Friday, February 25, 2011

Strange Shadows In An Empty Room

Though it was marketed to American audiences as a horror film or thriller with horror elements, STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM is a straight crime drama with an excellent cast and some amazing action scenes.

Filmed in Canada (and not trying to hide it) in 1975, this Italian/Canadian production showcases one of the best car chases ever performed, thanks to the nimble second-unit direction of driver extraordinaire Remy Julienne. STRANGE SHADOWS doesn’t show up in lists of great car chases, but Julienne smashes, jumps, crushes, and squeals these steel junkers in every way imaginable.

In the personage of burly star Stuart Whitman (RIO CONCHOS), police detective Tony Saitta is one of the most hilariously violent and single-minded lawmen this side of Maurizio Merli. The first time we see Saitta, he’s blasting away at bank robbers with the same obsession he feels for the murder of his much younger and much Frencher sister Louise (the gorgeous Carole Laure from THE SURROGATE). The initial target of his investigation is George Tracer (Martin Landau, possibly between seasons of SPACE: 1999), a middle-aged college physician who was having an extramarital affair with Louise.

Of course, more suspects, red herrings, and victims are in the mix in this whodunit penned by Vincenzo Mannino (GREAT WHITE) and Gianfranco Clerici (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST). Gayle Hunnicutt (MARLOWE) plays a sexy teacher having an affair with Tracer's son, Tisa Farrow (ZOMBIE) is Louise’s blind roommate in an insanely dangerous dorm, and Jean LeClerc (THE UNCANNY) is Louise’s ex. With his colleague Ned Matthews (a what-the-hell-I’m-getting-paid John Saxon) in tow, Saitta — the world’s angriest cop — punches, kicks, shoots, and drives his way through every one of them before discovering Louise’s killer’s shocking identity. That nobody on the Montreal police force appears to be investigating the murders is just one of many holes in the story.

Not to be repetitive — and it’s fun to see the veteran stars bounce off each other — but the thrilling setpieces directed by Alberto de Martino (HOLOCAUST 2000) are delightful, even though they make no sense half the time. At least twice, Saitta puts himself into the middle of a dangerous situation, only to learn his opponent has nothing whatsoever to do with the case. While the car chase is the film’s most memorable scene, Saitta’s brutal punchout with a trio of razor-wielding transvestites is not far behind. The detective’s hilariously singleminded determination to smash his way through china shops is equaled only by director de Martino’s to put wild action on the screen, no matter how absurd it may be.

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