Friday, November 23, 2012

The House With Laughing Windows

The House With Laughing Windows (1976) aka La casa dalle finestre che ridono
Dir. Pupi Avati
Written by Pupi Avati, Antonio Avati
Starring Lino Cappolichio, Francesca Marciano, Gianni Cavina

THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS is an extremely atypical Italian horror film from the 1970s, in that it includes almost none of the elements which basically define the genre. No crazy colorful stylization, no gimmicky deaths, no leering nudity, no ridiculous dubbing, no B-list American actors stuck starring with a bunch of flamboyantly mustached Italians...   It’s like if Kiyoshi Kurosawa made a jokey, fast-paced special-effects extravaganza. Oh wait, he did. And it was also about restoring a historic mural by a troubled artist which gradually reveals the secrets to a weird and tragic tale. And I watched them both on the same night. It was a weird night.

So HOUSE is basically an anti-giallo. Yes, there is a killer somewhere in here, but the film’s structure is much more of a mystery than a slasher. Art expert Sefano (Lino Cappolichio) arrives in a tiny Italian town to restore a decaying fresco in their local chapel. But in doing so, he gets involved in the mystery surrounding the tortured artist and his two cruel sisters. All three are long dead, so why does everyone in town seem to be harboring weird secrets and occasionally dying right before they divulge important information? The answers lie within the painting itself, as well as a couple other places, a bunch of dull conversations, and also some red herrings. 

The movie's true mystery is, who gives a shit about restoring this ugly-ass fresco? 

At 110 minutes, HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS is probably way too long for what it is, but I’m also kind of impressed by it’s ambition. Instead of the usual exploitation trappings, it’s definitely going for a kind of sustained, paranoid dread which graaaadually increases as more dark secrets are revealed. Most of it is pretty uneventful, unfortunately, and even though it’s technically superior to most other Italian films of it’s ilk, it’s also not quite well-made enough to hold our attention through endless expository conversations where almost nothing is revealed (especially since it consistently resists showy stylistic flourishes). Still, by the time it gets to the last twenty minutes and the threads of mystery start to come together, you can’t help but notice a palpable sense of something truly depraved lurking just below the mundane surface. This part, at least, is not unique to HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS; imaginative depravity is basically part of the Italian national artistic character. But here --set in a quiet, slow-moving real world instead of a gaudy giallo world--it takes on a particularly unsettling nature. There’s something genuinely upsetting and perverse about the whole production. While it’s not as stylish as most giallos, it abounds with creepy, decaying sets, weird ideas, and a sense of seriousness that adds to the quietly unsettling buildup. And when the final reveal comes, it’s even more twisted than you think. There’s an unusual first-person sequence during the big reveal, which surprisingly doesn’t feel gimmicky or distracting but actually does serve to allow the viewer to make the main character’s horrifying discoveries along with him.

HOUSE would be a much stronger film at about 20, and maybe even 30 minutes shorter. But if you’re the patient type, the film does have a certain dark magic that almost imperceptibly creeps up on you. For an Italian horror film that’s trying to do something radically different than most of it’s peers, it’s a surprisingly effective (if not quite revolutionary) effort. Director Pupi Avati would apparently go on to direct classier, more dramatic works, but he did make at least one other horror film, 1983’s ZEDER. At 98 minutes, let’s hope he was a little closer the second time.  

You should also check out my boy Dan P's take on it, even though he was not a huge fan.


BOOBIES: Barely, almost nothing for an Italian film.
> or = HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS LEVEL GORE: Surprisingly not much gore, but I guess enough to count.
OBSCURITY LEVEL: Mid-high. Small cult following.
SLASHERS: A little slashing.
ALEX MADE IT THROUGH AWAKE: Yeah, I think pretty much.

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