Color, 1973, 92 mins.
Directed by Sergio Martino
Starring Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, John Richardson, Roberto Bisacco
Blue Underground (Blu-Ray & DVD), Shameless (UK R0 PAL), Alan Young (Italy R2 PAL), X-Rated Kult (Germany Ro PAL), Another World (Sweden R0 PAL), Stomp Visual (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Anchor Bay (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

The tranquil University of Perugia for international students is rocked by a series of brutal murders in which the female victims have been stripped and mutilated. Daniela (Aumont), a pretty art student, recognizes a red-and-black scarf found on one of the victims... but where did she see it? Meanwhile, a sidewalk peddler believes he knows the killer's identity but is mowed down when he attempts a round of blackmail. Afraid for her life, Daniela retreats to a remote country villa with three of her friends including an English girl, Jane (Kendall). Of course, the savvy killer follows them, ensuring that their little vacation turns into a nightmarish bloodbath.

One of the last pure gialli directed by jack of all trades Sergio Martino and easily his most influential, Torso was originally shown in Europe under the title The Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence (I Corpi Presentano Tracce di Violanza Carnale), or just Carnal Violence for shot. However, its American title (concocted by distributor Joseph Brenner) ensured its popularity on the drive-in and grindhouse circuit where it played for years hooked up with films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Not surprisingly, the film lost over three minutes of gore and dialogue outside of Europe, and after years of cut prints and video editions, the DVD era finally ushered in restorations of varying degrees of success.

A perfect example of the necessary elements for a commercial European horror film, Torso throws in every convention of the thrillers perfected by Martino and mixes them with the more recent slasher and sexploitation trends. A veteran of Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Kendall once again makes a terrific scream queen; her cat and mouse showdown with the killer, which comprises the entire final third of the film(!), is not easily forgotten, and her struggle to retrieve a pesky key to open an unlocked door never fails to send viewers through the roof. However, the most noteworthy element of Torso is its stunning musical score by the always audacious Guido and Maurizio De Angelis. One of the best musical contributions from Italy in the '70s, this astounding soundtrack mixes sultry jazz, chilling percussive suspense music, and funky folk rock without faltering once. It's still amazing that this remains one of the very few gialli they scored (followed years later by A Blade in the Dark).

As for Martino's direction, this film is considerably more extreme than his previous thrillers, though visually and thematically it still falls in line, particularly with Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key which features a similar opening sequence of writhing female bodies as well as another "hippie" party with an uninhibited, breast-baring girl dancing while surrounded by a bunch of heathens, in this case some bikers and dope-smoking college students(!). The schizophrenic structure of the film essentially plays like a Martino greatest hits collection, dolloping on the gratuitous T&A and rapid succession of murders in the first half before switching gears into a more psychological, tension-packed, single-location nailbiters with Kendall taking center stage (like Edwige Fenech in his previous films). At first the presence of Italian hearthrob Merenda as a local doctor seems extrandeous, but he finally becomes a key player in the finale (especially in the longer European version). Horror fans may also be amused to note that this was made just before Bob Clark's Black Christmas with which this shares some very interesting structural and visual similarities, particularly during their respective climactic showdown scenes.

The U.S. version of Torso altered the entire, nudity-filled credits sequence and the original music theme, but fortunately the European cut presented in every post-VHS home video version preserves this film in its original sleaze-soaked glory. The first DVD of Torso from Anchor Bay was a revelation for the time; the colors looked crisp and vibrant compared to the awful bootlegs floating around, and the level of detail visible in the anamorphic transfer looked fine despite being cropped to 1.78:1 from the original 1.66:1 after the credits. It's worth noting that this print bears a few discrepancies compared to the original Italian prints and seems to have suffered an odd editing snafu. The opening credits feature a replaced title card which turns the screen black for a moment, and the soundtrack submerges the opening music to a faint muffle while including an Italian-language lecture on art history which should have played out after the credits ended. The general release Euro prints only contained the music before a retracting camera shutter introduced an alternate, close up shot of John Richardson concluding his lecture with the camera panning around the classroom's students, a gallery of upcoming suspects and victims. The occasional restored Italian dialogue (including an old witness talking about spotting a corpse when he went to "take a dump") is presented with optional English subtitles (but no subs for the rest of the film, despite the alternate all-Italian audio track), which also includes an extended offscreen dialogue during the last scene. The additional violence here mainly consists of some prolonged but not remotely explicit body sawing during the villa finale. The disc's menus are accompanied by the film's soundtrack music (in stereo, unlike the botched Digitmovies soundtrack CD), and the lengthy U.S. trailer and a psychedelic European promo (under the shortened title of Carnal Violence) are included for your enjoyment. (Amusingly, the American trailer kicks off by promoting this as being from Carlo Ponti, the maker of Doctor Zhivago and War and Peace!)

