Sunday, November 6, 2011

I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale (1973)

... aka: Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence, The
... aka: Carnal Violence
... aka: Torso
... aka: Torso - Carnal Violence

Directed by:
Sergio Martino

With such good efforts as THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH (1971), ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (1972) and YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (1972) already behind him, this is something of a disappointment for director Martino. And yet strangely enough, it's probably his most popular horror film; perhaps because it received better circulation than his others over the years (possibly due to the fact it starred then-popular British actress / sex symbol Suzy Kendall), or perhaps because it's more of a standard slasher flick than his previous giallo. Either way, it's nothing to write home about. After appearing in some kind of lesbian porn photography session, one of the stars, university student Florence (Patricia Adiutori), is strangled to death with a red-and-black silk scarf and then gets her torso sliced open. The killer (who wears a ski mask) also slashes her boyfriend's throat and has visions of a child's hand slowly reaching for a doll. Next up is Carol (Cristina Airoldi), the other woman who appeared in the photos and also a student. She accompanies two guys to some kind of hippie-drug party, smokes weed and burns one of the guys with a lit cigarette for feeling her up. Deciding to leave early, she encounters the masked psycho while walking through a muddy forest, who repeats the strangulation / defilement of the corpse routine on her; taking it one step further by poking out her eyeballs with his fingers.

A handful of Flo and Carol's other classmates, all of whom are taking an art course taught by Professor Franz (John Richardson), also become targeted for one reason or another. Daniela (Tina Aumont) remembers seeing someone wearing the same style of scarf that was used to kill the previous two women, but can't quite remember who was wearing it. When the killer catches wind of this, he calls Dani at home and threatens to kill her. Immediately after, her uncle (Carlo Alighiero) flatly states, "Try and control yourself my dear. Find some way of getting your mind off it all." Hey pops, just seconds ago a psycho who has just murdered two of my friends revealed that he knows who I am, knows where I live and has just told me that I'm next... Calm down, my ass! Her uncle suggests she split town for awhile and go to their isolated villa; a huge and hard-to-access mansion located on top of a mountain overlooking a small village. Just the kind of place you want to be when there's a nutjob stalking you, right? Daniela invites three of her girlfriends; American transfer student Jane (Kendall) and lesbians Katia (Angela Covello) and Ursula (Carla Brait), to accompany her. Soon after they leave, the vendor (Ernesto Colli) who sold the killer his scarves has his head smashed again the side of a building by a car. It's the killer trying to cover his tracks, and now the last track he has to cover is Daniela.

Nearly all of the leering male characters from the city, whom the director has tried to set up as possible suspects at various points in the film, show up in the village to reaffirm their status as red herrings. The primary two are Roberto (Luc Merenda), a handsome doctor spotted both around town and on the girls' train trip over to the village, and Stefano (Roberto Bisacco), a student. The director really tries to shine the spotlight on Stefano's weirdness in particular. He's frequently seen sitting in his car staring at the girls, is obsessively in love with Daniela (who wants nothing to do with him) and can't perform for a prostitute so he starts strangling her after she suggests popping in a Swedish porno to help him along. Stefano is painted as so weird throughout that you pretty much know it's not him doing the actual killings. Martino does what most other filmmakers in this style do by randomly pulling the psycho out of the giallo playbook i.e. making it a seemingly incidental side character with minimal screen time until the big 'reveal.' Said reveal actually doesn't have any kind of and giving them a silly motive stretching back to a traumatic moment in their youth.

Aside from many beautiful actresses on hand and an abundance of nudity (though top-billed Kendall and Aumont get to leave their clothes on), the best moments here occur about thirty minutes before the actual finale. Our heroine Jane, who has injured her leg after falling down the stairs, finds herself alone in the villa with the killer. The catch is that the killer doesn't know she's there. While hiding just feet from the corpses of her friends, Jane has to watch as each gets dismembered with a hacksaw. She then goes upstairs, tries to quickly and quietly make it look like her room hasn't been used and finds herself getting locked inside the room. But never fear, town gossip leads the killer back to the villa to try to cover his tracks... once again. These scenes are fairly suspenseful and well-done but they aren't enough to make up for the rest, which is pretty lackluster in both story and style. The last ten or so minutes pretty much suck, too.

I often see Torso cited as being a chief influence on the late 70s / early 80s slasher movie cycle, and find that a bit of an exaggeration. As a singular entity, it's no more influential than most in its sub-category. And it certainly didn't have the impact of films such as BAY OF BLOOD (1971), BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).


