TORSO (1973) Blu-ray
Director: Sergio Martino
Shameless Screen Entertainment

Sergio Martino's giallo slasher forerunner TORSO saws its way onto Blu-ray in the UK courtesy of Shameless Screen Entertainment.

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).

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 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen Blu-ray edition appears to utilize the same master as the Blue Underground edition and feels overall less of a momentous release than one would expect of a "Shameless Numbered Edition". Faint scanner noise is present, fine grain looks a bit clumpy, skintones are a bit pinkish, and the day-for-night marshland sequence looks grayer than blue. It is no upgrade for owners of the Blue Underground release but it is a workable release for those who do not have it. The notable difference between the two is Shameless' recovery of the English insert version of the note written to Jane on her windshield which was in Italian on previous digital masters. Audio options include English and Italian LPCM 2.0 mono tracks. The English track reverts to Italian for sequences not dubbed into English but the transition is often inelegant (particularly as Carol leaves the pot party) and the music warbles once during the end credits. The Italian track is more consistent but the music is often mixed lower. Optional English subtitles are provided for the full Italian track and partial subtitles for the Italian-only sequences on the English track. Differences in the dialogue between the Italian and English versions include the inspector referring to a blow-up of scarf fibers as not being an example of "expressionist art" in the English track and "abstract art" on the Italian track while Stefano is the grandson of the French landlady on the Italian track but not identified as such on the English.

The sole extra is "Dismembering TORSO" (23:13), an interview with director Martino in which he discusses the inspiration for the film in a true crime, meeting Carlo Ponti (DOCTOR ZHIVAGO) through producer Antonio Cervi (THE SPIDER LABYRINTH), casting Kendall on the basis of THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, Airoldi since she had appeared in THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH and was the daughter of that film's Spanish financier, and noting that Aumont already had the beginnings of a drug problem on the film. He notes some of the film's shortcomings but is proud of the third act which he reveals was inspired by the film SEE NO EVIL, as well as noting the contributions of set designer Giantito Burchiellaro (JULIET OF THE SPIRITS) who solved the problem finding a building across from the villa for an expansive panning shot that encompasses both by erecting a papier-mâché mock-up of the villa on the mountain across from the building they had chosen. He also mentions a screening of the film at the University of Perugia not long after the murder of Meredith Kercher and Amanda Knox trial. The cover is reversible sporting some rather cartoonishly crude new artwork on the front and the American poster on the reverse. (Eric Cotenas)