Saturday, July 23, 2022


The House with Laughing Windows (1976) d. Pupa Avati (Italy) (110 min)

Art historian and restoration specialist Stefano (Lino Capolicchio) is summoned to a rural Italian town to restore a grotesque fresco (grotesquo?) depicting the death of St. Sebastian, shown in horrible torment with daggers skewering his naked body. When his friend Antonio (Giulio Pizzirani), who recommended him for the job, is found dead on the cobblestones outside his apartment, the police quickly deem it a suicide, ignoring Stefano’s claims that a shadowy figure was lurking on the balcony above. Through encounters with the town’s bizarre locals, Stefano learns more about the mystery surrounding the fresco’s artist, Legnani, dubbed the “Painter of Agony,” as well as Legnani’s equally twisted sisters who helped him procure unwilling subjects and torture them while he captured their anguished expressions on canvas.

From its ominous, yellow-tinted title sequence where a bound and spinning naked male torso is repeatedly stabbed while a breathless voice pants, “The colors. The colors. Purification! I’m dying!”, Avati’s fifth feature film (and his first horror effort) immerses the viewer in a world that is equal parts foreign and recognizable, drenched in sunlight and dread.

The director co-wrote the story with his brother Antonio, then further fleshed it out with screenwriters Maurizio Costanzo and Gianni Cavina (the latter of whom also plays Coppola, the diminutive mayor’s hulking chauffeur), combining the close-knit, tight-lipped, remote-village chills of Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling with Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (where Donald Sutherland’s character restores a crumbling church in Venice by day and pursues a red-jacketed figure by night).

Arriving one year after Dario Argento unleashed “the last word in gialli,” Deep Red, Avati takes a completely different tack, eschewing the flashy camerawork, gaudy gore, black gloved killers, gratuitous nudity, and other traits that had come to be associated with the genre and instead directed his energies toward capturing a lucid nightmare on celluloid. We follow Stefano as he drifts from one quirky character to another, picking up clues about Legnani’s macabre legacy, with a palpable sense of unease drifting in his wake.

Upon finding a reel-to-reel recording of the artist’s ecstatically whispering voice, Stefano plugs it in... only to have the cord burst into flame in the outlet. He is booted out of his hotel room to make way for a “very important guest” who never seems to arrive. He is taken in by the village idiot Lidio (Pietro Brambilla), who also works as the church’s handyman, to stay at a remote estate where the only other occupant is an aged paraplegic woman (Pina Borione) who welcomes his kindness. He has sexual encounters with not one, but two schoolteachers: a well-traveled tramp (Vanna Busoni)and the chaste and shy Francesca (Francesca Marciano) who recently arrived on the same boat as Stefano.

While none of these vignettes are wholly unnerving on their own, this is a film whose sum is much greater than its separate parts, with the sinister truth about La Familia Legnani slowly revealed just like the details around the fringes of St. Sebastian. The end result is dizzying and haunting in the way that only the best Italian horror can be.

It bears noting that those seeking overt lashings of flesh and blood and corkscrewing cinematography may be stymied here, and in many ways that’s exactly what appeals to me about Avati’s approach. (The lovemaking sequence between Stefano and Francesca is positively refreshing, even sweet, in its modesty.) It’s as though he embraced the challenge of eliminating easy genre pleasures, pursuing something far less tangible and more elusive: genuine foreboding and mystery. The languorous pacing might also prove off-putting, but patient viewers will be amply rewarded with a final reveal that will leave jaws among the Jujubees. (You won’t see this one coming, folks.)

Packed with colorful characters and memorable imagery courtesy of cinematographer Pasquale Rachini, The House with Laughing Windows (whose title actually makes sense by the end) remains one of the lesser-known Italian horror efforts (still awaiting a Blu-ray release as of this writing), which is unfortunate because it’s also one of the most singular, accomplished, and unique. Highly Recommended.


Jon Kitley (Kitley's Krypt), Bryan Martinez (The Giallo Room), and AC sit down with Ian Simmons of Kicking the Seat for another round of ACCADEMIA GIALLO, our ongoing series exploring the sexiest, scariest, and sleaziest that Italy (and other purveyors of Euro-horror) have to offer. Check out our discussion of The House with Laughing Windows HERE:


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