Saturday 23 September 2023

The House with Laughing Windows (1976)

The House with Laughing Windows is a rather strange 1976 Italian horror film directed by Pupi Avati.

A fresco has been discovered in a church in a little Italian village. The subject is the martyrdom of St Sebastian. It was painted by a notorious artist named Legnani. He was notorious for his obsession with death and his incredibly disturbing style. 

He was also totally and comprehensively insane.

Stefano (Lino Capolicchio) is a professional restorer and he is keen to get to work on the fresco. He runs into an old friend, Antonio, who has had a nervous breakdown and gives the impression he’s headed for another one.

Stefano meets the local schoolteacher. She has a reputation as a nymphomaniac. She seems pleasant enough and he sleeps with her. A few days later she has mysteriously left the village. Her replacement is a young woman named Francesca. Stefano sleeps with her as well. The schoolteachers in this village seem like a very friendly lot.

There is a sudden and slightly mysterious death, possibly a suicide.

Wherever Stefano goes all sorts of mildly disturbing things seem to follow him. He gets threatening telephone calls. He is told that he has to leave the town’s only hotel because a busload of tourists is about to arrive. He later finds out that no tourist has come anywhere near this village for decades. An odd young man finds Stefano a place to stay. It is a dilapidated villa. It’s only other inhabitant is a paralysed old woman.

Stefano finds a tape recording, apparently made by Legnani before his death. The man was obviously even more insane than people thought. It’s just endless angry unhinged crazy rantings about colours and about death. Stefano is getting quite uneasy by now. He’s also becoming obsessed by that crazy painter. He has heard very strange stories and he’s both horrified and fascinated.

He is slowly coming to realise that something very evil happened in this village and it’s by no means certain that the evil is going to stay in the past. The town council and the local police don’t seem very interested. The town drunk has some hair-raising stories to tell, which may or may not be true.

Neither Stefano nor the viewer has any idea what kind of evil lurks in this village, and no idea if it’s a supernatural evil or a human evil.

This is certainly not a gore movie but it has some pretty harrowing scenes.

As for the ending, I thought it was pretty silly and contrived but your mileage may vary.

Avati goes for a colour palette based on earth colours. Such a choice can give a movie a pleasantly bucolic look but that is not Avati’s intention. He seems to be aiming for a feeling of decay and even decomposition. This is one of the most visually miserable and depressing movies you will ever see.

In fact the director was presumably wanting the viewer to feel that the village is haunted by a sense of desolation and madness. The countryside seems idyllic in some ways but there’s always a subtly sinister edge to it.

The acting is adequate. Lino Capolicchio plays Stefano as a slightly odd kinds of guy, which fits the mood of the movie.

Director Pupi Avati claims that the movie was based on an Italian fairy tale which scared the daylights out of him as a child.

The UK DVD release from Shameless looks good. The only significant extra is an interview with the director who talks abut what a liberating experience it was for him making this movie on a minuscule budget.

I wasn’t totally sold on The House with Laughing Windows but it does take a slightly off-kilter stylistic approach which is interesting. It’s worth a look.


Brian Schuck said...

This is an atmospheric, slow burn of a movie that wouldn't stand a snowball's chance of being made today, and for that I love it.

dfordoom said...

Brian Schuck said...
This is an atmospheric, slow burn of a movie that wouldn't stand a snowball's chance of being made today

That's very true. I consider the 70s to have been the last great decade for horror.