Strange Shadows in an Empty Room (1976)

Known in Italy as Una Magnum Special per Tony Saitta (A Magnum Special for Tony Saitta) and Blazing Magnum in the UK, this movie caught my attention with Stuart Whitman as a “Dirty Harry” type detective named — you guessed it — Tony Saitta solving the giallo-esque murder of his sister.

She was played by Carole Laure, a Quebec singer whose first major acting role in Sweet Movie nearly ended her career. She plays a Miss Canada who is married off to a milk tycoon on the basis of her virginity. The film has coprophilia, emetophilia, implied child molestation and footage of remains of the Polish Katyn Massacre victims. And Laure left the production after growing increasingly upset over what was required of her, especially after a scene where she had to give a handjob. Ah, art! At least she’d go on to be in the Pele, Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone movie Victory.

Well, she doesn’t last too long in this movie. At a party where people are faking their deaths to get a reaction, she ends up getting poisoned and really dying at the hands of Dr. George Tracer (Martin Landau!). Working with Ned Matthews (John Saxon!), Tony’s on the case of his sister’s death. And damn anyone who gets in his way.

If you’ve ever wanted to see Stuart Whitman get thrown out a plate glass window by a karate-kicking transvestite, good news. This movie was made for you. And me. Because man, it’s absolutely bonkers.

Seriously, this entire scene is insane. But let’s go back a little bit.

After University of Montreal student — and Tony’s sister — Louise (Laure) gets in a battle with her married lover Dr. Tracer (Landau), she tries to call her brother but he’s in the middle of a busy case. So she turns to her ex-boyfriend Fred and they come up with a scheme to get back at the perhaps not-so-good doctor.

That night, as everyone parties at the home of Professor Margie Cohn (Gayle Hunnicutt, The Legend of Hell House), Louise becomes sick and Tracer is frantically called. He gives her a stimulant and everyone laughs when she reveals she was faking. But soon, after a heart attack, no one is laughing.

Tony comes in from Ottawa for the funeral and despite being 200 kilometers (124 miles) from home, Detective Ned Matthews (Saxon) just decides to let him do whatever he wants, which includes the aforementioned transvestite party fistfight, which starts with one of their number saying, “Cinderella, answer the door,” before Tony beats one into oblivion and announces that everyone needs to settle down. Spoiler: They don’t, tossing him out a window before he violates another with a hot curling iron and throwing the surviving ladyman into a swimming pool. This scene is incredibly baffling, perhaps because I’m viewing it through the lens of 2020 films.

Blind university music teacher Julie Foster (Tisa Farrow!) is the only person who may have a clue as to what’s going on, but there’s also a little person crime boss, several car chases, a graphic stabbing, the aforementioned Ms. Farrow wandering down the street blind through traffic and so much more.

This movie was written by Vincenzo Mannino (Phantom of DeathMurder RockThe Last Shark) and Gianfranco Clerici (Don’t Torture A DucklingThe New York RipperCannibal Holocaust), so you know that there’s no way that this movie isn’t going to involve depravity and mayhem.

It was directed by Alberto De Martino, who also was behind Operation Kid BrotherThe AntichristHolocaust 2000The Pumaman and Miami Golem, a movie I keep meaning to get to.

This is a movie devoted to entertaining you by any means necessary. It’s all wood-paneled 1970’s, mixing the Canadian tax shelter magic with some of that good old fashioned Italian blood and guts. What a recipe!

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