First of all, once the disc loaded, it offered the choice between the uncensored English version or the Italian-language director’s cut, both making their home-vid debut. I chose the latter. Then it offered the choice of watching it introduced by Eli Roth. “Hell, yes,” I said to absolutely no one, and was greeted with a brief appreciation of the 93 minutes to come, with Roth admitting how much inspiration he drew from the film when making his own “Hostel: Part II.” That became quite evident, with the Italian architecture almost as much of a supporting character as many a “Torso” target.
Bearing a title that translates to “The Bodies Show Signs of Carnal Violence,” the director’s cut adds three minutes of footage, which appear mostly to amount to trimmed dialogue. They’re easy to spot because I had switched to English subtitles; since gialli are so colorful, they’re beautiful on Blu, and I didn’t want my gaze or attention diverted by words. But those extra few minutes aren’t dubbed in English, so you’ll have to watch them subtitled to make sense of them. And if you don’t, you’ll miss a priceless exchange between the cops and a constipated hobo (see screencap below for just one choice line).
From a soft-focus tease of an opening (the first shot holds a great visual joke) to the bloody end, “Torso” had me hooked. Pretty, headstrong Suzy Kendall (Argento’s “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage”) plays Jane, our lead by default since so many of her fellow collegians fail to make it to the all-important third act. Thinning the professor’s group of art-history students is a silent slasher who wears a light-colored ski mask that, rather creepily, looks to have its holes cut out by himself.
The killer’s “thing” is stabbing co-eds with a stubby but super-sharp knife. If you’re a woman, you might get a grope before having your tummy poked. If you’re a man, he might pull that two-fingered Three Stooges move on your eyeballs, but with far different results. Special effects in the death scenes are obvious fakes — not even the skin tones from man to mannequin are close to matching — yet Martino keeps that deficiency from becoming a handicap by relying on good ol’ tension and suspense to carry the day. His efforts are aided immeasurably by Guido and Maurizio De Angelo’s score, as melodic and memorable as anything the subgenre ever received from Ennio Morricone or Claudio Simonetti.
While anything goes in the first hour — the story jumps between characters and locations like mad, just to scramble any notions of predictability — the aforementioned final third largely is confined to one big house, in which the killer is the cat and Jane is the mouse, hobbling along and semi-lucid from being hopped up on painkillers following a spill down the staircase. With very little dialogue, you can’t help but be transfixed.
Needless to say, the disc looks and sounds great. In the bonus department, Martino sits down for a 10-minute chat, as much about his career in general as this particular movie. TV spots and trailers abound, some name-checking “War and Peace” and “Doctor Zhivago” because they share Carlo Ponti (Mr. Sophia Loren) as a producer. (In classic grindhouse style, talk about massive misdirection!)
Finally, the U.S. opening credits put a hard-rock guitar riff over the titles; Lord, do we Americans know anything about subtlety? Our Italian friends sure do, and “Torso” proves it, albeit with graphic payoffs. —Rod Lott