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Sunday, October 18, 2009

9. The House with Laughing Windows

La casa dalle finestre che ridono (The House with Laughing Windows) (1976)
Dir. Pupi Avati
Fright Level: 4/10
Scare Type: slow burn.
Subgenre: giallo, creepy village.

I'm quite familiar Italian Horror from the 70's, so I had to see what many people have championed as either a lost classic or the best most underrated film from that period. However, I really am at a loss here, between my reaction and the reaction that I've read from many others. There really isn't anything different or unique in this film. It's shot and composed well, and the acting is pretty good. Nearly all Giallos can feel artsy and avant-garde, but often, and I'd say most of the time, that's not intentional. There is a certain dream logic which is evoked, but the editing mistakes in this film, and the obtrusive score, it doesn't match the action on the screen like most other Italian films of this period. There are red herrings and dead ends, some intentional and some that just felt like undeveloped fragments. I don't think that this was meant to be a Resnais type modernist and contrapuntal experience in alienation. The film is too long, there are too many plot holes. That said the film's opening sequence, which undoubtedly was what Fulci is referencing in L'aldilĂ  (The Beyond) is stunning, a very poetic sepia-toned, tableau-like, stabbing (similar to a sequence from Silent Night Bloody Night three years previous). The use of audio here, as in many Giallo's, is important, but there is a sense of poetry to the ramblings of the mad painter on the tape.

If you've seen any Giallo's you know the set up: an outsider shows up to a strange and/or secluded village, meets odd locals, witnesses a death close to him, that death brings about his participation in a series of deaths which are all connected to a secret, which is revealed in a last minute twist, usually involving identity or memory. It's a formula that's surprisingly strong and usually works. Here Stefano is commissioned by a small village to restore a fresco by a recently deceased and troubled artist at a local church. There he meets a doctor friend who says he has something to tell him. Stefano soon becomes the center of a mystery surrounding the painter.

I'm not saying this film doesn't work because its not as gory or action packed as other films. Its just not as bombastic or claustrophobic. It's interesting, but only to genre fans and completists. I don't mind dead ends when they're used for tremendous set pieces or to set a mood, but here they just happen, and I think that a modernist reading is the only way to convince yourself you're not wasting your time. The film works, however, on one level, as an essay on violence and death in film. That part of the film would have worked with a lot of this film trimmed (and yes, I, the person who always thinks something can be longer, thinks this film needs to be trimmed).

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