BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS

By • Mar 11th, 2003 •

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Image Entertainment
Italy, 1976
106 mins / Color

In the past few years, fans of Italian horror films have received a bonanza of delights as a torrent of excellent DVD releases has poured into American video stores. Along with works by the usual suspects like Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Lucio Fulci, have come films by important but lesser-known directors. Over the course of a still-active 35-year career, Pupi Avati has directed over 30 films. His most recent film, IL CUORE ALTROVE (2003), is in competition at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. Thanks to the vagaries of American film distribution, he is best known here for gentle comedies like THE STORY OF BOYS AND GIRLS (1989) and THE BEST MAN (1998). However, some of his finest works have come in the horror genre.

Avati’s 1976 THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS (LA CASA DALLE FINESTRE CHE RIDONO) is a slow-moving but atmospheric tale of terror. Eschewing the shock tactics favored by many of his contemporaries, Avati carefully builds a mood of menace and ever-tightening doom before hitting viewers with a truly unsettling finale.

Stefano (THE GARDEN OF FINZI CONTINIS’ Lino Capolicchio) is a young art restorer who travels to a tiny, remote, Italian village to restore a fresco of St. Sebastian in the local church. The Mayor hopes that restoring the picture will help promote tourism. As he uncovers the painting, and digs deeper into the story of its tortured creator, Stefano discovers that this picturesque village harbors painful and dangerous secrets. The artist, Legnani, was known locally as “The Painter of Agony,” with strong hints that he liked to work directly from real life subjects. Despite the warnings of local schoolteacher turned girlfriend Francesca (and some mysterious phone calls in which he is literally told to “Go away!), Stefano refuses to turn away from the slowly enveloping mystery until escape may be impossible.

The film is unusual for the period in finding the locus of horror not in urban decadence but rather in the fears of a small village, and a repressive Catholic Church with a distinctly sado-masochistic nature as embodied in the erotic imagery of St. Sebastian. Avati perfectly captures the outwardly pretty, inwardly rotten character of this nasty inbred place.

With its questioning of the symbiotic relationship between violence and artistic creation, Avati’s film could be seen as a subtle critique of the far-more violent works that dominated Italian horror movies at that time. Certainly, an easy parallel can be drawn between the figure of Legnani and a director like Dario Argento whose popularity was peaking at the time of THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS’ production. Like Legnani, Argento rarely missed an opportunity to draw connections between his own personal demons and those of the psychotic killers that famously populate his classic movies. Although Avati may or may not have been thinking of Argento, his film explicitly criticizes artists who dance on the borderline of violent fantasy and artistic violence. This criticism is clear in both his portrayal of Legnani, and in the restrained nature of his own film that couldn’t be more different from the sensual savagery of Argento and the other popular Italian directors of horror and Giallo films in the Seventies.

While 27 years have passed since it was made, this DVD release arrives at a time when the film feels surprisingly current. Avati’s low-key approach has distinct similarities to the recent wave of Japanese “J-Horror” films like RING, PULSE, and UZUMAKI, as well as Hong Kong imitations like THE EYE.

Image’s new DVD, released as part of their “EuroShock Collection,” offers an excellent opportunity to rediscover this neglected gem. The new 16:9 enhanced transfer, which nicely captures Pasquale Rachini’s imaginative cinematography, is marred only by slight color fading that is especially noticeable in the constantly purplish blacks. Unsurprisingly for a film that has never before been released in America, there is no dubbed track. The film is presented in Italian with English subtitles. A very adequate 18 chapter stops have been provided on the disc. The highlight of the extras is a fine retrospective documentary that features new interviews with director Pupi Avati, writer Antonio Avati, star Lino Capolicchio, and others. This documentary (which should be watched after the feature as it effectively gives away the film’s ending) captures the camaraderie and commitment of everyone involved in the production, and explains how such a visually sophisticated film could be produced on a shoestring budget. The other extras are an original theatrical trailer, a lobby card gallery, and filmographies.

Whether you are a devotee of Italian horror, or just someone who enjoys a good, eerie story, THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS will provide a pleasantly unsettling evening.


Credits:
Director: Pupi Avati.
Writers: Pupi Avati, Antonio Avati, Gianni Cavina, Maurizio Costanzo.
Music: Amedeo Tommasi

Cast:
Lino Capolicchio
Francesca Marciano
Gianni Cavina

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