to an overview of his films and their reception. Virtually identical Italian and export CARNAL VIOLENCE trailers (3:06 each) are also included. Not provided for review were the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais or the illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Adrian Smith and Howard Hughes included with the first pressing only. (Eric Cotenas)