Monday, June 15, 2015


Pupi Avati, 1976
Starring: Lino Capolicchio, Francesca Marciano, Gianni Cavina, Vanna Busoni

“My colors run hot in my veins, they transcend me into darkness, they erase everything else. My colors will paint death clearly.”

An artist and art historian, Stefano, is sent to a rural village to restore the town’s church frescos. These turn out to be disturbing images of a tormented St. Sebastian painted by local legend Bruno Legnani, a mysterious figure who disappeared after some nasty rumors. Stefano attempts to learn more about Legnani, but the town soon turns against him — his friend is killed and Stefano is forced to move out of the hotel he was staying in. He takes lodging in an eerie old villa along with a beautiful new teacher, Francesca, who is helping him get to the bottom of things though it grows more dangerous for them both.

Director Pupi Avati is one of Italian cinema’s more unusual talents. In addition to co-writing the script for Pasolini’s Salo, Avati helmed The House with Laughing Windows and Zeder, something of a cross between thriller, sci-fi, and horror. The House with Laughing Windows was co-written by his brother, Antonio Avati, who also produced, and it is is one of the most unusual and effective horror films in the Italian canon. Though it is usually referred to as a giallo, the normal rules do not apply in this slow burning, dread inducing work, which has more in common with art-horror classics from the period like The Tenant, Mr. Klein, and Don’t Look Now

There are strong performances from most of the actors, particularly the handsome, earnest-looking Lino Capolicchio (The Bloodstained Shadow) in the starring role. The small town of The House with Laughing Windows is populated by inhabitants that belong in Twin Peaks, from the midget businessman to a woman who wanders around town obscured by a mourning veil, and another woman obsessed with collecting Legnani's paintings. Called the “painter of the agonies,” Legnani tortured and killed people (with the help of his two sisters) in order to use them as artistic models. Like several films that came before it — such as A Quiet Place in the Country (1968), The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Don’t Look Now (1973), Deep Red (1975; Avati allegedly had a hand in its script), and even British film The Asphyx (1973) — this film is the culmination of one of giallo’s major themes: the intersection of death and violence with art. Avati arguably takes this further than even Argento, as Legnani does not just draw on past traumatic memories, fantasies of violence, or stories of real-life horror to inspire his art: he creates the horror himself and his memory lives on to possess the town.

With this eerie space, Avati evokes the memory of Italian fascism. The town is ripe with postwar decay and there is a building air of paranoia and conspiracy that is enhanced by more typical horror tropes like threatening phone calls, creaky old houses, and unexplainable deaths. It seems that wherever Stefano goes, someone unseen is watching him or eavesdropping. While rural settings are less common in giallo films (A Quiet Place in the Country is an early example that would make an excellent double feature with The House with Laughing Windows), pastoral setting is perfectly captured with lovely cinematography from Pasquale Rachini, who excels at poetically framed shots. 

The Gothic feel of the film — foggy streets and crumbling villas that wouldn’t be out of place in some of Mario Bava’s works — is augmented by a minimal, repetitive piano and organ score by Amedeo Tomassi. This music essentially underlines Avati's excellent use of silence and places a visual, aural, and thematic emphasis on absence throughout the film. Avati’s most unsettling element is also aural: a disturbing recording Stefano finds of Legnani discussing his art with an obvious mania. This is repeated throughout the film to great effect. 

Fans of bizarre, unusual horror will love this slow-burning and atmospheric masterpiece. It’s dizzying, disorienting, and may be too much for some viewers expecting a standard giallo. The wonderfully ambiguous, though shocking ending will probably delight fans of Lucio Fulci and it stands as a fitting conclusion to a murky film that examines the uncomfortable intersection between horror, pain, and art. Though it was unavailable or difficult to track down for many years, there's finally a region 1 DVD from Image's wonderful Euroshock collection with a decent print and an Italian language track with optional English subtitles. Avati directed mostly non-genre films, but his few horror contributions should be more enthusiastically explored by fans of European fantasy and horror cinema.


  1. I love this film, and this is a great review.
    I agree with its non-giallo nature. As someone who isn't a fan of that genre, I can't fathom classifying HwtLW as such.
    I want to watch it right now!

  2. Thanks! It's definitely a film more people need to see.