Dressed to Kill (1980)

Directed by:
Brian De Palma

I completely understand why some viewers wouldn't really take to this psycho-thriller. Hell, I can even understand why it was showered with Razzie nominations upon release. This is not a particularly well-written film with an airtight plot or an unpredictable resolution. The story threads that tie the set pieces together are weak, trivial, even ludicrous at times and we pretty much know where it's going the entire time. Plot-wise, the film holds few actual surprises and I could also see why some were offended by its depictions of 'loose' women (an adulteress, a hooker...) as primary victims, black men as would-be rapist thugs and a transvestite as a razor-slashing psycho with a dual persona. It also rather blatantly copies PSYCHO (1960) in how it is structured and presented. However, De Palma isn't the kind of filmmaker who ever shies away from acknowledging his reference points. In fact, he all but shines a spotlight on them. And he does that consciously to use our familiarity (in this case, with the aforementioned Hitchcock classic) against us to subvert our expectations and completely throw us off guard at certain points. Audience manipulation at its finest. De Palma is also a true master of mood. Dressed to Kill has a hazy sheen, an extremely soft focus look that is downright sumptuous. Romantic, even. The director is aided to no end by both Ralf Bode's lush photography and Pino Donaggio's elegant score is setting up a calming, sensuous mood which effectively accentuates his moments of shock. He's even smart enough to use sex itself, whether it be in the form of an erotic-shower-scene-turned-scary or some rather raunchy dialogue, to both heighten the mood and up the shock factor*.

The plot? Well, it basically involves a serial killer, but it's not really all that important. Angie Dickinson (who has stated in interviews that this is her favorite of all her films) has the Janet Leigh role as Kate Miller; a wealthy, but bitter and sexually dissatisfied housewife who seeks fulfillment in the arms of a stranger, and pays the price for it when a psycho with a razor attacks and kills her immediately afterward in an elevator. Her dry, uptight and very professional psychiatrist Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine) thinks the culprit may be one of his former patients; a transsexual named "Bobbi," who's been leaving threats on his answering machine. Meanwhile, Kate's distraught electronics wiz son Peter (Keith Gordon) teams up with streetwise hooker Liz (Nancy Allen, Mrs. De Palma at the time), who witnessed the crime, to do some freelance investigating on their own. Liz will become the next victim unless she and Peter can find a way to trap the psycho.

Aside from the triumphant development of mood, this film does an excellent job of toying with viewer emotions. One of the best set of sequences in the film starts as an ordinary day about town for our short-lived protagonist Kate. While visiting an art museum, a handsome stranger meets her eye. She begins harmlessly following him from room to room, then comes to discover that he's actually following her. The two end up having an anonymous, torrid fling that begins in a taxi cab and ends at his apartment. Her embers now stirred, Kate sits down with a sheepish smile on her face to write him a note before heading home, and then finds out a very shocking piece of medical information about her new lover. She hurried runs off, and then realizes she's forgotten her wedding ring! Bad enough it itself, right? De Palma then goes a step further by having Kate sneak back into the apartment to retrieve her ring, generating a big "whew" for both Kate and the viewer, and when it appears she's all free and clear, that's when De Palma decides to hit us with the unexpected demise of what we thought was our lead character.

Made in 1980 just as the slasher film movement was starting to gain some major momentum, Dressed, strangely enough, manages to fit pretty snug with the rest of the slasher flicks from its time. It was better received, critically, but that's only because it was made by someone who actually knew what they were doing. This film is much more than a series of murder-set-pieces. It's about making us feel or think a certain way, and then suddenly taking that all away at a moment's notice.

Dennis Franz has a great supporting role as a sarcastic cop who wants to use Allen's character as bait for the killer, and Brandon Maggart (star of the underrated CHRISTMAS EVIL) shows up as one of Allen's tricks from Cleveland. William Finley (star of De Palma's SISTERS and PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE) provides the voice of the killer. Two Penthouse Pets also appear; Anneka De Lorenzo, one of the co-stars of the notorious historical porno CALIGULA (1979), and Victoria Lynn Johnson, who was Dickinson's stand-in during the shower scene. Because of the criticism leveled on Dickinson for using the double, De Palma followed with BODY DOUBLE (1984) a few years later.

(* To note, depictions / discussions of sex aren't so shocking to most of us these days. Considering that this was a mainstream, major studio release with well-known stars from the beginning of the Reagan Era, the nudity and overt sexual content in this particular film did actually shock people. Whether or not it still does will depend solely on the viewer.)


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