TorsoWhile the Anchor Bay disc seemed to satisfy most fans, its imperfections warranted several more trips to the well before someone finally got it completely right. First up was the Italian disc from Alan Young, which featured the original Italian credits, the restored opening sequence, and both the English and Italian audio tracks (with forced Italian subs on the English track, but anyone with a little computer know-how can easily work around that). Extras include the alternate English language opening sequence (but not the American one, contrary to the packaging), an intro by Sergio Martino, and an Italian-only audio commentary. Unfortunately the opening credits are again botched, this time by the replacement of some strange library music instead of the real opening theme. What happened here is anyone's guess, but it makes this disc more of a curiosity than an essential purchase. The Australian edition under the title Carnal Violence looks very good but is missing some of the extra Italian footage as well as some slivers of gore footage, so that one isn't worth the trouble of importing, either. An identical version appeared from X-Rated Kult and then Another World for distribution throughout Europe, using a solid anamorphic transfer with all of the footage intact, but at least on the player audited here, the Italian scenes had no English subtitles. (However, the disc does include subtitles in Norwegian, Danish, Swedish and Finnish); it also includes the alternate opening sequences, the German trailer, the US closing credits, and a text interview with Martino. Finally, apart from a Blue Underground DVD port of the same Anchor Bay disc, we get to the last one out of the gate in standard def from Shameless, the cheeky UK outfit devoted to releasing uncensored Euro releases with unbelievably foul taglines on the cover (in this case, "Where Whores Meet Saws" -- never mind that the only prostitute in this movie doesn't die). Though it only includes the European trailer, this one is the best standard def option as it has the full opening scene and contains all of the extra Italian dialogue with English subtitles. Weirdly, some of the concluding dialogue between Kendall and Merenda is presented here in English for the first time (a nice little rescue). The only downside is that, as with the Aussie and European releases, there are three points in the music soundtrack where the music warbles rather badly, most noticeably as the closing credits begin to roll. You'd think that would be an easy fix, but it's been repeated on almost every DVD.

That brings us to the film's inevitable move to Blu-Ray from Blue Underground, with a fresh transfer from the original negative. (Click on any of the frame grabs here for a look at it in 1080 resolution.) The result is actually much more detailed and filmic than another of their Carlo Ponti releases timed to coincide with this one, The 10th Victim. In fact, this is one of their sharpest and most cinematic-looking Italian titles to date, with much more vibrant colors than we've seen before which give the film more of a stylish flair than previously suspected. The 1.66:1 framing reveals more spacious compositions compared to the Anchor Bay disc, obviously, and compared to the Shameless transfer (probably the most accurate one in standard def), it adds a very slight amount of information at the top while losing a little sliver on the left side; both looks compositionally correct though. The blue color timing of the night stalking scenes is also dead on, and the English dialogue is presented in DTS-HD mono as completely as any of the other previous versions combined. The complete Italian track is also included (DTS-HD mono as well) with optional English subtitles (or French and Spanish), and it contains a few interesting snippets of additional dialogue including two extra lines spoken just before the end credits roll. The film can be played in either its "uncensored English version" (which, similar to their presentation of Deep Red, includes all of the gore but drops the Italian-only dialogue scenes) or the complete European cut in English or Italian, with the brief Italian-only scenes presented with optional subs. Some fans prefer the shorter cut as it trims away a couple of minutes of narrative fat, but the difference isn't huge either way. Though not mentioned anywhere on the packaging, all of the view options precede the film with a video intro by Eli Roth, a fan of the film who tends to program it often and explains why he thinks it's Martino's masterpiece in the genre. (That's debatable considering the excellence of his Edwige Fenech thriller cycle, but it's a valid enough argument.) Extras include the usual American and European trailers (the latter in both its English-language and Italian variants), TV spots, a radio spot, a poster and still gallery (yes!), and the actual Joseph Brenner titles from a very battered American print complete with that fantastic KPM library track ("Hippy" by Alan Parker) also heard in the US trailer. Best of all is a new video interview with Martino entitled "Murders in Perugia," which covers everything from his working relationship with Merenda (they also teamed up for The Violent Professionals and Gambling City) to his commercial approach to horror and thrillers films at that point in his career. A DVD of the English-only version is also available at the same time, including the same promotional material and interview.

Reviewed on 9/10/11.

