Torso has fallen into the same category as other cult gialli of the period, namely the bigger films like Blood and Black Lace and Dario Argento’s masterful Suspiria. But I don’t really think that this is a fair comparison, because Torso is far from the same category as those beautiful works of art. Instead, Torso is farther down on the totem pole, and it’s a film that isn’t as deserving of its status as other gialli. This film style often features convoluted plot lines, beautiful color schemes, and sometimes even strange story occurrences, but Torso does all of these extremely unevenly, often to the point where the film only makes sense if the audience suspends disbelief.
The film features a group of students who are studying art in Italy, on a study abroad program from an American college. They’ve taken up residence in Italy, and they’ve begun classes with a handsome professor who might not share the same ideas about art that they do. One such student is Jane (Suzy Kendall), a woman the audience will spend more time with than the other students after they all begin to find themselves murdered by a scarf-wearing maniac.
Torso incorporates a bit of color with the madman’s scarf, which combines black and red colors and helps to set up multiple murder suspects, a staple within the giallo genre. But for the most part, Torso‘s palette is somewhat lifeless; it has a couple of Gothic buildings, sure, but it’s never as glamorous as it could be. So too is the atmosphere somewhat stale; there are moments of tension built on strange settings, like the hippy commune that Carol (Cristina Airoldi) explores before taking a deadly mud bath, but they’re often stretched very thin because of tiresome stalking sequences that grow old quickly.
The film also has a problem with character motivation. The first issue here is that all of the characters are entirely dull, especially Ursula (Carla Brait) and Katia (Angela Covello), who have no reason for being in the film besides their agreement to show their body and the killer’s infatuation with slicing said skin. And getting these characters into position for murder is almost nonsensical. There’s the killing of an Asian peeping tom, who happens to be in the wrong place at the right time; there’s the strange pseudo-kidnapping of Carol that just seems to happen; and then there’s Stefano (Roberto Bisacco), whose strange appearances only enunciate the fact that he will most certainly not be the killer.
In the end, it’s not hard to predict where Torso will beheaded (wow, look at that pun that just sort of rolled out of my fingertips). Once the body count starts to rise, and the suspects begin to decrease, it should be obvious who the killer is – and this is also not a surprise because once he’s introduced, he disappears for almost the entirety of the film.
The killer’s motivations are only briefly explored in the vaguest of details, anyway, and what’s more, the reason for it is tenuously connected to the plot. It’s all told (by the killer, no less) in such a narrative tone that it’s hard to really care at this point, and it seems as though director Sergio Martino realized that a motive for the killer was lacking and it needed to be taken care of PDQ. Whatever the case, it’s not very believable, and for that the killer becomes sort of a waste since all of Torso hinges upon why he’s doing what he does.
But the final sequence is very tense thanks to a sense of urgency, where a character hides from the killer as he cuts up her friends’ bodies. Unfortunately, Kendall’s character Jane is terribly weak, watching with her hand to her mouth as a male doctor battles the killer. These types of situations are not easy to watch, since they perpetuate a stereotype about females who lack power, always at the mercy of their murderers.
If you’re looking for a good giallo film, don’t let the hype fool you – Torso is not the best. It’s certainly not one of the worst gialli made (at least it makes some semblance of sense), but there are much better films out there, even those that don’t have the following Torso does. It has the violence of gialli, but it is ironically lacking the body.