Tag Archives: Giallo

GUEST REVIEW: AMER (2009)

This review was originally published at The Cinematheque in a slightly different form.

Brought to opulent (some might say pretentious) life by Belgian directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, Amer is an homage to the Italian giallo horror films of the 1960s and ’70s, and more specifically the works of the genre’s most notable denizen, Dario ArgentoAmer (French for bitter) is an all-but-wordless, trisected mindbender of a movie, running portentously through one girl’s life, from her twisted childhood, to the seductively innocent carnality of young womanhood, to her inevitably tragic (and inevitably violent) demise.  In short, it is a lyrical horror movie that manages to arouse and nauseate at the same time and in equal measure.  In shorter yet, it is both succulent and repellent.  In even shorter, it is simply Amer.

Still from Amer (2009)Told as almost Gothic horror, set in a sufficiently terrifying seaside villa, Amer starts out with an eight or nine year old Ana, running from room to room, trying her best to outsmart both her overbearing mother and the ugly crone of a witch that was her grandfather’s caretaker, while attempting to steal a necklace she must pry out of her ancient grandfather’s cold dead hands.  The film takes on a magical feel right away, as an insidious doom overshadows all that is happening around her and her young eyes are assaulted by the evil that lurks around her and (in a scene of frenetic, salacious eroticism) the writhing, sweating bodies of her parents bedroom.  The terror, both metaphorical and physical, that will eventually devour Ana, is already beginning to surround this wide-eyed little girl.

We next turn to the adolescent Ana, her Lolita-esque body glistening in the midday sun, her bee-stung lips curling in a seraphic yet alluring manner, the slight breeze blowing her light dress provocatively, all the while slowly waltzing in front of a row of very-interested bikers, flaunting, advertising her newfound sexual desires.  The erotic longings that first popped up in Ana’s wicked childhood surface here in a much more dangerous way.  Next we see a grown Ana, her fantasy world now completely engulfing her, returning to her now dilapidated seaside home, every shadow, every noise, every creak, every sensual yearning, an ominous foreshadowing of the horror to come.

With the mysterious black-gloved hand that keep Ana from screaming, the muscled, libidinous arms that grope her and strangle her, and the shining, silvery blade that coldly slices against her face and mouth, warning her of what is to become of her, Amer ends with the same seductively perilous urgency with which it began.  Perhaps made as the ego-trip many claim it to have been, Cattet and Forzani nonetheless have captured the essense of those giallo films, and especially the warped, libidinous proclivities of Mr. Argento, to a visual and aural “t.”  Just like the Italian horrormeister’s movies, Amer is an erotically charged mindbender of a movie indeed.

CAPSULE: THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS [LA CASA DALLE FINISTRE CHE RIDONO] (1976)

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.

Still from The House With Laughing Windows (1976)

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 Continue reading CAPSULE: THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS [LA CASA DALLE FINISTRE CHE RIDONO] (1976)