Color, 1975, 101m.
Directed by Sergio Martino / Starring Luc Merenda, Dayle Haddon, Corrado Pani, Enrico Maria Salerno, Giovanni Javarone
NoShame (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

In the underground gambling world of Milan, maverick Luca Altieri (Torso's Merenda) earns his living conning his way through the world of card dealing and high stakes. His poker abilities catch the eye of the President (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage's Salerno), a crime boss willing to back him up. Unfortunately Luca winds up falling for Maria (Spermula's Dayle Haddon), the girlfriend of the President's hot-tempered son, Corrado (Pani), and soon the couple is on the run from men carrying lots of ammunition.

ostensibly an attempt to fuse the familiar Italian crime aesthetic to the successful Hollywood formula of The Sting, this engaging actioner works better than it should in the capable hands of genre-hopping maestro Sergio Martino. Featuring plenty of shootouts, chase sequences, and hard-boiled underworld activity, this is slick, brainless entertainment all the way, though an unexpectedly grim third act twist might give viewers a bit more than they bargained for. The cast also performs admirably, with Merenda (whose glamour boy career was always stymied by some of the lousiest haircuts in the industry) making a solid hero and a wheelchair-bound Salerno making the most of his limited time as the mob boss forced to choose between a golden goose and his own blood. Doing her best Gene Tierney impersonation, Haddon makes a decent romantic foil but doesn't have much to do until the dramatic final few minutes.

Originally released to theaters and home video most widely under the title The Cheaters, this much-needed reprieve from years of dull prints and shoddy cropped transfers comes in high style from NoShame under its original title (translated from the Italian original, La cittą gioca d'azzardo). The transfer looks simply smashing, with Martino's elegant color use coming through quite nicely (love those vivid greens!) and the scope framing restoring tension to such expert sequences as a shoot-out among a cluster of mannequins. The film can be played with its serviceable English dub or the Italian original with optional English subtitles; it works fine either way. The biggest extra is the lengthy "Chatting with the Cheaters," a 35-minute featurette comprised of interviews with Martino, Merenda, and cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando. It's an excellent, informative, and lighthearted piece, though it's too bad Haddon didn't participate; her wild career ranging from Just Jaeckin erotica to North Dallas Forty to Cyborg would make for an interesting interview. Merenda also contributes an enjoyable English commentary track with critic Riccardo Trombella (whose thick accent produces a few unintentional chuckles). The disc is rounded out by the original Italian trailer, a photo gallery, and good liner notes by Richard Harland Smith and Matthew Weisman.

Color, 1971, 96m.
Directed by Sergio Martino / Starring George Hilton, Anita Stringberg, Janine Reynaud, Luis Barboo, Evelyn Stewart, Alberto de Mendoza, Luigi Pistilli
NoShame (US R1 NTSC), X-Rated (Germany R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Though it explicitly apes the popular animal-in-the-title trend of early '70s gialli, Sergio Martino's second thriller is still undeniably the original work of its director and his regular screenwriter, the incredibly prolific Ernesto Gastaldi. Though usual leading lady Edwige Fenech is absent for this one, the rest of the elements are all in place for a twisted good time. For some reason this film was kept from most English-speaking theaters, keeping it the most obscure of Martino's gialli for several decades, but its long overdue availability in English is cause for rejoicing.

After a tragic plane crash, Lisa Baumer (Stewart) inherits a million pounds from her husband's death but finds the windfall far more trouble than it's worth. She has to travel to Greece to collect the money and finds herself hounded by a creepy blackmailer, her husband's money-hungry mistress (Jess Franco regular Reynaud), and protective insurance investigator Peter Lynch (Hilton) who realizes there's something deadly afoot. Soon a beautiful reporter, Cleo (Strindberg), enters the picture as well and begins an affair with Peter while the two try to figure out who's running around the Greek isles slashing up anyone who comes into contact with Lisa's cash.

The fairly talky opening third of The Case of the Scorpion's Tail may put off viewers expecting the usual nudity and slashing out of the gate, but Martino's cleverly conceived thriller has several nasty surprises up its sleeve that justify the wait. Sure, there's quite a bit of characters sitting around in office yapping about bank accounts and insurance policies, but it all pays off with a series of gory twists and turns featuring some of the most graphic murders Martino ever filmed. Usually relegated to playing swarthy and suspicious types, Hilton has one of his best roles here where he gets to sharpen his acting teeth a bit and nicely plays off of his leading ladies, particularly the always interesting Strindberg. The seabound climax (which could have easily inspired Dead Calm) is an expert example of visual craft managed to convey important plot points without losing the viewers or descending into complicated chit-chat. As usual, Bruno Nicolai contributes a top notch score complete with a jittery main theme not easily forgotten.

