The House With Laughing Windows (1976)

Apparently this never got shown in the US despite plenty of other Italian films playing there; maybe its distributors thought it was too unlike the earlier gialli that had made it across the Atlantic to succeed with American audiences. Certainly the fact that it’s not a conventional giallo still pisses some people off; apparently if it’s not knocking off Argento or Bava it’s not the real thing or something. Being me, I was fascinated by how it did deviate from the black-gloved norm. It’s the early 50s, and Stefano is an art restorer brought to a pissant little village in the north of Italy to restore a church fresco, a rather ghoulish version of St Sebastian’s martyrdom. The artist, Legnani, vanished years earlier and was, by all accounts, thoroughly unsavoury at best and downright insane at worst, with a particular fascination with capturing the moment of death. As Stefano continues his work and his investigations, he finds the rest of the family, particularly his two sisters, also left something to be desired, although it’s not until the holy-fuck-did-I-see-that-right ending that we find out just how fucked up they are… Pupi Avati was and is not a genre specialist (he’d just done some uncredited writing on Salo), and perhaps that shows in the way he presents his material; while watching it I could imagine how Argento would’ve done it, but evidently Avati preferred to avoid that sort of bravura excess in favour of creating an overall atmosphere of towering dread. There is something hugely wrong going on in this little place, and we’re never really invited to feel safe in it. I’m still trying to grasp some aspects of the film’s logic, as I’m sure there are major things that don’t really make sense even if I can’t quite say what or why, just a feeling… but what the hell. It may hardly be a straight giallo, never mind horror film, but it surely is creepy as hell, whatever it is.

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