The Film (3.5/5)
When his sister Louise (Carole Laure) dies mysteriously, police Captain Tony Saitta (Stuart Whitman) goes looking for her killer and God help anyone who gets in his way. Chief suspect in all of this is Dr. George Tracer (Martin Landau), the doctor who tried to save her and who she was having an affair with. The more Tony digs, the more he finds that his sister was not the woman he thought she was.
I have two words for you, Dirty Harry. When you need someone to capitalize on a popular film franchise, call the Italian film industry! Director Alberto De Martino is responsible for The Antichrist, one of the most insane Exorcist rip-offs of all time. He’s also an underrated director of some fun gialli like The Killer is on the Phone, Blood Link, and Formula for a Murder. When I saw that Kino Lorber was putting out a Blu-ray of this giallo hiding in a crime film, I was super stoked.
Distributed by AIP, this film has a hilarious list of alternate titles which betray its intended audience such as .44 Special, Big Magnum 77, Blazing Magnum, The 44 Specialist, and Tough Tony Saitta. Gruff Whitman is no Clint Eastwood but he’s a lot of fun to watch as he tries to beat the mean streets of Québec into submission. Things take a turn for the insanely homophobic when he beats up a bunch of transvestites. Oh Tony, you son of a bitch.
This cast is pretty great and features some real surprises in it. One of my favorite flash in the pan actresses of the era, Tisa Farrow, is hilariously terrible as usual. She plays the blind roommate of the deceased and the killer’s main target through some cool stalking scenes. Texas-born Gayle Hunnicutt of The Legend of Hell House is in this too and so are her nipples. Martin Landau and the always reliable John Saxon make this cult movie cast even more delicious.
While it’s not exactly a gem, Shadows in an Empty Room has a ridiculous car chase, tense scenes, one rather gruesome death, a driving and Goblin-esque score by Armando Trovajoli, and a lot of bad supporting actors who should have been dubbed. The mystery itself plays out surprisingly well despite the lack of unlikeable characters. Give this a go when you’re in the mood for something shamelessly stupid.
After suffering through shite downloads and bootlegs, Kino Lorber’s disc is quite the revelation. It’s obvious that this is the best that Shadows in an Empty Room will ever look and sound. The English audio (with no subtitles) for this disc is loud and clear with a just a little hiss in the background though nothing too distracting. The 1.85:1 1080p video is where this disc really shines. The color is vibrant and the whole film just pops off the screen.
Sadly, De Martino passed away in 2015 so I was hoping for some kind of tribute to him on this disc but no such luck. There is a theatrical trailer for Shadows in an Empty Room. The other extra which is A LOT of fun is a trailer reel with some other films that would have been in theater around the same time as Shadows. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, The Passage, Bobby Jo and the Outlaw, and Killer Force are represented here with freakin’ fun trailers. Good stuff!
Despite being dumb as balls and hilariously tasteless, there’s just something about Shadows in an Empty Room that I love. It has just enough poliziotteschi, just enough giallo, and just enough of that old Italian tradition of ripping off something popular to make me happy. This was also released the same year I was born which makes it essential viewing for everyone turning 40 this year. Cop thriller/giallo hybrid films just don’t get the love they deserve but this gorgeous transfer by Kino Lorber is a good start!