Directed by Sergio Martino
Written by Sergio Martino and Ernesto Gastaldi
Starring Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, and John Richardson
I’m a fan of giallo, the Italian mystery genre known for gloved killers, sometimes beautiful set pieces, and increasingly bizarre plots. So when something like Torso becomes available in a nice, restored reissue it’s not hard to guess where my paycheck’s going. After all, it’s infamous for having been censored in its English-language release. That must’ve been some great footage, right? Well, no. Not really. As it turns out, the best parts don’t contain very much gore or nudity.
The plot of Torso is unexpectedly straightforward. After a few of their schoolmates are murdered, Jane (Suzy Kendall) and a few of her friends go to a remote villa to unwind. Of course, the killer follows. There are plenty of suspects and odd clues, but the mystery is rather beside the point. The meat of this one is the cat-and-mouse tension of Jane trying to get out of the house without attracting the killer’s attention.
There are some terrific sequences that come out of Jane’s sneaking around. Shots of her noticing items that could reveal her presence, watching a friend’s limb move as the unseen killer cuts it off — it’s the expectations that are terrifying, not the barely-realized effects. In my favorite sequence of the film, Jane tries to capture the key to room that she’s been locked in. She carefully pushes a newspaper under the door and works on pushing the room key out of the keyhole. The key drops, but it misses the newspaper and lands on the floor. A hand reaches down, picks up the key, and places it on the paper for her.
If the first hour of Torso had been half this good I’d agree vehemently with those who hold that it’s an under-appreciated classic. Sadly, predictably, it’s not. The first two acts are a lot of positioning: setting up the suspects, talking about violence in classical art, setting up the murders that send everyone to the villa, and of course having the women enjoying their escape. That’s fairly normal plotting, and it could fill time usefully in other hands. It’s just tedious here. Even the half-naked dancing-girls look bored. About the only bright spot before the murderous game of hide-and-seek is the unintentional comedy of Jane’s fall down the stairs. This accident serves to separate Jane from the others and leaves her at a disadvantage against the murderer, but the shot is executed so clumsily that it comes off as Jane deciding to escape the film early.
A lot of people regard Torso with some esteem, but while I do give it some credit for pulling off a few good scenes it’s largely missable. I’ll grant that it is a bit of a curiosity, though. Most horror movies that miss the mark start strong but fall down on the dismount. This is one of the few I’ve seen that are completely reversed and don’t show any talent or skill until the end. I haven’t seen that in a movie since Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things.