Color, 1969, 92 mins. 16 secs. / 88 mins. 49 secs.
Directed by Xavier Setó
Starring Larry Ward, Teresa Gimpera, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Fernando Sánchez Polack, Silvana Venturelli
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Cineploit (Blu-ray) (Germany R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
Once Italy started a tidal wave of gialli releases in the latter part of the 1960s, their international co-production nature muddied the waters when it came to determining what a giallo actually might be. The general consensus is that it's a murder mystery made by an Italian director with at least partial Italian financing, but the involvement of countries like West Germany and France resulted in some hybrids that still cause debate today. Then we have Spain, which really jumped into the pseudo-giallo fray with films like The Fox with a Velvet Tail, A Dragonfly for Each Corpse, The Corruption of Chris Miller, No One Heard the Scream, and Seven Murders for Scotland Yard. Beating all of those to the punch was 1969's Viaje al vacio, a Spanish-Italian production from director Xavier Setó (sometimes credited as Javier Setó) after his interesting 1966 supernatural love story, The Sweet Sound of Death. Released on VHS in the U.S. by Mogul as Macabre, the film has also circulated under a variety of other titles including The Phantom Killer and The Emptiness All Around; it was also offered in its English-language export version as Shadow of Death, the title chosen for Mondo Macabro's U.S. Blu-ray release in 2023.
Trouble pulls into a Spanish town in the form of scar-faced German criminal Gert (Kill, Baby... Kill!'s Stuart), who's looking to pay a visit to his ex, Denise (Night of the Devils' Gimpera). As it turns out, she's living with a pair of twins, John and Peter (both played by American TV vet Ward), and having an affair with the latter while being married to the former. Gert quickly catches on to the situation and tries to blackmail the lovers, who in turn come up with an elaborate plan involving Vietnam vet Peter's job as a pharmacist at John's store, John's epilepsy, gaslighting, a little murder on the side, and of course, one twin posing as the other.
A few twists and an energetic score by the great Franco Micalizzi are all assets in this modest thriller chamber piece, which features very few characters but works a lot of incident into its running time. Also notable is a relatively short but scene-stealing appearance by the stunning Silvana Venturelli, most famously for her appearances in Radley Metzger's Camille 2000 and The Lickerish Quartet. Given the multinational nature of the cast, every version out there is dubbed in some form or another with English being the best option as it matches most of the principals' performances; oddly enough, it's Ward who fares the weakest here with the dual role gimmick seeming like a bit more than he can handle.
The first Blu-ray edition of this film appeared in 2021 from Cineploit in Germany, in the usual array of hardbox packaging options. That release (as Der Phantom-Killer schlägt zu) is taken from the 88-minute Italian negative with German, English, French, and Italian audio options (DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono) with English and German subtitles. Also included are a Christian Kessler featurette (24m15s) in German with English subtitles, covering the film's place in the first giallo wave and its increasing number of script absurdities and peculiarities, a 1m25s gallery, German and French main title sequences, and a 17m2s soundtrack suite. The Mondo Macabro edition is a totally different transfer from the negative of the longer 92-minute Spanish cut, with English or Spanish audio options (DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono again) with optional English subtitles. Among the additions here, the most significant is a lengthy bit with Venturelli around the 66-minute mark that fills in the plot a bit more logically and is presented in Spanish with subtitles either way as it was never present in an English export cut. The English track here is in much better shape than the German disc, which was very noisy and hissy by comparison and likely pulled from a VHS copy. Image-wise the Mondo Macabro is much brighter and framed at 1.85:1 versus the more opened-up 1.66:1 of the German disc, with little appreciable difference either way composition-wise. The video extras kick off with "Xavier Setó: A Pioneer of Spanish Fantaterror" (20m13s) featuring Ángel Sala, director of the Sitges International Film Festival, offering an appraisal of the film's overlooked, Barcelona-based director who got caught in the restrictions of fascist Spain in the '70s but managed to turn out some significant thrillers all the same. A 6m33s reel of two alternate scenes from the export cut (pulled from the same master as the Cineploit release) is also included, featuring some mild peek-a-boo nudity from Venturelli that wouldn't have been permissible in Spain at the time. Also included are a fun, rare English trailer as Shadow of Death and the alternate Italian credits.
Reviewed on November 18, 2023