Prior to Torso, director Sergio Martino had worked on three giallos, including Blade of the Ripper (1970), Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971) and They're Coming to Get You (1972).
Hoping to sell his latest work I Corpi Presentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale (The Bodies Show Traces of Carnal Violence) to American audiences, distributor Joseph Brenner imported the film under the simple title Torso.
Often compared to Dario Argento, Martino's work is generally underrated. Less an auteur and more commercial than his contemporaries, Martino knew just what his audience wanted to see and when they wanted to see it.
Suzy Kendall, who was familiar to audiences through her roles in To Sir With Love and Argento's The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, starred in this nail-biting thriller.
As the credits roll, we see a man and two women engaged in a three-way...and we hear an art professor at a university in Rome giving a lesson to his class.
When the class is over, Jane (Suzy Kendall), an American studying abroad, and her friend Dani (Tina Aumont) have a few questions for Professor Franz (John Richardson). They express their disagreement over some of his teachings.
Stefano (Roberto Bisacco) offers to take Dani home - but she would rather hitch a ride with Jane. "He's hounded me for years. I can't shake him off," she tells Jane.
They meet their other buddies Carol (Cristina Airoldi), Katia (Angella Covello) and Ursula (Carla Brait) and walk over towards Jane's car. Carol sees Flo (Patrizia Adiutori) and ask her if she's coming over that night. Flo says she's busy and hooks up with her boyfriend John (Fausto Di Bella).
Apparently, Stefano has other interests besides Dani and he follows Flo and John. The couple parks the car under a bridge and make out, unaware that someone is watching them. John looks up and sees a masked figure. Furious that they were being spied on, he takes off after him and leaves Flo behind.
When he doesn't return, Flo turns the headlights on and gets out of the car. She walks several feet away and someone turns the lights off. As she goes back towards the vehicle, the masked stranger grabs her and strangles her to death with a scarf. He then pulls out a knife and mutilates her body.
John's corpse is found near hers and the police question a vagrant who discovered it.
Near the university, Carol notices a good-looking guy buying a scarf from a vendor named Gianni (Ernesto Colli). Gianni tries to come on to her...but she's only interested in the stranger standing next to him.
Carol finds out about Flo's murder when Dani shows her the headline in the newspaper. She's badly shaken by the news. Stefano tells Dani and the girls that classes have been cancelled.
Jane bumps into Professor Franz in a church and they go for a walk around the city. Franz tells her he'll try and get tickets to an Academy concert for the two of them and his student is clearly smitten. After they go their separate ways, Jane sees Carol having an argument with someone and overhears him telling her he can't see her anymore.
Stefano picks up a beautiful hooker and takes her back to his place. But he seems disinterested when she tries to have sex with him. She tells him, "Honey, even if you're queer or impotent, you're paying the price I charge just the same." Furious, Stefano smacks the prostitute and threatens to kill her. She runs out of his apartment with barely any clothes on.
Carol sees the handsome man she admired earlier. Dani bumps into her and asks where she's been. Carol is acting strange and cuts the conversation short, saying she has to be somewhere. Her friends Peter and George pressure her to go off with them on their motorbikes.
Carol ends up in a warehouse, surrounded by pot smoking hippie types, scantily clad dancing women - and others engaging in "free love." When one of her male companions tries to get into Carol's pants, she tells him to take his clothes off first. As he starts to do just that, she burns his chest with a joint. The girl is not having a good time.
Carol leaves the group and walks into a nearby field. She then happens to overhear a guy say, "I'll strangle the bitch" as he and his buddy ride off on their motorcycles. His bike crashes in the mud and they lose sight of her.
Carol continues walking and ends up in the woods. She stops for a second when she notices someone staring at her. The man disappears and as Carol attempts get away, he turns up again. He strangles her with his scarf and drowns her. The sadistic killer also gouges her eyes with his fingers and cuts her body with a knife.
The police show up at the university to ask about the murders. Inspector Martino claims a fiber from the scarf was found on Carol's body and he warns the students to be on the lookout for anyone wearing something similar.
Dani is upset because she noticed a mark on the neck of one of Carol's male friends. She tells Jane she's frightened and that she was the last person to see Carol alive. Neither of the two men was wearing a red scarf, she says.
Dani does remember seeing somebody wearing one but she can't recall who it was. Stefano is watching as Dani gets into Jane's car to be driven home. Meanwhile, Inspector Martino is keeping a close eye on Stefano.
