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A Suzy Kendall Double Bill: Torso & Spasmo

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Suzy Kendall Double Bill

It’s Giallo time again. So pour yourself a J&B with ice and enjoy.

First up is Torso, also occasionally known as The Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence, or just plain Carnal Violence.

This is my favourite film by Sergio Martino, a director who worked in many fields, from sex comedies to spaghetti westerns, Euro crime to the cannibal genre and even a not terribly good creature-feature Island of the Fishmen.

Martino, though, is today best remembered for his 1970s gialli output such as The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, Your Vice is a Locked Door and Only I Have the Key, and The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh. Yes, like many other Italian directors in this field he did favour baroque titles.

Martino’s older brother Luciano had produced Mario Bava’s The Whip and The Body, and this film proved inspirational to Sergio, as did Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. The former starred John Richardson, the latter provided a prominent part for Suzy Kendall.

Both these English actors star in Torso, Richardson as Franz, an urbane art history professor in a Perugia university; one of his students being Jane, an American exchange student, played by Kendall.

Suzy Kendall - Torso

The one time wife of Dudley Moore, Kendall is an actress whose early career saw her appear in a number of successes, most notably To Sir With Love and Up the Junction.

By the 1970s, she was also much sought after by big budget British TV series such as The Persuaders, where she was guaranteed to inject some instant glamour. Around this time she also established herself as a big name in the world of giallo after appearing in the aforementioned Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

After Torso’s opening credits sequence, which resembles something from a dodgy softcore movie of the era, we cut to a university hall, where Franz is giving a lecture to a large number of students on the subject of Pietro Perugino, an Italian Renaissance painter who he doesn’t rate very highly.

Afterwards, Jane, accompanied by her friends, chooses to discuss the artist further with him, arguing the case for Perugino. It’s easy to imagine a mutual attraction between the pair, even though Franz refuses to back down on his opinion.

Soon the murders begin. A balaclava wearing psycho brutally kills one of the females seen in the opening credits, after spying on her and her boyfriend canoodling in a car. He kills him too, but off-screen.

The murder of her friend, affects Jane’s pal Carol (Conchita Airoldi) badly. She troops off to what looks like a deserted warehouse with two motorbike riding students, where a gathering of hippy types smoke dope, relax, dance and play music.

Carol puffs on a joint and lets the two boys fondle her until one goes too far. She storms off, followed by them. This scene, as they chase her through a swampy forest, is particularly effective and the score works well, hinting at prog and helping to induce a real sense of dread. And the dread only increases when she glimpses a man through the mist.

Torso Psycho Killer

This won’t be the last murder in Torso, and most of the victims will be in Jane’s circle of friends.

The suspects are many and varied. Chief among them is intense student Stefano (Roberto Bisacco), who has been obsessed by Daniela (Tina Aumont) for years. He’s shown being abusive to a local prostitute, throttling her throat for some moments before managing to calm down.

Then there’s the chisel-chinned man in a smart suit, spotted earlier by Carol buying a black and red neckerchief – which becomes a major clue in the manhunt. He later boards the same train as Jane and co., and chooses to sit in the same carriage as them.

Gianni Tomasso is an incredibly creepy looking man and has a sleazy manner to match. He runs a little clothes stall in a piazza in the centre of the city, near to the university and obviously knows more than he lets on to the police when questioned.

As the carnage continues, Dani’s wealthy Uncle Nino arranges for his daughter and her friends (including Jane) to leave their homes in Perugia and stay temporarily at a cliffside villa in the country, where they’ll be safe.

Torso - Students

Is this a good idea? I think you can guess. And could Nino be involved in the slayings? After all, who doesn’t know how this kind of thing works?

Much as Torso is highly enjoyable, it must have been an even more remarkable watch in 1973. As many commentators have mentioned before, Torso is like a slasher before that cinematic term had even been coined.

The movie’s first half does start off in classic giallo fashion but as it progresses you can tick off a number of tropes and trappings of the slasher.

There’s the masked killer on the loose, the group of attractive young females, an isolated location, and the final girl – the sole survivor, resilient and resourceful and who just happens to be the most moral and pure member of the group.

Torso - Suzy Kendall

I’m not much of a fan of slashers but I’m a big fan of Torso, although I only saw it for the first time years after the likes of Halloween and Friday the 13th had already begun spawning sequels.

Expect gratuitous gore, a shoal of red herrings, and a final third that is packed with suspense and features a fantastic performance from Kendall.

Spasmo

Spasmo is another giallo from a master of Italian genre cinema, Umberto Lenzi. This is a strange one and comes over like a particularly disturbing dream, especially with the running motif of female mannequins dressed only in lingerie, that are either mutilated or hanging on nooses.

The two leads here are Robert Hoffmann, an Austrian actor best known for TV’s The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, and a badly dubbed Suzy Kendall, who plays Barbara. I do tend to love Italian genre cinema but just occasionally sloppy post-synching can annoy, and I committed the cardinal sin here of choosing the English language version. My wrists have been slapped.

