2/15/10

The House with Laughing Windows (1976): A Movie That Should Have Been Shuttered

Before I checked out today’s film, the only things I knew about director Pupi Avati, were that he had a hilarious sounding first name and he had directed the much loved 1983 film Zeder. I haven’t ever had a chance to see that film thanks to Netflix and their “Very Long Wait” (seriously folks return what you rent) so since I wanted to see one of his films I decided to check out his 1976 giallo The House with Laughing Windows [Italian: La casa dalle finestre che ridono]. Whenever I watch a gialli, I have certain expectations, amateur detectives, stylish locales, beautiful women, vicious kills, and red herrings that keep my eyes glued to the screen. On some counts Avati brings to goods, but if you want to know if I came away are joyous as the titular windows, then you’ll have to read on.

Stefano (Lino Capolicchio), an expert in art restoration, is called to the small, Italian coastal town of Ferrara to repair a fresco of St. Sebastian in a local church. He finds the painting striking in its portrayal of the Saint’s martyrdom, and he soon learns that the artist was a local man named Legaini, called the Painter of Agony by the townsfolk for his penchant to paint subjects who are close to death. As Stefano tries to settle into the local hotel, he receives a call warning him to go away, but he ignores the warning. Instead he goes to lunch with his friend Antonio who recommended him for the job. Antonio implies that there is something sinister going on in the village, but he won’t talk about it there. He calls Stefano to his room, but as the art restorer arrives, he sees his friend thrown to his death. The police contend the death is a suicide, and it only serves to make Stefano more determined to find out what secrets the town and the fresco hold.

Right up front House with Laughing Windows satisfies several of the giallo conventions. An outsider comes to a town and becomes quickly involved in discovering a secret when his friend is murdered. That base description could be applied to many, many films in the genre. Unfortunately, after this base idea House with Laughing Windows dispenses with many of the other things that make gialli so interesting to watch. There are only two murders in the film, both of them off-screen, the setting is plain and dominated by browns, and the few ladies that grace the screen are far from the stylish, sexual beasts that usually prowl the screen of the Italian thriller. I also noticed a severe lack of misdirection. I never suspected anyone as the killer really so the ending was less of an “aha” than a “hmm so that’s it” moment.

The narrative also plays out at an extremely slow pace. It basically is a collection of scenes featuring Capolicchio interacting with various strange acting townsfolk. The film never manages to really strike a tone that would inspire tension. In a few scenes, Capolicchio’s character is creeping around a dark house, and because of the absence of any on-screen violence, I never felt like the protagonist was in any kind of danger at all. This left me struggling to keep myself interested in the events of the film at all. When the big concept behind the film is finally revealed, I did have to give the film some credit for original thinking, but as it is the best part I won’t spoil it for anyone who would like to see the film. Suffice it to say that I think this film could be easily reworked and the action amped up to make it much more interesting.

I really don’t have anything much else to say about this film. None of the supporting cast performed well enough to warrant a mention, Avati’s direction was plain and uninspired, the score by Amedeo Tommasi was utterly forgettable and lead actor Capolicchio just seemed like an unfunny version of Chris Elliot wearing a massive hairpiece. I know that many people find this film to be quite good because it breaks out of the more traditional giallo mold, but for me, that is exactly what broke the film. In the couple of years I’ve been writing the LBL, I’ve seen a ton of gialli, but by far this was the worst I have seen. That, my friends, is absolutely no laughing matter.

Bugg Rating

11 comments:

  1. I didn't care for the film either, the ending felt like a cheat (horrible dubbing) and I don't think I've ever seen a more annying "hero" - I get that he's supposed to be overwhelmedby all the hostility and utterly helpless, but the guy just came across like a whiny wimp, especially since he never was in any real danger himself whatsoever right up until the end (Spoiler: And there's no way he couldn't have at least put up a decent fight against two old ladies, no matter how insane they might've been).

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  2. Damn. I own this, but have yet to check it out...probably won't be checking out anytime soon now.

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  3. the ending did leave a lot to be desired but I would say that this one is one of the most visually satisfying of the giallo, I understand why you have scored this one so low as a giallo but some argue that the film is more a piece of art cinema with some giallo characteristics rather than a true giallo which has pulp crime novel vibe - for what it is worth I love the film apart from that ending!

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  4. ooo wasnt the *spoiler* twist ending guy from Black Belly Of The Tarantula as a barman or something similar,

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  5. I am very suspired to see that you find this movie so visually satisfying, Nigel. My score of the film was not only low because I didn't appreciate it as a giallo, but I also found it to be very bland visually. I can see how the tag art cinema could be applied to the film, but I would have to know more about Avati to judge his intentions.

    to the Anonymous commenter I agree that the protagonist being a dip stick doesn't do the film any favors.

    Rev, maybe you should pull this out a give it a watch so you could chime in here. I'd love to see which way you fall on it.

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  6. Best post title ever.

    Then again, I'm a softee when it comes to house puns.

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  7. Im still interested in seeing this one despite mixed reviews, the name and cover art just too terrible to pass up

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  8. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, but I do have to say it's a strange review that faults a movie for not being stylistically formulaic enough, especially in a genre that is already glutted with movies that slavishly follow the giallo recipe.

    Anyway, I happen to like its un-Bava palatte, deliberate pace, and eerieness. It and Fulci's "Non si sevizia un paperino," are of a kind.

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  9. This one's still shaking things up. Let's see here...

    @Emily- Appreciate the comment and right back attic ya.

    @ Carl The name and cover art were what sucked me in as well. I'd love more people to review this one so I know if I'm crazy or other people are.

    @Lucky Tiger- I can see your point, but here's the thing. I know what I like. I like high style in my giallo selections. I have yet to see Don't Torture a Duckling, but i have liked Fulci's other urban gialli, Lizard in a Woman's Skin and 1969's Perversion Story. I find both of those films to be among his best. I'lll have to check out Duckling soon, but I can't see how it could have the same bland visual style of Laughing Windows.

    I can definitely see how this film would have its fans, but I'm just not one. I think this is the first time you've commented Mr. Tiger, but I hope you return no matter if you agree with me or not.

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  10. This sounds muy terrible!

    Congrats again fellow LOTT D'er :)

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  11. Like I said -- everyone's entitled to an opinion. I certainly wouldn't stop visiting a blog because I differed with someone's aesthetics. You are correct, though: that was my first post... just discovered you whilst searhing the net for a good pic of Kolchak!

    As for "Paperino," you may be surprised. While it has some trademark Fulci sadism/violence to eyeballs, and some giallo conventions (B. Bouchet, sex, red herrings aplenty), it's palette and pace are as austere as a western in many ways.

    Anyway, I'll catch y'all later.

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