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.


Anonymous said...

Not having seen a ton of Giallo films, this is my favorite. Excellent write up on it. I'm disappointed you went home before Pieces though. I've been wanting to see that film since it was first recommended to me (which was ages ago). Supposed to be pretty great.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

Everyone keeps saying to me, "You left before PIECES?" I'll get around to seeing it one of these days. TORSO had just the right amount of entertainment value I needed from that evening.

Unknown said...

I think I prefer the "jet set" gialli as you described them, but TORSO holds a fascination as one of those giallo that tips the scales into the sort of grimy slasher movie that we got after LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. I have seen the movie several times (Tarantino's print at the Bev twice now) and it's one of those movies that's got just enough to make you think you saw something great. The unfortunate assets are the truly lazy writing by Ernesto Gastaldi (hey, I thought he was the king of the giallo!) and the terrible score, which is always disheartening in an Italian genre movie. But as you describe, it's a great example of a movie that against all odds pulls the audience in -- the "jolt" you described, but also the entire long last act in that house where the movie becomes something different than where we thought it was going.

And just to torment you:


Arbogast said...

You really can't have a dayjob or kids if you go see movies at the New Beverly. At the Jamaa Fanaka double bill last week the second feature was slated to start at 10:00 and still hadn't rolled at 11:00. But that's the nature of the beast, so no complaints.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

Nicholas described the overall effect the movie gives off, especially in that last half hour, better than I did. And Det. Arbogast, I've learned to live with the realities of the scheduling over at the New Beverly. I have to get up very early, so there's not much choice otherwise. Maybe someday I'll see PIECES. But not as long as it's the second feature on the bill at the New Beverly.