Christian Bauman (Hoffmann) is a Bee Gee lookalike with a small medallion, who shows his girlfriend Xenia a patch of land where he and his older brother Fritz (Ivan Rassimov) once discovered a dead dog that had been strangled when they were kids. And don’t ask how two young boys managed to identify that cause of death. maybe they carried out a psot-mortem.

Xenia spots what she looks like a female corpse on a stretch of nearby sand and she and Chrstian run over to investigate. This is Barbara, who of course isn’t dead, and is surprised that anybody could have made the assumption, even though she admits to fainting from sunstroke.

‘What you need is a double Scotch,’ Christian advises her. ‘That’ll pick you up.’

As he and Xenia go to his car to locate the whisky, Barbara mysteriously disappears, leaving behind a clue as to her identity, a flask bearing the name Tucania on it.

Christian and Xenia soon track down a yacht of that name harboured locally, and join a party on-board the vessel that is populated by Euro jet-set types and owned by Barbara’s possessive friend Alex, who is in love with her.

By nightfall, though, Xenia has been forgotten and Barbara won over by his chat-up lines like him calling her a ‘sweet, sweet whore.’ They head to the motel where Barbara’s staying, although she demands that Christian shaves his beard off before they get down to action. She has a razor in her room that is ‘big, sharp and sexy.’

Spasmo Suzy Kendall

While he’s removing his facial hair – with an electric shaver rather than any razor – a gun-toting intruder who looks like Dario Argento attacks him. Christian fights him off and grabs the gun. Then shoots him dead.

‘What’re you doing?’ Barbara asks a dazed Christian, as he walks into the living room. ‘Destroying my bathroom?’

He explains what happened. She suggests running away. He agrees. Luckily, she knows a property owned by a Brazilian artist friend currently in Rio. Here they can hide and plan their next move.

They break into the seaside home and soon discover that a couple are already renting it out, an older man Malcolm and a much younger female Clorinda, a redhead with the most piercing blue eyes imaginable, who Christian appears to vaguely recognise. I think I would personally remember that face forever more.

He confesses to Malcolm that he has murdered a man but Malcolm fails to believe him. This is like a decidedly disturbing dream and it is only going to get even stranger.

Spasmo Mannequin

Spasmo is a decent watch but nowhere near as effective as Torso. The dialogue is often abysmal and the plot too labyrinthine to easily follow, with a number of coincidences that are difficult to believe.

A revelation near the very end is clever enough and does make some sense of the batshit craziness that we have been watching but this comes just too late to entirely rescue the movie.

On the plus side, the mannequin motif is creepy and memorable, Ennio Morricone does provide a sometimes soothing, sometimes disorienting score, while in one great action sequence, Christian displays some driving skills that I don’t remember Jackie Stewart ever demonstrating back in the ’70s. And finally, Suzy Kendall is again in good form. A true giallo icon.

Suzy, incidentally, has now retired from acting but was persuaded to help out on 2012’s giallo influenced Berberian Sound Studio – another film with a disturbing and dreamy quality – where she is credited as ‘Special Guest Screamer’.

To see the trailer for Torso, click here.

To see the trailer for Spasmo, click here.

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Some Favourite New Books of 2018

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Some Favourite Books of 2018

Before I get down to my ten favourite films of the year, a quick mention for three new cinema related books published in 2018.

Firstly, All the Colours of Sergio Martino (Arrow Books), Kat Ellinger’s compact but highly informative introduction to one of the great maestros of Italian genre cinema. I only know Martino from gialli like Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key and Torso but after reading this I’ve been delving deeper into his diverse filmography – he also directed westerns, comedies, crime dramas, cannibal, sci-fi, mondo movies and more.

Editor-in-Chief of Diabolique magazine, Ellinger is also an increasingly popular choice for supplying audio commentaries for genre greats – in fact, I’ve just received a review copy of Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte where she does just that and I’m looking forward to hearing her views on Robert Aldrich’s ‘hagsploitation’ thriller. She’s also provided a new video essay Sex and Death with a Smile on giallo icon Edwige Fenech for Arrow’s upcoming 2K restoration of Strip Nude for Your Killer. I admit it. I’m excited about this!

A Whole Bag of Crazy: Sordid Tales of Hookers, Weed, and Grindhouse Movies by Pete Chiarella (aka 42nd Street Pete) is a terrifically entertaining read where he recollects his youth, which was mostly spent in sleazy fleapits in New York’s Deuce, watching double or even triple bills of far from high falutin’ exploitation flicks as the spectre of the Vietnam War hung over his head.

Finally, as a Coen brothers fan, I’d recommend Adam Nayman’s The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together (Abrams Books). This is a gorgeously designed and comprehensive – I’d say maybe even definitive – look at the remarkably consistent oeuvre of the Minnesota born brothers from Blood Simple through to Hail, Caesar!

The Ladykillers

I purchased this in hardback form and am glad that I did as there’s so much visual imagery to pore over and enjoy, including film stills, photos and illustrations. This is one I’ll be enjoying for years to come.