Torso is even better the second time around. Martino really commits to making a movie about sexual violence and as is often the case with the genre, there’s a lot of female flesh on show, especially in the murder sequences. It might seem gratuitous at first but there’s something very discomforting about the presentation. These women are beautiful to look at and Martino shows them off proudly in some humorous soft-core sex scenes but as soon as their chests are exposed in the service of an attack, there’s no playful titillation at work. It is sheer, disturbing violation. I think that’s what sets this apart from many other slasher/giallo of the era, it is extremely cruel and played totally straight. Martino takes it seriously and the violence is as shocking and extreme as his effects budget allows. While, yes, this does feel like a cheaply made horror flick there’s still a level of complexity and craft to offset the sleaze.
The amount of disgusting, leering male faces in Torso is pretty excessive, but it is in service of the story. You get a sense that all the women are beautiful angels while all the men are horrible perverts. You wouldn’t put it past any of the male characters, in both the background and foreground, to rape and murder these women. The end result is a film in which most of the women are totally objectified but by the male characters rather than the film itself which is an important distinction to make. It uses the male-gaze as atmosphere and it’s extremely effective. By the time the film narrows itself down to a final girl, trying to avoid the killer’s detection in a house full of her friends’ dead bodies, you are praying for her to escape or outsmart her tormentor. I loved this sequence the first time around and none of it’s impact had diluted upon rewatch. It is one of the great horror set-pieces as far as I’m concerned, a horror house opera free of music and dialogue directed with real restraint, confidence and tact by Martino. Worth the price of admission alone.
The dumb twist and conclusion is still frustrating but this is one of those movies that is far more about aesthetic and themes rather than story and character. It works as a body count thriller as well as a meditation on sexual violence. It feels like an extreme piece of work but not for the sake of it. You can tell Martino had something to say with Torso and it’s all the better for it. I’m already itching to see it again.