H: The House with Laughing Windows (1976)

Letterboxd ♠ Master List

So back a couple of years ago I reviewed Pupi Avati’s Zeder to close out Hubrisween and I was impressed enough to track down more of his work (so it took me two years. So what).

House opens impressively enough, with a man, strung up with arms overhead, being stabbed to death in slow-motion while we hear some crazed loon babble about the colors in his veins and paint running down his arms, all during the opening credits.

Then we meet Stefano (Lino Cappolicchio) (Avati had a thing for naming his protagonists Stefano), a professional restorationist who has been hired by the mayor (Bob Tonelli) of a small village to restore a fresco in the church. It’s a painting of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, done by a local artist, Buono Legnani, known as “The Painter of Agony” because of his preference for painting and drawing only subjects near death.

Stefano was hired on the recommendation of his old friend, Dr. Mazza (Giuilio Pizzarani), who was researching Legnani. Mazza is always on the cusp of telling Stefano something important about Legnani and the village, but the arrival of someone local will make him nervous and interrupt his tale, until he asks Stefano to meet him at his hotel. Of course, when Stefano arrives, it’s just in time to see Mazza thrown out a window to his death.

In proper giallo style, Stefano investigates the mystery of Legnani himself, despite creepy anonymous phone calls commanding him to leave. He finds an old wire recorder, containing the utterances we heard during the opening. Legnani was obviously more than a little off-kilter, and was aided and abetted in his off-kilterness by his two sisters, who Stefano comes to realize (as more and more of the fresco is revealed) are the models for the two women joyously murdering Saint Sebastian – and an actual murder may have taken place to act as a model for the painting. Legnani reportedly doused himself with kerosene and ran blazing into the woods, his body never found; and Stefano begins to fear that Legnani is not truly dead, and he and his sisters may still be up to no good – and they seem to have some sort of horrible control over the village at large.

The House With Laughing Windows is the most un-giallo giallo you will ever see. Most movies in this genre will keep you occupied with multiple murders, even more red herrings, sex (usually as perverse as possible), or heightened, intense visuals. House has none of these, but does have the doom-laden atmosphere and the independent investigator in way, way over his head. Leave it to Avati to not travel the well-worn road.

The movie is 110 minutes long, too long in my estimation. The final fifteen minutes, though, are suitably nightmarish and horrifying, but it can be a chore to get to them. If you’re, say, a fan of slow burn horror directors like Ty West, this is going to be right up your alley, and you should seek it out. For me, though, it’s more of a case of Okay, now I’ve seen it, and going on to my next horror movie, which will hopefully be more to my liking.

(Spoiler: it will not be.)