NoShame's DVD comes on the heels of an earlier, far inferior release from Germany's X-Rated label (which sported a weird letterboxed transfer that wasn't really suited for standard or anamorphic viewing as well as only the Italian and German tracks with English subtitles). The NoShame disc finally presents the elusive English audio track, which is really the best way to watch the film as it conveys numerous plot points and character nuances completely lost in the Italian version. (It's also more in synch, which helps.) The image quality is top notch throughout, with Martino's crafty injections of bright red into key scenes looking appropriately vivid and startling. Excellent all around.

A half-hour featurette, "Creepy Crawl: The Scorpion's Shadow," features Sergio and Luciano Martino discussing the film with occasional interjections from Hilton and Gastaldi. Also included is an absolutely jaw-dropping theatrical trailer (in English or Italian) which pushes this film as the successor to Battleship Potemkin, The Golem, and Fritz Lang's M (watch it to find out why!). You also get a poster and still gallery and the usual deluxe booklet with cast/director bios.

Color, 1978, 91 mins.
Directed by Sergio Martino / Starring Ursula Andress, Stacy Keach, Antonio Marsina, Claudio Cassinelli, Franco Fantasia
Blue Underground (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), EC Entertainment (Holland R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1)

The closest thing to a reputable Italian cannibal film, Mountain of the Cannibal God sports a much higher pedigree than expected. Director Sergio Martino had already proven himself a master of the giallo formula, so he brought a certain amount of professionalism and a brisk pace to this pulpy adventure, which straddles the line somewhere between the mundane cynicism of Eaten Alive and the mind-shattering depravity of Cannibal Holocaust.

Wealthy explorer's wife and clotheshorse Susan Stevenson (Ursula Andress) decides to do something about her husband's mysterious disappearance in the jungles of New Guinea. Along with her petulant brother, Arthur (Keoma's Antonio Marsina), she decides to follow her spouse's expedition path into the green inferno with the aid of anthropological guide Dr. Edward Foster (Stacy Keach), who knows a lot more than he's telling. Along the way Susan nearly falls prey to a tarantula, whose death inspires their native companions to skin and eat an iguana in penance to the gods. Another native then falls prey to a clever body-piercing tree trap, but still they press on, determined to reach a mysterious, uncharted mountain populated by a tribe known as the Pooka. (Yes, the Pooka, as in James Stewart's companion in Harvey.) Along the way they also tackle treacherous rapids, ambush-happy boa constrictors, and torn Gucci safari clothing before reaching the mountain, where Susan is promptly tied up, stripped, painted, dressed up in a She-like costume, and trotted out as a sacrifical goddess.

From a historical standpoint, Mountain established many of the convetions later copied in leering gorefests like Cannibal Ferox. Natives are castrated, reptiles suffer agonizing deaths, and in the most unwatchable scene, a monkey is slowly eaten by a snake. Fortunately these stomach churning scenes are few and far between, with most of the running time devoted to more traditional jungle fare involving Keach's great white explorer and Andress' glamorous jungle girl poses. Sure, it's basically racist and idiotic, but as far as Italian cannibal movies go, this isn't a bad place to start and won't make you run for a shower after the end credits.

Released in the U.S. minus five minutes of gore footage as Slave of the Cannibal God, this film became a familiar title among Italian exploitation fans, usually more often discussed than seen. An uncut print first surfaced on video thanks to the Venezuelan market, but the full scope photography was impossible to appreciate until EC's European DVD. Blue Underground's disc (originally issued by Anchor Bay) surpasses the EC disc with a richer and more film-like transfer, with surprisingly natural colors which translate well to 16:9 enhancement. Mountain looks much better here than anyone had a right to expect, and apart from some softness inherent in the original print, there isn't any room to complain. The perfect widescreen framing adds immensely to the film's visual sweep as well. The effective, percussive score by the De Angelis brothers sounds just fine in mono (how about a soundtrack, somebody?), and the discs also include the original (and very funny) theatrical trailer; the EC disc has a gallery of international poster and video arts, stills, and trailers for House on the Edge of the Park and A Blade in the Dark, while the Anchor Bay disc has a different still gallery and the trailer. The real ace in the hole for the AB disc is the inclusion of some four-plus minutes of sexual depravity, including a simulated bit of native bestiality and a not-so-simulated depiction of a cannibal girl pleasuring herself. Martino discusses the film in a 12-minute featurette which puts his claims into serious question by juxtaposing his tale of the monkey's death by snake with slow mo analysis of matting trickery to cover up crewhands shoving the poor animal to its death. It would be interesting to get more of Martino's side of the story, as the editing makes him look a bit more foolish than most directors would probably like. In any case, one can only wonder what Keach and Andress might have to say about this project now...