Director: Lamberto Bava
Writers: Lamberto Bava, Massimo De Rita, Andrea Piazzesi, Giorgio Stegani
Stars: Barbara Cupisti, Stefano Davanzati, Alessio Orano
Testimone oculare is one of the more obscure TV movies made by Lamberto Bava after the Italian film industry had gone into meltdown in the late 1980s. Despite the TV background, it has some cinematic credentials: it was co-written by Giorgio Stegani (who directed some decent Giuliano Gemma spaghetti westerns) and Massimo De Rita (who was behind such effective polizieschi as Violent City (70) and Corleone (78) and features music by Simon Boswell (Sante Sangre (89), Hardware (90)). In some ways, Italian TV was ahead of its time by co-opting talent from the film industry for small screen productions; unfortunately the scripts and production values were never there to match.
A secretary at a shopping mall is killed by the manager (Alessio Orano), and suspicion falls instead upon the dead girl’s boyfriend (Francesco Casale), a blind witness to the crime called Elisa (Barbara Cupisti) and her hulking friend and protector (Giuseppe Pianviti). The Police Commissioner in charge, Marra (Stefano Davanzati) spends more time either shouting at or wooing the suspects than doing any detective work; and the psychotic manager takes time out from playing with his collection of dolls and flaying himself to pursue and try to kill Elisa, who is able to potentially recognise him because of his aura.
A banal cross between a thriller and a psycho movie, this film can’t decide what it wants to be and as a result ends up not being much of anything. It starts up promisingly as a kind of giallo set in a locked mall, but then unfortunately drops any kind of mystery element in favour a standard stalk and slash type plot, with elements of Wait Until Dark (67) thrown in for good measure. The characters are crudely sketched and act in an entirely unbelievable fashion, and there’s lots of new age gubbage thrown in with the introduction of an innovative rehabilitation center where people with disabilities are taught to walk barefoot and make bad jewelry. It’s not that the writers are lacking ideas, but they seem to have no idea of how to work them into a coherent narrative.
Despite the shoddy screenplay, Bava is a capable director – he was more often let down by the material he worked with rather than his own skills – and manages to generate some tension. He’s less successful with the performances, which are awful (with the honorable exception of Cupisti).