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Student bodies
A UK region 0 DVD review of TORSO / CARNAL VIOLENCE by Gort
 

Here's a question for horror fans only. What word springs to mind when you are presented with the following ingredients? Movie, 1970s, horror, Italian, blood. If your answer was Giallo and delivered with a nostalgic smile, then Torso, whose Italian title is the more elaborate I Corpi presentano trace di violenza carnale (Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence, if you please), could be right up your street. If you don't know what giallo is then do a quick internet search. But for once, don't use Google. They're getting too big and too much publicity for their own good.

As with many of its brethren, Torso's set-up is neither original nor particularly complicated. The students at a Rome university with a fabulous lecture hall are rocked when two of their number are brutally slain by a masked killer. When a third victim is similarly butchered, the police recover a black and red neck scarf (or voola if you prefer the local vernacular) used in the murder, one that doe-eyed student Danni recognises as possibly belonging to obsessively jealous fellow student Stefano. Come to think of it, Stefano has been acting a bit odd recently, confronting Danni on the stairs to remind her how much he wants her and smacking up a prostitute when she mocks his impotence. It clearly must be him then. Which means it probably isn't.

OK, so there are no real surprises here, but Torso is nonetheless busy with characters and detail whose relevance remain teasingly uncertain for some time. There's American student Jane (played by the very English Suzy Kendall), whose relationship with university professor Franz appears to be on the brink of going beyond that of student and teacher. Then there's market vendor Gianni, who sold the scarf to the killer and who's making plans to clean up by blackmailing its buyer. And let's not forget Danni's rich uncle Nino, who helpfully suggests that Danni and some friends retreat to the safety of his country villa, but who seems awfully interested in her shapely legs.

So Danni nips off to the country with Jane and two hot-for-each-other lesbians, and the suspicious characters begin to pile up. The town they retreat to appears to be populated almost exclusively by leering males of all ages (to be fair, if these four rode into your street on a big red tractor you'd probably do likewise), including the taunted and mute village idiot, a character too obviously different to be genuinely dangerous and whose nocturnal window-peering comes to a messy end. And what of the overly suave young local doctor? Wasn't that him eyeing up third victim Carol the day before she died, while buying a black and red scarf at the aforementioned market stall?

The dialogue may be stilted and the frequent top-half female nudity gratuitous (you surprise me), but don't let that or the amusingly lurid, feminist-baiting DVD cover fool you. Torso is no cheapjack 70s horror knock-off, but a grade-A giallo of the sort that gives the genre its good name. The location work is excellent and would be a storming sell for the Italian tourist board were it not for all those murders, while Giancarlo Ferrando's consistently ace cinematography is as effective at infusing the night with unseen menace as it is at capturing the beauty of Italian landscape and architecture. The first two murders in particular are creepily effective, the indistinct, silhouetted killer who attacks Carol in the woods coming across like Michael Myers in Evil Dead country, and Torso has a few years on both Carpenter and Raimi.

It's in its final third that Torso really comes into its own, as the injured Jane attempts to conceal herself and all evidence of her existence from a killer who is busy sawing up the bodies of her friends just a few feet away and dragging the bits off in sacks. It's a situation milked for all it's worth, complete with unexpected returns to the house, forgotten clues, a noisy accidental tumble and a nail-chewing sequence in which Jane attempts to retrieve a key from the other side of a locked door. The tension is cranked up by the smart decision to put Guido and Maurizio De Angelis's sometimes Goblin-like score on hold and play the scenes in unnerving silence (well almost – see below).

I'm becoming a big fan of the work being done by new DVD label Shameless, but almost feel they're under-selling Torso here, as nothing about the box artwork suggests a film as well made, atmospheric and intermittently tense as the one that sits on the disc within. It's an object lesson in not judging the film by the cover, and hey, let's just be happy there's someone out there who cares enough to put this overlooked giallo treat back together and out on UK DVD.

On that note...

This is the first time Torso has been released uncut in the UK, the previous version having been shorn of 50 seconds of material. With no English language print at their disposal, Shameless have reconstructed the film to its original form using the Italian print, so the previously missing shots are in Italian with English subtitles. Although a little odd, this should cause no problems for genre fans, who will appreciate the effort made to finally restore the film to its unexpurgated version.

sound and vision

Framed 16:9 and anamorphically enhanced, the print here displays better sharpness, contrast and more robust black levels than most of us had to the right to hope for. Compression artefacts are occasionally evident in scenes of dim lighting and mist and there's a brief burst of picture jitter on a couple of scenes. There is some dust, but not enough to get concerned over.

The news is not quite so good on the soundtrack front. The clarity on dialogue and sound effects is fair enough, but there's a pronounced hiss running throughout. Although no big surprise to anyone who owns a few VHS Italian horrors from the 1970s, it does take the edge of the film's use of silence in the final third. At it's worst it's like escaping gas, but does vary in intensity and drops off a little during the restored scenes.

extra features

Apart from the trailers for upcoming Shameless releases, we have only the original theatrical trailer (3:03) for the film under its alternative English language title of Carnal Violence. It's an intriguing, well edited piece with some bizarrely hallucinogenic inserts.

summary

I've already made the case for Torso's impressive giallo credits, and genre fans (or is that sub-genre fans?) should pounce on this like a masked killer on a wayward university student. Those not steeped in the joys of giallo should still ignore the cover and give it a look – this may be the intro you've been looking for.

Torso
Carnal Violence
I Corpi presentano trace di violenza carnale

Italy 1973
89 mins
director
Sergio Martino
starring
Suzy Kendall
Tina Aumont
Luc Merenda
John Richardson
Roberto Bisacco
Ernesto Colli
Angela Covello

DVD details
region 0
video
16:9 anamorphic
sound
Dolby mono 2.0
languages
English / Italian
subtitles
English on Italian dialogue sequences
extras
Trailers
distributor
Shameless
release date
26 November 2007
review posted
21 December 2007

See all of Gort's reviews