Thanks to the recently released GRINDHOUSE EXPERIENCE VOL. 2 box set, Alberto De Martino's 1976 Italian thriller STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM is now available on Region 1 DVD. The print used in this collection is a muddy but more than watchable full frame port from a VHS version under the tile BLAZING MAGNUM. I saw this film years ago but as I was re-watching it I must admit that I remembered very little of it, so it was a bit like seeing it again for the first time.
With a stellar cast including Martin Landeau, John Saxon, Stuart Whitman, Tisa Farrow and Carole Laure, De Martino's film is one truly odd affair that ventures from very puzzling to really fantastic. The confusing plot, from a script collaborated on by CANNIBAL HOLCAUST's Gianfranco Clerici and NEW YORK RIPPER's Vincenzo Mannino, concerns a police investigation into a double murder that leads back to a stolen necklace and an endless line of red herrings. De Martino's film really falters the most in its plot mechanics, but thankfully the cast, a great score by Armando Trovajoli and one of the most audacious and quite brilliant car chases I have ever seen make STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM much better than it would be otherwise.
I like De Martino a lot, and find his directing style to be quite inventive and exciting. After some work as an assistant director in the late fifties, De Martino graduated to the directors chair in the early sixties and helmed a number of features in genres ranging from Gladiator pictures, to Spaghetti Westerns to even a couple of 007 knock offs, including 1967's OK CONNERY. His best film is probably the intense and intelligent THE ANTICHRIST (1974) which is easily one of the most intriguing of the many EXORCIST inspired films from the seventies. De Martino really shines in STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM'S action sequences where he uses a series of multi-angled set up shots in a thrilling heist sequence to kick start the film, and a long car chase that rivals the more celebrated work of directors like William Friedkin and Peter Yates. This sequence is frankly so good that it overwhelms the rest of the film which is fairly low key with very little on screen violence or skin.
Shot in Canada in 1975 after THE ANTICHRIST had wrapped production, STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM benefits greatly from its cast. Landeau is especially good in the role as a doctor initially accused of the murder, and Tisa Farrow is remarkably good as a young blind girl who is caught in harms way several times. Canadian horror fans should keep a look out for SHIVERS and LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE actress Julie Wildman in a good supporting turn as well.
The music credited to Armando Trovajoli was very troubling to me as I know it very well and can't place why. I either have it on a compilation cd somewhere or it was used in another film that I can't recall off the top of my head. The extremely prolific Trovajoli worked on well over two hundred film in his career often in Italian comedies, including several of my favorite Laura Antonelli vehicles in the seventies. Near 60 years old when he scored De Martino's film, his work here is really splendid and it gives the film a slightly mournful and nostalgic feel. Remarkably, Trovajoli is still composing and the IMDB has his most recent credit as 2006!
It is a bit hard to comment on the photography credited to a one Anthony Ford because of the poor picture quality of the print, however the film has a strong atmospheric feel to it and I can imagine a nice widescreen print would be eye catching.
What really characterizes STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM is just how odd it is. Like many Italian films of the period, it freely juggles a few different genres, but this mixture of police procedural, action and thriller feels particularly off kilter. The film is ultimately well worth checking out though, if just for the extraordinary car chase and cast, but one wishes a little more care would have went into the muddled narrative.
Here is that incredible car chase from a Widescreen import of the film. Apparently this was the work of famed ITALIAN JOB stunt driver Remy Julienne and it is breathtaking.
THE GRINDHOUSE EXPERIENCE'S print of STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM appears to be uncut and I suspect the slight shorter running time has more to do with various splices and problems in the print itself rather than a censors scissors. The film has alternately been known as .44 SPECIAL and the delightful A SPECIAL MAGNUM FOR TONY SAITTA. Each of its various titles make me yearn for this time in cinema more than I can possible describe.