Sergio Martino’s “Torso”: Enter If You Dare the Bizarre World of the Psychosexual Mind

By on November 5, 2018

Released in Italy in 1973, towards the end of the gialli craze, Sergio Martino’s stylish NSFW Italian giallo Torso — known throughout Continental Europe as I Corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale and sometimes abbreviated and anglicized as Carnal Violence — is often singled out as a prototype of American slasher films like John Carpenter‘s Halloween (1978) and Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980).

Torso — the original Italian title translates to “The Body Presents Signs of Sexual Violence” — is just one of the eighteen titles we’ve recently added to our Blue Underground section on Night Flight Plus.

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Torso introduces several familiar slasher film tropes now considered de rigueur for the horror sub-genre: an isolated location, beautiful female vixens (actresses Patrizia Adiutori, Cristina Airoldi, Carla Brait, and Angela Covello are frequently seen semi-naked) and a Final Girl in a lengthy sequence towards the end of the film.

Torso – from a screenplay by Martino and Ernesto Gastaldi —   features a ski-masked, red-cravat and black leather glove-wearing psychosexual killer savagely murdering nubile young college students.

Like most slashers, there’s a Final Girl left alive at the end here too, hushed into fearful silence and hiding away while watching a sex-crazed knife-wielding madman as he saws up the bodies of his freshly-killed victims.

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Torso — notable for its scenes of extreme violence and graphic sex — actually begins with a NSFW ménage à trois scene.

British actress Suzy Kendall plays “Jane,” an American student (she’s dubbed by American voice artist Susan Spafford) studying art history in Perugia, the picturesque capital city of the Umbria region, located a few hours north of Rome and known for its medieval hill towns, dense forests and local cuisine, particularly foraged truffles and wines.

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After a series of sex maniac murders in Perugia, Jane and her beautiful young girlfriends decide to flee the horrors happening on campus.

They head off for a fun-filled weekend at Daniela’s uncle’s isolated and scenic country villa — the rich and beautiful co-ed “Daniela” is played by lovely doe-eyed Tina Aumont — where they skinny dip and give into their erotic desires (there’s even a lesbian subplot involving two of the girls).

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Unfortunately for them, the sadistic killer — and there are actually a number of suspects, including Daniela’s stalker boyfriend “Stefano” (Roberto Bisacco), “Dr. Roberto” (Luc Merenda) and art history professor “Franz” (John Richardson) — has decided to follow them to the villa.

During production, none of the cast members were told who the actual killer was, creating a kind of visible hysteria among the actresses, who were all convinced it was someone else doing all the murders.

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The final third of Torso has one of the most suspenseful edge-of-your-seat cat-and-mouse sequences in the giallo genre, showing Martino’s impressive directorial skills at ramping up the tension and gore.

Giancarlo Ferrando’s cinematography — particularly an atmospheric murder scene in mist-covered woods — is superb, as is the musical score by the Guido and Maurizio DeAngelis.

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Torso was highly-censored in English-speaking countries, with much of the film’s controversial violent scenes removed, but Blue Underground have fully restored the film from its original negative, presenting it completely uncut and uncensored (and dubbed in English).

Read more about Sergio Martino and Torso below.

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The prolific Sergio Martino (b. July 19, 1938 in Rome) is the brother of producer Luciano Martino, who in the 1970s was married to Algerian-born actress Edwige Fenech, who Sergio worked with often. They’re both grandsons of film director Gennaro Righelli, who directed the first Italian sound film, La Canzone dell’Amore.

Sergio Martino began his career as an assistant director for his grandfather and other great Italian directors, including Mario Bava and Brunello Rondi, before directing the lurid 1969 Mondo Cane-style documentary Mondo Sex (Italian: Mille peccati… nessuna virtu, later released as Wages of Sin).

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Although he is probably remembered mostly for his colorful giallo films like Torso, and for 1975’s Too Young to Die (starring Claudio Cassinelli, Mel Ferrer and Lia Tanzi) and the psychedelic They’re Coming to Get You (Tutti i Colori del Buio, a.k.a. Day of the Maniac), Martino actually worked in a variety of bold genres, directing Naked and Violent (America cosi nuda, cosi violenta) and the spaghetti western Arizona Colt Returns, which were both released in 1970.

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1973’s Torso was preceded by a series of outrageous gialli, including The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh, 1971) and The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (La coda dello scorpione, 1971), and by the 1972 supernatural horror titles All the Colors of the Dark and the psycho-sexual thriller Your Vice is a Locked Door and Only I Have the Key, his re-working of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat,” which we also have streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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After these, Martino — who, like many Italian directors, also used a number of American-sounding aliases, including Julian Barry, Martin Dolman, Serge Martin, Christian Plummer and George Raminto — would work in the exploitative crime genre for The Violent Professionals (1973), and he wrote and directed a few ribald soft-core sex comedies too, including Cugini carnali (released as High School Girl in 1974).

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Martino continued to expand his cinematic horizons during the rest of the ’70s, working on exploitation films, gritty crime dramas and sci-fi fare like 1978’s The Mountain of the Cannibal God, (a.k.a. Slave of the Cannibal God, Primitive Desires,) and 1975’s Chopper Squad (a.k.a. Silent Action, Gambling City, The Cheaters).

Watch Torso (1973) and other great Blue Underground cult horror titles over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.