Dani gets a threatening call from a man disguising his voice. He tells her not get involved if she wants to be spared. Her Uncle Nino (Carlo Alighiero) comes home and sees how upset she is. He advises her to go to their country house and tells her to invite her friends.
Inspector Martino questions Gianni the street vendor, who carries the type of scarf...but he can't remember who he has sold merchandise to.
When the investigator leaves, Gianni makes a phone call and informs someone that the police are snooping around. He promises not to tell them he's sold the same exact scarf to him if he gets two million lira. Gianni plans to collect his hush money that night.
Dani tells Katia and Ursula to meet her at the station the next day so they can leave town together for the house. Stefano tries to talk to Dani but she doesn't want to have anything to do with him. He says, "You've got to belong to me and no one else" and she suddenly remembers he was the guy wearing the scarf in question. He tries to kiss her but she breaks away and locks her apartment door.
Dani calls Jane and tells her to come over right away. She mentions the scarf and implies that Stefano might be the killer. She also tells her about the intimidating phone call. Uncle Nino says goodbye to them as he leaves for Paris and Jane realizes he's the man who told Carol he was through with her. She also feels that he leers at his niece in an inappropriate way.
Jane tells Dani she won't be going to the villa with the group because she has to do a few things in town. She says she'll drive up later - after first speaking with Stefano.
Gianni has just collected his bribe payoff and is walking home. A car comes out of the blue and runs him down. Gianni is crushed against a wall.
The following day, Jane visits Stefano in his apartment. The door is open and she enters - but he isn't around. On a chair is a doll with its eyes missing.
She finds a note to Dani that says, "I don't understand why you reject me...but I know that one day you will understand me. Do you remember the promise you made when you were a child?" Stefano's landlady tells Jane it doesn't look as if he came home the night before.
The girls take a train to the villa, unaware they're being watched by someone onboard. He seems especially taken with Katia and Ursula, who are lovers. Roberto (Luc Merenda) sits in their compartment. He is the same guy Carol was admiring at the university and he doesn't say a word to the friends.
They arrive in the village and their good looks make them the center of attention. Dani tells a delivery man (Vincenzo Crocitti) to bring them bread and milk every morning and they're taken up to her country house on a tractor. (The villa is located in a mountain overlooking the small town.)
A couple of men tease the village idiot (Enrico DiMarco) by telling him to go up to the villa because the girls are expecting him.
Jane finds a note on the windshield of her car from Franz that puts a smile on her face. It says he has two tickets for a concert in a couple of days. She takes off for the villa.
Night falls and Jane hasn't arrived. The girls are sitting around in the house and Ursula can't help but notice that it feels like a fortress. Dani says there's no one there most of the year and the bars on the window are to keep thieves out.
Jane finally arrives with the help of a filling station attendant (Giuseppe Terranova), who shows her how to find the house. Her car is having problems so he takes it back to have it repaired after dropping her off.
The first thing Jane tells Dani is that Stefano had nothing to do with the murders. Dani remembers back and says, "Of course, Stefanos' scarf was different. He had a red design on a black background. The one the inspector showed us was just the opposite."
After relaxing with a drink, Jane says goodnight to Dani and goes up to bed. Ursula and Katia enjoy a little Sapphic love while a gloved stranger stalks the house. In fact, there are two people watching the women make love.
The village idiot has made his way up to the house and is scared away by a glimpse of the stalker's knife. The killer corners him and slashes the guy's neck - then disposes of his body.
The delivery man is there the next morning and gets an eyeful when he sees Dani, Ursula and Katia sunbathing in the nude. Coming down the staircase, Jane trips and twists her ankle. Dani tells the guy to get a doctor immediately and Stefano watches through a pair of binoculars as the young man rushes back into town.
The doctor turns out to be Roberto. He wraps Jane's ankle in a bandage and tells her to stay in bed. He also gives her some pills to help her sleep better. Dani gets a phone call from her uncle in Paris and she remarks that he sounds as if he's in the next room.
Three of the girls spend the afternoon by a lake, where Ursula and Katia go skinnydipping. Dani sees Stefano across the lake and calls out his name. He doesn't respond and the other two tell her she must be imagining it.
Jane is bedridden so they break open a bottle of champagne in her room. She's tired from the medication and goes to sleep early...while the others go downstairs.
