A Movie A Day: THE HOUSE WITH THE LAUGHING WINDOWS (1976) + DEEP RED (1976)
Published at: Oct. 19, 2009, 4:42 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the newest October special horror run of A Movie A Day!
[For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf, recorded on the home DVR or streamed via Instant Netflix and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my usual A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day. At the end of each standard AMAD I’m going to include a recommendation of a genre film that is either one of my personal favorites or too good of a double feature with the AMAD title to pass up a mention.]
I’m getting in the pretty bad habit of putting these AMADs off until right before bed, when I’m dragging ass and just wanting to curl up under the covers and sleep. I’m watching the movies pretty early on in the day, but it seems like I’m taking longer to review them.
That might not be wholly bad as it gives me time to digest some of these movies a bit. But just on a personal note I’m really tired, so hopefully that explains typos and gives an excuse for any incomplete thoughts or other vagueness.
Today’s movie was Pupi Avati’s Italian thriller with the shit-awesome title of THE HOUSE WITH THE LAUGHING WINDOWS. The flick’s about a painter that is called to a small town in the north of Italy to restore a fresco in a church.
My first thoughts upon seeing the actor playing the painter (Lino Capolicchio) and the main love interest in the movie (Francesca Marciano) was how impressed I was with Avati that he built a time machine and traveled some 30+ years into the future and cast James McAvoy and Zooey Deschanel. I’m not kidding (much), they look creepily like those actors. The picture below doesn’t help my point as from that angle Lino doesn’t look very much like McAvoy, but I swear to you at certain angles he is the spitting image.
Anyway, the fresco Lino is restoring is a horrific depiction of a saint being stabbed to death. The mystery of the movie lies in uncovering the story of the original painter, a man by the name of Legnani, and why he was so obsessed with capturing agony on the canvas (or in this case a church wall).
Of course being an Italian giallo of the ‘70s there’s some grisly murders surrounding the poor restorer as his local friends start dying one by one. They all had some various bits of information that might help Lino solve the mystery of Legnani and someone doesn’t want that information out.
Tone is center stage in the film, which is the very definition of a slow burn. There will be quite a few that won’t have the patience needed to get through this movie and that’s not me judging or putting anyone down. I barely had patience enough to stick through the whole thing. But there were enough little booster scenes and characters to keep me from totally tuning out.
For instance, there is a sharp-dressed (in American flag colors, by the way… white suit, blue shirt and red tie) midget. If this movie had been directed by Dario Argento the midget would have been the killer and the movie would then have been 100 times cooler, but I’ll take what I can get.
Are the crazy last 10 minutes worth the 96 minutes the preceded them? I think so, but then again it was my job to watch this whole thing. I had to sit there no matter what, so any pay-off to a whole movie of build was welcome. You can’t go wrong with murderous old ladies and an eye-lidless corpse in a big jar (and that’s not even the big twist so there).
I will say I felt a little twinge of disappointment that this wasn’t a haunted house movie and that the house with the laughing windows was literally a house with mouths painted over the windows.
The acting seemed fine. That’s always hard to judge in a subtitled film, but thankfully the subtitles were included on the DVD and I wasn’t stuck with those trademark awful Italian dub-jobs. The photography was good, the pace was a bit too slow, but the payoff is there so that’s forgivable.
Final thoughts: Wow, I blazed right through that one. Which probably means that write-up was all surface level and full of laziness on my part. My apologies if that’s how it reads, but I just don’t really feel passionately one way or the other about this title. All in all it’s definitely a recommendation for giallo fans, but those who like their horror a little faster paced this one might be a chore.
All this giallo talk has me itching to include one from the maestro as the recommendation title of the day.
Ah, Deep Red (aka Profondo Rosso, aka The Hatchet Murders) how I love thee. I almost opted for a later Dario Argento movie, a favorite of mine called PHENOMENA or CREEPERS, starring a pre-LABYRINTH Jennifer Connelly because of the little person connection, but considering Avanti’s little person just walks around looking suave and isn’t a deformed killer I went more for same-era giallo.
I use the word a lot and have discussed giallos before, but if you’re not familiar with the term it refers to a specific subset of Italian crime movies. The word “giallo” translates as “yellow” and using the term for crime/mystery/pulp fiction stems from Italian pulp novels identified by their yellow covers.
Argento perfected the giallo with his early films like THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and popularized a set style of giallo filmmaking. They are typically bloody, exploitative whodunits where we see from the killer’s POV throughout the movie.
Deep Red works as a mystery, thriller and horror film, providing of the best films of Argento’s career. The story surrounds a man (David Hemmings) who witnesses the murder of a psychic from the street. He rushes up to her room which has dozens of portraits on the walls, finding her dead.
He realizes later the killer was there and he likely saw the killer who was camouflaged against all the portraits. The reveal of who the killer is is great and super creepy as the audience realizes we saw the killer as well, but didn’t distinguish the killer from the surroundings.
Joining David Hemmings as he tries to unravel this murder mystery is the lovely Daria Nicolodi, who was Argento’s partner and gave birth to their daughter, Asia, the year this movie came out (in Italy… it came out a year later here in the States).
For all the movie’s quiet suspense there is one “FUCK THAT!!!!” moment which is brought to us by a fucked up running doll. You can see it at the end of the trailer below. It’s scary there, but even more effective in the movie.
DEEP RED, TENEBRE, PHENOMENA, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and SUSPERIA make up the best work of Argento’s heyday. If you haven’t seen any of those it’s time to plug in some holes your education, boyo! And what perfect time to do it as the leaves change color and everything smells of pumpkin!
Here are the next week’s worth of AMAD titles:
Monday, October 19th: THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945)
Tuesday, October 20th: DEMON SEED (1977)
Wednesday, October 21th: STAGEFRIGHT (1987)
Thursday, October 22th: DEAD OF NIGHT (1977)
Friday, October 23th: THE SERPENT’S EGG (1978)
Saturday, October 24th: THE SWARM (1978)
Sunday, October 25th: THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1960)
Tomorrow we dip into the ‘40s again with a thriller called THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE! See you folks then for that one!
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