Sergio Martino’s Torso opens by ogling naked flesh. A couple of anonymous models writhe around while a photographer (face unseen, only a camera in close-up) snaps away softcore shot, interrupted by shards of flashbacks involving a child’s doll, not exactly threatening but still a bit weird. Which pretty much us gives all the building blocks for what would become standard for the stalk-and-slash horrors of the seventies: nudity, voyeurism, a traumatic memory pounding away at our killer’s perspective while his identity remains pointedly hidden. All that’s missing is the violence and we don’t have to wait long for that. Not even the first murder, in fact. An art history lecture at the international university in Perugia shows us the images of suffering saints in renaissance paintings. But there’s no blood in these paintings, as the students remark after the lecture. Rest assured that Martino makes up for that in his scenes of assaulted flesh.
One female student drives off with her boyfriend for a little car sex in the woods. The killer, his face hidden behind a white stocking mask, strangles her with his own scarf (which he gently wraps back around his own neck with slow satisfaction) and then sinks a knife into her chest (a jarringly unconvincing effect with a pasty dummy that cracks open like a shell and oozes red paint). The killer, intimidating under black leather jacket and gloves and a ratty mask, straddles two clichés, the haunted psychos of the Norman Bates variety and the hooded zombie-like automatons of Halloween and Friday the 13th.
And so begins the spectacle. For the next hour or so the audience is treated to scenes of topless dancing, languid make-outs at a hippie hangout, Sapphic seduction, nude sunbathing and skinny dipping, inevitably followed, sooner or later, by the killer strangling said lovelies, removing their tops for a little post-murder findling and then hacking up their bodies. It’s familiar slasher movie territory, right down to a cadre smirking and suspicious men constantly hanging around and peeping in, and there’s no shortage of suspects – a stalker boyfriend, a creepy professor, an ogling scarf salesman, an older lover who is always “traveling.” It gets even more familiar when four female friends, headed by British art history student Jane (Suzy Kendall of Bird With the Crystal Plumage fame) and her Italian friend Daniela (French actress Tina Aumont, Fellini’s Casanova), head out to a villa in the country and the killer follows. Meanwhile, the girls make quite a splash in the small town; they lounge around the village square looking like supermodels in a rustic shoot and the men all but gape in stunned silence at these international beauties.