THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS (1976) – The Dungeon Review!

I had intended to cover a lot more Italian stuff during my trek through the 1970’s, but it has been a struggle lately to find the time to sit down and watch a movie, never mind writing up a review for one. I’ve spoke often of my love for Giallo on this blog But there were some very serious omissions in my repertoire. I’ve discovered some amazing new titles since starting this blog and I still have many more on my list to see. I discovered Italian horror at a young impressionable age and it was so much sexier and more violent than what I was accustomed to seeing. Grandly staged deaths, black-gloved killers, nudity, strange, twisted stories, all filmed with stylistic flair. What’s not to like? Italian horror comes in many shapes and sizes however and they don’t all follow some set of unwritten rules. Director Pupi Avati definitely has his own unique approach to horror, opting more for an Agatha Christie vibe, but his twisted stories are anything but typical. The House With Laughing Windows is the second directorial effort I’ve watched from Pupi Avati this year. I was quite impressed with Avati’s Zeder which I included in my top 10 favourite horror films of 1983. The tone and pace of the two films are definitely similar and I’m pleased to report that both are a delightful viewing experience.

Art historian and restorer, Stefano is called to a small Italian village to rescue a painting by a famous local artist named Bruno Legnani. Stefano has been charged with repairing Legnani’s macabre painting of the death of St. Sebastian on the wall of the local church. Threatening phone calls warning him not to revive Legnani’s work don’t deter Stefano and he finds himself in the center of a strange mystery that becomes darker and more disturbing with every clue.

The House With Laughing Windows has a great violent opening sequence featuring a bound man being stabbed to death while a psychotic voice speaks of colours and death. Just a hint of depravity to get you curious. While the film certainly has a dark story, there isn’t a lot of graphic violence. The film successfully relies on mood and atmosphere maintained even during its many daytime scenes. The film is slow but evenly paced and its steadily building sense of dread is very effective. Great sets like the huge cavernous villa Stefano moves into and the titular house with laughing windows where Bruno Legnani once lived with his two sisters are quite impressive. The remote location couldn’t be a more perfect environment for the twisted tale.

The House With Laughing Windows isn’t the first horror film to feature a psychotic artist, but Avati’s twist is a unique and chilling one. Legnani’s painting was believed to be unfinished, but Stefano discovers that parts of the painting were simply obscured. As he reveals what lies beneath he also uncovers secrets about the artist. Curiosity gets the better of Stefano and he attempts to question the villagers about Legnani and the facts surrounding his alleged death. The strange, tight-lipped inhabitants are clearly disturbed by Stefano’s presence and divulge nothing. Threatening phone calls, the mysterious death of a friend and the sudden eviction from his lodgings doesn’t exactly make Stefano feel welcome. The village priest suggests Stefano stay in a cavernous villa where an old woman is convalescing in the attic. The unsettling building, like the villagers, holds strange and ugly secrets. Stefano finds a recorder in the house with a demented Legnani speaking with maniacal passion about colours and death along with a journal revealing even more depravity.

My only real issue with the film was the unnecessary love story. A young attractive school teacher arriving the same time as Stefano felt a bit too contrived. Stefano locks eyes with the young woman as they travel on the same boat to the village. The two hook up late in the film and the chemistry between them is mediocre at best. It’s understandable that Stefano would want to seek some sense of normalcy amid the strangeness but this really seemed far too convenient. She moves into the spooky cavernous villa with Stefano and is not surprisingly unprepared to deal with the creepiness. As far as I was concerned, her sole purpose in the film is to add more punch to the finale. The films finale would have worked equally well regardless of whom might have been the centerpiece but is nonetheless extremely effective. This minor complaint certainly didn’t effect my enjoyment of The House With Laughing Windows. While Stefano is the films central protagonist, this is really Bruno Legnani’s story and Stefano is merely a player.

The House With Laughing Windows is a wonderfully sordid little tale. It relies heavily on mood and atmosphere instead of violence, but its dark, depraved and psycho-sexual vibe give it bite. It leans heavier towards mystery than thriller, and although graphic violence is slim it uses its horror elements to great effect and rewards the viewer with a memorable ending. I really dug The House With Laughing Windows and it comes highly recommended.

Dungeon Rating: 4/5

Directed By: Pupi Avati

Starring: Lino Capolicchio, Francesca Marciano, Gianni Cavina, Giulio Pizzirani, Bob Tonelli, Vanna Busoni, Pietro Brambilla, Ferdinando Orlandi, Andrea Matteuzzi

5 Responses to “THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS (1976) – The Dungeon Review!”

  1. There is an Asian movie by the same people that did Ringu by the name of St Johns Wort. Though it’s apparently based on a playstation game without any attempt to hide the fact, there is a lot about this movie that reminds me of the other… demented artist, spooky setting, a mystery. It’s not Giallo, but I’ve always thought Asian cinema was the next best thing to it. lol If you get a chance to see it, or have seen it, I’d be curious about how you feel the two films compare.

    • I’ve never heard of St. Johns Wort. I will add it to the queue for the new year. I suppose it is about time I finally watched a film from the last decade!

      Herschell Gordon Lewis (Color Me Blood Red) and Roger Corman (A Bucket of Blood) directed horror films about crazy artists also. I wonder how many others I could come up with? Maybe I should have a “death by art” theme month or something.

  2. That would be a great theme! Don’t forget the Dr Phibes movies and/or Theater of Blood if you do. I have always had a hard time deciding which Dr Phibes movie was my favorite. I’m such a sucker for history and mythology. The theme of the murders in the first Phibes movie shows how much style and forethought went into the “cult” movies of that era (something which is lacking in modern cinema, even in the big budget movies). The setting of the second movie in Egypt and the quest for immortality is what makes it awesome, though there’s the issue of Vulnavia which messes with the continuity between the two. And of course, Theater of Blood makes Shakespeare a lot more badass than most people would probably be comfortable with. I look forward to any art-theme film montage you put together!

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