AKA The House of the Laughing Windows
DIRECTED BY: Pupi Avati
FEATURING: Lino Capolicchio, Francesca Marciano, Gianni Cavina, Giulio Pizzirani, Tonino Corazzari
PLOT: An art historian becomes embroiled in a sick mystery when he arrives in a rural village to restore a religious painting.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Giallo films always tend to be a little bent when compared to U.S. horror movies. Despite the strange characters, unsettling tone and death-fetish subject matter, La casa dalle finestre che ridono is not weird by Euro-thriller standards. In fact, it plays out like a conventional mystery,
COMMENTS: Producers of Italian Euro-thrillers have rarely constrained themselves by strictly adhering to regimented structure, timing and consistency. La casa dalle finestre che ridono, aka The House With Laughing Windows, like Suspiria or Baba Yaga is an exception. It retains the feel of a giallo film, yet stands up to conventional Hollywood standards. This makes it a candidate for conventional thriller audiences. The House With Laughing Windows is more of a mystery than a horror movie, yet still qualifies for the “shocker” designation. As a puzzler, it is not exactly up to Agatha Christie standards of construction, but what it lacks in precision, it makes up for in color and atmosphere. There are a couple of slow spots, but overall this gory film demands attention with its curious plot, steady, brooding pace, and consistently suspenseful, creepy feel.
Stefano (Capolicchio) is an art historian and restoration specialist who is summoned to an eerie parish to complete a long unfinished fresco in an equally eerie church. The painting was supposedly never completed, but closer examination reveals that certain parts were intentionally obfuscated by being painted over. The seeds of Stefano’s undoing lie in his urge to uncover what lies beneath.
The grim fresco depicts the violent torture death of Saint Sebastiano. It is the work of the enigmatic and insane Buono Legnani (Corazzari), supposedly dead for twenty years. The circumstances surrounding Legnani’s death are still a mystery which the town’s inhabitants don’t want to talk about. In fact, they don’t want to talk to Stefano about much of anything, being strangely tight-lipped and reacting oddly to his presence.
They try to discourage Stefano’s work and someone attempts to frustrate the painting’s restoration. As Stefano strips away layers of paint, the morbid scene in the fresco becomes increasingly twisted. Stefano begins making inquiries about Legnani. As he unravels the artist’s past, Stefano learns that Legnani painted scenes of death and execution that may not have been “artists’ conceptions.” It seems Legnani had more than a passing interest in death.
In fact, Legnani realized his artistic and spiritual zenith in using brush and pigment to ensnare a victim’s sanguinary torment while being cruelly slaughtered. Reconstructing famous deaths from theology and history, Legnani indulged in his psycho-artistic deviance to the point of descending into a turbulent, blood-frothed vortex of ecclesiastic madness. Excruciating death was not only his religious validation, but his doorway to enlightenment and fulfillment. It provided Legnani access to the bliss of the ethereal plain and the rapturous ecstasy of sexual debauchery. Paint and blood, canvas and flesh, horror and awareness, abject perversion and scintillating illumination churn together in a boiling visceral maelstrom amidst the shrieks of the mutilated—all in the name of high art of course.
Legnani was assisted by his depraved sisters who helped procure victims and then sexually aroused themselves by assisting Legnani in posing and butchering the hapless models. Amid the subjects’ degenerate screams, little brother Legnani stroked away with his most masterfully expressive tool, his paint brush.
In the wake of Legnani’s alleged death his sisters have mysteriously disappeared as well. But why and to where? Did Legnani really die? A friend of Stefano’s tries to warn him, but is murdered before he can provide answers. Now somebody is stalking Stefano.
Stefano struggles to restore the mural and unravel the mystery behind the painting and artist. He wades through a Felliniesque parade of eccentric, menacing locals. What role do they play in the tawdry history behind the painting? Driven on by a ghastly death recording made by the artist himself, Stefano unearths bodies in a sordid search for more grisly clues. The evidence trail indicates that the key to the convoluted riddle lies cloaked in the walls of the sinister house where Legnani was born. It is a mysterious edifice enigmatically called, “the house with laughing windows.”
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“The plot is a bit illogical… but then again a movie like this succeeds not through realism but a sort-of dreamlike universe. The use of faded colors and sepia tones in certain sequences and interesting camera perspectives in others help keep the movie framed in a kind of surreal, non-reality.”–Bill Gordon, HorrorFanZine.com (DVD)