Strange Shadows in an Empty Room (1976)

April 14, 2020

 

How many times during this quarantine have you sat down, determined to watch a 70's exploitation film and just couldn't decide on the genre? I don't want to spark fear, but this could be a symptom of an ever-broadening neurosis brought on by the fact that you now have time and access to watch every 70's exploitation film you ever dreamed of, and yet that fact's very existence creates a paralyzing, acute anxiety in deciding which film to actually watch. 

 

I may not be a psychiatrist, but I do run a film blog; thus, if you feel this condition worsening, may I prescribe Strange Shadows in an Empty Room, an Italian canuxploitation poliziotteschi with the heart and name of a giallo? Hmm, let's see:

 

- A film made by non-Canadians exploiting the tax shelter, CHECK

 

- Written by the same scribes as The New York Ripper, CHECK

 

- Can't decide whether it wants to be Dirty Harry or Death Wish rip-off, CHECK

 

- An AIP joint, CHECK

The film stars Stuart Whitman (Night of the Lepus) as a Canadian Harry Callahan clone solving the murder of his sister. And by solving, I mean interviewing witnesses, waiting for them to say they don't know anything, then beating the shit out of them until they remember something useful. With the help of his partner (the very under-utilized John Saxon), they explore the seedy underbelly of Ottawa, uncovering secrets they may not be ready to handle.

 

At the heart of this intricate mystery is Martin Landau, a married doctor who was having an affair with the victim and had the means, motive, and opportunity to kill her, making him the logical suspect. I don't mean this is in a negative way, but Landau appears to just be in a different movie than everyone else--he's acting the shit out of this role, bringing some humanizing drama to an otherwise non-sympathetic cast of characters. Yes, he "slummed" around in schlock cinema for years (The Being and Alone in the Dark come to mind), but his classy presence here fits the material somehow, in what was probably a happy accident of casting.

Perhaps the most remembered thing about Strange Shadows in an Empty Room is the I-saw-The-French-Connection-and-Bullitt-and-raise-you-$100 car chase sequence. And admittedly, it is pretty cool and insanely over the top. But director Alberto de Martino apparently decided not to storyboard it, instead improvising it on the fly, inspired by jazz. Which certainly shows.

 

There is a chaotic elegance to the chase, but the sloppiness of craft does shine through: weird and disorienting car interior shots, discontinuity of car damage, etc. However, those are small complaints, as it's still a rad, little centerpiece that will no doubt cheer you up during these bleak times. Rather than the feeling of freewheeling jazz, it's more like ramshackle, lo-fi 90's slacker rock--and honestly, I'd rather listen to Pavement than Miles Davis, any day of the week. 

While not being a complete home run (the mystery is a real shit sandwich of leftover made for TV ingredients), this film will surely tick the many boxes of your 70's exploitation needs. AllMovie goes further, saying, "Strange Shadows in an Empty Room can only be recommended to hardcore Eurotrash buffs."

 

I can't give it a bigger endorsement than that. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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