Dani plays the piano a little bit and then gets the urge to call Stefano. The phone line is dead and the doorbell suddenly rings. Katia makes a joke about it being the doctor making a late call.
Dani opens the door and Stefano is standing in front of her. There's something not quite right about him and the girls soon see why. His body falls to the ground and the killer is standing behind him. The girls all scream for their lives.
The following day, the killer buries Stefano's body not far from the house. Jane wakes up late and admires the spectacular view of the town from the window. She calls out to her friends but gets no answer. When she goes downstairs, she notices some of the furniture askew and then sees the bodies of Ursula and Katia covered in blood.
Jane screams - and Dani, who is barely alive, tries to say something before falling at her friend's feet. The killer returns with a hacksaw and Jane hides in the next room. She's forced to watch as he cuts her friends up, unable to yell or call for help.
The doorbell rings and it's the delivery man. He gets no response and leaves the daily bread and milk outside the door. The killer goes back to dismembering the bodies and all Jane can do is cover her ears to avoid hearing the ghastly sound. When he's done, he stuffs the body parts in bags and takes them outside to be buried.
Jane discovers the phone is out of order. The front door is bolted shut so she goes back upstairs. Her foot is still in pain and she hurts herself on the staircase, losing her slippers in the process. In the bedroom, she uses a mirror to reflect the sun, hoping it will get someone's attention. Roberto happens to see it and calls up to the house. He gets no answer.
Jane sees the killer returning and she tries to hide the fact that someone else is in the house by shoving everything in a closet. Unfortunately, she realizes she left her slippers behind.
The filling station attendant attempts to return Jane's car. Believing there is no one home, he departs. Jane knocks over a chair, which gets the killer's attention. He goes upstairs to see what it is and she hides in the closet.
There's no sign of anyone in the room and it appears as if the chair was knocked over by wind from the open window. The killer locks the bedroom door from the outside and leaves the key in the door.
On the way down, he finds the slippers on the staircase but doesn't think too much of it. Jane spends the entire day in the bedroom.
Meanwhile, Roberto has a car accident and takes his vehicle to the filling station. He sees Jane's car and the attendant tells him it looks as if the girls left the night before because he hasn't seen anyone go up or down all day. Roberto gets in his car and drives up.
It's the evening and the killer overhears the delivery man tell a group of his friends that there are FOUR girls in the house. He now knows he that missed someone.
Jane places a newspaper sheet under the door and tries to knock the key out of the keyhole with a pin. The key lands on the floor and the killer, amused by her attempt, places the key on the paper. Jane pulls the paper into the room and then takes the key and unlocks the door.
To her surprise, the man on the other side of the door is Professor Franz. "I had to do it. I had to, Jane. They were only dolls, stupid dolls made out of flesh and blood," he tells her. He says she's not like the others because she's pure.
Franz recalls an incident that twisted his mind when he was a child. His brother fell over a cliff and died while trying to retrieve a doll for a friend of theirs. He tells Jane that Flo and Carol seduced and then blackmailed him. He got rid of anyone who might be able to figure out he was the killer, including Stefano and Dani.
The Professor has completely lost his mind and he tries to strangle Jane with the scarf. Roberto saves her just in time and Franz runs out into the stables. The two men struggle and Professor Franz goes over a cliff, plunging to his death. Jane and Roberto go off together to call the police.
Sergio Martino's thrillers are always delightful (especially the ones starring beauty Edwige Fenech) but Torso is head and shoulders above the rest.
The plot of the killer terrorizing Rome's college students is hardly new...but freshly done here with the aid of the atmospheric villa retreat and pounding music.
Guido De Angelis and Maurizio De Angelis composed an effective score for this one and Giancarlo Ferrando showcased the beauty of Italy with his cinematography.
Sophia Loren's husband Carlo Ponti produced Torso - and one can only wonder what his wife thought of this project!
Suzy Kendall is superb in the leading role, both stunningly innocent and wisely mature. The sequence in which Jane hides in the house and the killer is unaware of her presence is truly scary and suspenseful...an exceptional exercise in terror.
The rest of the cast (male and female) is extremely attractive. But special mention should go to Tina Aumont, daughter of actress Maria Montez. Her huge eyes and beauty are a sight to behold. Sadly, Aumont passed away on October 28, 2006 in France of a pulmonary embolism.