Monday, September 30, 2013

DVD Review: THE HOUSE WITH THE LAUGHING WINDOWS (1976)

THE HOUSE WITH THE LAUGHING WINDOWS (1976) 
LA CASA DALLE FINESTRE CH RIDONO

Label: Shameless Screen Entertainment

Region Code: 0 PAL 
Rating: Certificate:18
Duration:106 min
Audio: Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Pupi Avati
Cast: Lino Capolicchio, Francesca Marciano, Gianni Cavin


Pup Avati's Euro-shocker The House with the Laughing Windows (1976) begins with a young art restoration expert named Stefano (Lino Capolicchio) arriving in a sleepy Italian village, having been tasked to restore a bizarre fresco painting at the local church, it depicts the bloody death of martyr St. Sebastian who was painfully slashed to death by arrows. The gory fresco is said to have been painted years earlier by a deranged local artist named Legnani, whom the villagers say was demented and created his painted agonies by torturing his subjects, that's right, he would paint his subjects in the agonizing throes of death to capture the essence of their suffering on his canvas, and some of the works featured in the film are pretty strange indeed. It is also implied that Legnani's two insane sisters assisted him and may have engaged in the most taboo of unnatural acts, incest. 

Stefano, being an artists, has an eye for detail and peculiarity, and this village is just lousy with peculiarity! Starting with the midget Solimi who hired him to restore the fresco, he's one of the first characters we meet as Stefano arrives in the village via boat, they're driven into town by Solimi's chauffeur named Coppola who ends up figuring prominently into the story. Everyone in the village is suspect, they're just a little bit weird, there's an overwhelming sense of unease throughout the film, the atmosphere is rich with an ambiguous dread that creeps up creates a surreal sense of paranoia. Perhaps the nuttiest of the bunch is Stefano's bug-nuts insane assistant at the church who spouts nonsense, a real weirdo who immediately drew my suspicion. 

Some local oddness aside Stefano has very little trouble with the ladies of the village, easily bedding not one, but two, sexy young school teachers in no time at all. First up is his slightly-slutty neighbor, a ginger-locked cutey, and when she leaves town he lands the more slightly more chaste (sort of) Francesco (Francesca Marciano), with whom he develops a relationship which lasts for most of the film, wink wink. 

The villagers, shopkeepers and restaurateurs seem like they're hiding something and at the same time you get the feeling they are quite aware of pretty much every move that Stefano makes, it's an odd feeling. Stefano encounters an old friend Antonio (Glulio Pizzirani) in town who as it turns out was the one whom recommended him for the job, as they catch up it is revealed that he too has heard about the enigmatic painter and later phones Stefano urging him to come to his apartment for he has uncovered some disturbing information about the fresco. Stefano rushes over just in time to witness Antonio plummet to his death from his upper-tier apartment window, a shadowy figure is glimpsed in the window above.


The police arrive but of course are not convinced there has been any foul-play in Antonio's death despite Stefano's concerns, unable to leave the mystery alone he sets out to uncover more of the Legnani story, eventually discovering that his body was never actually recovered and the whereabouts of his sisters are unknown, as the web of mystery slowly unravels the body count rises and we earn ourselves a true shocker of an ending!

The tense atmosphere and feelings of mistrust that director Pupi Avati generates is palpable, you can almost taste it, very few films cam muster up the paranoia and dread that this shocker oozes practically from the first scene, it brought to mind the earlier films of Roman Polanski (Repulsion, The Tenant) and Lucio Fulci's superb Don't Torture a Duckling (1972), the cinematographer capturing the gorgeous northern Italian scenery, aging architecture and water canals, it's quite a beautiful film.


 The House with the Laughing Windows (1976) first came to my attention via Euro-cult circles on the web and was often cited as a first-rate Giallo, which I think is a bit off the mark. It's more along the lines of the aforementioned Don't Torture a Duckling (1972), the folk-horror classic The Wicker Man (1973) minus the gore or Mario Bava's Gothic creeper Kill Baby, Kill (1966), and lacks many of the characteristics of what I would call a Giallo, such as a black-gloved killer, elaborately gory deaths, erotic sex, and Argento-esque camera work, all these qualities are notably absent or in short supply. Actually, the sex is pretty chase (no nudity) and the deaths are far and few between and many happen off screen. Not to say it's bloodless, it's  book-ended by a bloody sepia-tone title sequence (which brought to mind Fulci's The Beyond) and that previously mentioned shocker-ending which pays of the viewers patience ten-fold, so it's not completely absent, it's just not in copious amounts. 

DVD: The House with the Laughing Windows (1976) is presented on region-FREE PAL formatted DVD from Shameless Screen Entertainment with a new transfer restored from the original negative under the  supervision of director Pupi Avati and it's quite nice. The image is anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with a layer of film grain that is a bit more present during some of the darker scenes than you might like, but it's not too distracting. Colors are strong, the image is fairly sharp, and the disc sports some decent black levels though there is some crush and murkiness. I think it's unfortunate that we don't get to see this on hi-def Blu-ray, the cinematography is gorgeous and would look spectacular in 1080p with more depth and clarity. 

The disc comes with two audio options, Italian Dolby Digital Mono and 5.1 Surround with optional English subtitles. The original mono comes through clean and well-balanced while the 5.1 opens up things a bit with the minimalist but effectively creepy score bleeding into the surrounds, it's not an overly dynamic surround track but it's effective. 



Extras include a pretty great interview with the director of the film Pupi Avati conducted in Italian with English subtitles, it is both fascinating and articulate, turned me into an instant fan. It's a shame Avati didn't make more horror films, I will definitely be seeking out his other films right away, I am quite impressed with my introduction to his work. There's also a theatrical trailer and a trailer gallery with nine trailers from the Shameless catalog, some fun stuff. 

Special Features: 
- Brand New Transfer Restored Under the Supervision of Director Pupi Avati 
- New Improved English Subtitles 
- New Exclusive Interview with Director Pupi (20:25)
- Theatrical Trailer (3:27) 
- Shameless Trailer Park: The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, Almost Human, The New York Ripper, Don't Torture a Duckling, Cannibal Holocaust, The House on the Edge of the Park, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Dellamorte Dellamore, Amsterdamned (10:27) 

Verdict: The House with the Laughing Windows (1976) gets a very nice standard-def DVD presentation from Shameless Screen Entertainment, as for the film, it's a tense, paranoid slow-burn slice of Euro-cult cinema and maybe the deliberate pace and absence of viscera might turn off a few watchers but it's layered with atmosphere and dread and I think it's a superb watch, highly recommended. 

4 Outta 5 

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