Monday, February 18, 2008
Italian Women Being Leered At
Opening night of Eli Roth’s festival of favorites at the New Beverly, titled “The Greats of Roth”, started late which was no surprise, but not as late as may have been expected, so that in itself was a pleasant surprise. Spotted in the crowd were John and Clu Gulager, who were seated in the front two rows ahead of me, Edgar Wright Wright wandering around somewhere and Roth himself, who showed up with his parents.
But more than the chance to attend the festival, I was there to see the first film on the double bill, Sergio Martino’s TORSO aka I CORPI PRESENTANO TRACCE DI VIOLENZA CARNALE which translates as THE BODIES BARE TRACES OF CARNAL VIOLENCE. More titles like that should be on marquees these days. A giallo directed by Sergio Martino, the version of TORSO that we got to see was an old grindhouse print currently owned by Quentin Tarantino. I’d seen the movie before on DVD, probably the longer version but remembered next to nothing about it. Fortunately I’m a little better schooled in the genre by now so the chance to revisit the movie was something I didn’t want to pass up.
A fairly simple plot of a mad killer in a mask who uses a red and black scarf to strangle beautiful co-eds, TORSO is very seventies, very Italian and has many of the expected elements of the giallo— the sleaze, the girls, the violence, the black gloves, the red herrings, the bottles of J&B—except that it’s storyline of students and professors automatically excludes the beautiful, vapid rich who usually populate these movies. Because of this total lack of jet-set vibe it helps to give TORSO the feel of a slasher movie as well. But a very skillfully done, if completely depraved, slasher movie. There’s very little in the way of story outside of the simple plotline, no detailed backgrounds of the characters, there aren’t any large sums of inheritances ever at stake. Instead it focuses on the extreme sleaze, whether in its several lesbian love scenes or certain murder scenes which take things surprisingly far in tone and nudity. Every male character, staring ominously at one of the girls at one time or another is presented as an obvious suspect. Even some of the male extras seem to do little more than leering and drooling at the girls. Of course, the girls are all something to look at anyway.
The most recognizable of those girls is probably Suzy Kendall of Argento’s BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE who is basically the lead and also the “final girl” of the piece—I recalled one of the others from THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS, but I don’t know how “recognizable” that makes her. But this overriding feeling of illicit gazing at these girls carries over into the very nature of the film itself, with the way the camera roves around somehow implicating us in the treatment of its female characters. And maybe, since I’m Italian, I just realized that I would be an automatic suspect in this film as well. Maybe this overriding feeling which holds throughout gives it the feeling of being the rare movie with slasher elements that actually feels honest about what it’s trying to do. Even if that is a reach, TORSO has to be one of the sleaziest giallos from the early seventies produced during that time. Naturally, that makes it irresistible. Suzy Kendall is pretty amazing in it as well.
The shape of the print was pretty ideal. Nothing much seemed to be missing and the scratches that were there gave off the right grindhouse vibe. Yes, there was plenty of laughter from the audience but once the stuff in the isolated villa begins to take shape you can’t deny how truly suspenseful it is. You could feel the electricity building in the New Beverly during this section and the single biggest jolt of the film, which is a work of beauty, received a wave of applause from the crowd.
The second feature on the bill was PIECES. Sorry, but I went home to get some sleep.