|Review||The House With Laughing Windows (1976)||Director||Pupi Avati|
|Writer||Pupi Avati, Antonio Avati, Gianni Cavina and Maurizio Costanzo|
|Cast||Lino Capolicchio, Francesca Marciano, Gianni Cavina, Guilio Pizzirani, Bob Tonelli, Pietro Brambilla, Pina Borione and Tonino Corazzari|
“My colors…they purify death through my veins” – Legnani
Restorer Stefano (Capolicchio) is hired by Mayor Solmi (Tonelli) to restore a fresco of St. Sebastian in a local church in a small village in Italy. The disturbing fresco was made by Buono Legnani (Corazzari), nicknamed “The Painter of Agony, a mentally unbalanced painter who is presumed dead after he set himself ablaze and ran into the woods but his body was never found. Obsessed with capturing death in it’s purest form; Legnani’s legacy has colored the village’s atmosphere and cast a long standing shadow over it’s inhabitants. When Stefano’s friend, Antonio (Pizzirani), intends to shed some light on the painter’s background he promptly dies under suspicious circumstances.
As Stefano’s work is progressing he starts receiving threatening phone calls encouraging him to leave the village. He enters a romantic affair with a substitute teacher, Francesca (Marciano), and gradually learns more about Legnani’s past through his associations with driver, and local drunk, Coppola (Cavina). Coppola informs Stefano of Legnani’s two sisters who aided him in his quest to capture the essence of death and pain on canvas and shows him a decrepit house with laughing windows. Then things really start rolling.
“The House With Laughing Windows” is one of those chillers that sets an uneasy tone from the start and maintains the ominous mood admirably throughout. It’s been pigeonholed in the Giallo genre but it really doesn’t adhere to most of the efforts in the cycle of late 60’s and 70’s Italian suspensers but is closer in relation to Lucio Fulci’s “Don’t Torture a Duckling” (1972). Set entirely in the countryside with only local people; “House” is distinctly Italian while most Giallo’s had a more international flavour and often cheesy comedy sequnces mixed in. The never named small village is a strong character in it’s own right with it’s geography never really clear and it’s moody and cryptic citizens. It doesn’t hurt that stylistically the film is wonderfully lensed (by Pasquale Rachini) and the surroundings gradually become a bit otherworldly as the oppressing mood slowly tightens around the lead character. Director Pupi Avati manages to maintain the sombre mood and gradually escalate the tension and the film’s glacial pace for roughly 3/4 really aids in it’s knockout climax and makes sure it stays with the viewer afterwards. But be forewarned that it’s a fairly slow burn affair.
Story wise the film is very gripping and well written and most of the actors come off quite well. Particularly good are leading man Capolicchio and Marciano who create decent characters in bizarre surroundings who the viewer becomes concerned with. Also quite good is Cavina as the local drunk who’s very engaging in his part. The part of Legnani, “The Painter of Agony”, is relayed to viewers in sepia toned flashbacks but more importantly through a series of audio recordings that are very creepy and are sure to take up temporary residence once the film is finished. Several set-pieces are very effective and there’s some nightmarish imagery on display that’s on par with the best of Italian horror cinema of the 70’s. It’s quite bloody too.
If there are any negatives to be addressed it’s mainly the same as is the case with practically every Italian genre film that I’ve come across. There is quite a bit of stilted character interactions and some dialogue scenes are very stiff but here it’s nothing too damaging to the overall effect. It’s post-dubbed as was the practice in those days and that never helps with the flow of scenes but, again, it’s not too distracting and the sombre mood of the film isn’t diminished. These are simply traits inherent with this genre of Italian horror/suspense movies and those going in with that knowledge won’t be affected by them.
“The House With Laughing Windows” is a truly atmospheric horror film that still packs a punch with a solid story and great visuals that are sure to delight cult film enthusiasts across the board.