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Torso (1973): The Emblazoned Body and the Mutilated Mind

I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale (The Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence, 1973) or, as it is more widely known, Torso, is the fifth giallo film from Italian filmmaker Sergio Martino. Heralded as a classic in the genre, the film enjoys a 2017 release from Shameless Films, complete with a 93-minute running time – the longest yet.

The definition of the word ‘torso’ is literally: the trunk of the human body; the trunk of a statue; or an unfinished or mutilated thing, especially a work of art of literature. The relationship between women, beauty and death has been explored at length throughout literature. As Edgar Allan Poe stated: “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.” The second definition of the word ‘torso’, which refers to a statue, invokes this ‘topic’ when framed within the context of the film. This is especially true when considering the fact that ‘torso’ can also refer to a body of art, particularly unfinished or mutilated. The combination of these definitions has a couple of interesting readings.

Firstly, the voyeuristic camera, which is incredibly effective in the way that it positions the viewer in the place of the unknown killer throughout the film, has been criticised as misogynist. When considering the choice of the title, the mask-like beauty of the dead female form, frozen in her beauty, can be read as a comment upon the relationship between women, beauty and death, and the way that this is explored within cinema specifically. The overt fixation on the female body throughout the film is a clever cinematic ploy that, eventually, is revealed through the childhood trauma of the killer at the end of the film. By placing the viewer in this position, the film renders the audience complicit in the objectifying gaze of the camera – and truly does make one consider not only the historical misogynist representation of women onscreen, but also the relationship between the audience member and this representation.

This is doubly the case when taking into account the childhood trauma of the killer. His childhood was shattered, unfinished in one sense because he hasn’t been able to overcome an incident that rendered him psychologically scarred – a mutilation of the mind. A triggering event in his adult life has caused these issues to manifest in an acute way, beginning a fatal cycle that the killer feels compelled to repeat when confronted with sexually active women. Like the allusive doll within the film, the killer renders the dead female body as an inanimate object; when the camera has finished fetishising the fragments of the female form, the killer cuts it into pieces.

Similarly, the reference to an unfinished piece of art when considering the title of the film is interesting, in that Torso has been criticised for its heavily convoluted plot, with many red herrings throughout. It is generally not as popular among gialli fans as Martino’s other classics, such as Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh (The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, 1970), Tutti i colori del buio (All the Colors of the Dark, 1972), or Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave (Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, 1972).

Contrary to this criticism, the convolution of the plot serves the film well, and weaves an air of mystery and tension throughout that culminates in a particularly taut finale – much aided by a stand out performance from Suzy Kendall as Jane. The jarring focus on the psychological, repressed sexual memories manifested in the urge to emblazon the female form, creates a heady mix of all the beloved, pulpy aspects of the crime novels that influenced the giallo, while also being situated on the cusp of the slasher genre that was being shaped – largely by gialli films as well as other influences – in America, such as Psycho (1960), Black Christmas (1974), and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). The latter two films were released the year after Torso, and have several narrative, stylistic and visual elements that could be attributed to the film.

The influence of the film is evident, and the Shameless release celebrates this innovative film in all its g(l)ory. The region free Blu-Ray upgrades the Shameless 2007 DVD release, via a notable, if not especially ground-breaking, 1.66:1 1080p HD restoration. There is some colour saturation and noise, but this only adds to the effective experience. Another development is the English and Italian LPCM 2.0 audio options, as well as English subtitles. Finally, Martino reflects on the production, its links to true crime cases, cinematic influences, and prominent cast and crew members, in a solo, new featurette that, at over 20 minutes long, greatly complements the 93-minute cut: Dismembering Torso. Though not loaded with special features, or vast improvements on the 2007 DVD release, the Blu-Ray is a fine testament to a giallo staple from one of the masters in the genre.

All images courtesy of Shameless Films.

About Rebecca Booth

Rebecca has a Masters in Film Studies from the University of Southampton. In addition to her role as Managing Editor at Diabolique Magazine, she co-hosts the international horror podcast United Nations of Horror, as well as X-Files X-Philes and The Twin Peaks Log. She has contributed to several popular culture websites such as Wicked Horror, Den of Geek, and Big Comic Page, and has contributed essays to following publications: Unsung Horrors (We Belong Dead, 2016), Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin (Spectacular Optical, 2017), and the forthcoming A Filthy Workshop of Creation: Sin & Subversion in Hammer's Gothic Horrors (Electric Dreamhouse Press, 2018).

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