I’ve been writing about a lot of 2011 films lately, and I still have plenty more upcoming. I’ll take a quick detour to write on this classic giallo from Pupi Avati. Unlike most of his bigger-named genre counterparts, Avati did not work exclusively in the slasher genre. He hardly made any, in fact. He did do some uncredited work on the script for Salo, but otherwise I’m sad to day that I’m largely unfamiliar with his work.
If I were to make a list of best giallos, The House of the Laughing Windows would most certainly be near the top. From the opening, Masque of the Red Death-like, introduction, through the gender-bending finale, The House keeps a consistent mood throughout. I won’t bore with the classic techniques that are at play here, but suffice to say that there are black gloves, whispered phone calls, and low-angle shots of knives being raised.
Stefano (Lino Capolicchio) is a restorer hired to do work on a painting of Saint Sebastian by a mentally deranged artist. Once his work begins he starts receiving threatening phone calls and those around him begin dying.
Maybe a touch below some of the best Argento and Bava flicks, and on par with The Fifth Cord (which I recently wrote about), The House succeeds firstly with its script, which is an original entry amidst the oft-standard psycho-killer fare. Not that The House doesn’t feature its own psycho-killer, but rather the identity and causality are well obscured and differ from straight-up psychotic revenge.
The House is also essentially a sub-genre mashup, taking the slasher films and style of the time, and incorporating a mise-en-scene similar to that found in early-Corman or Hammer films in a winking nod to a potential influence.
Some camera moves are simple, understated, and fluid. One shot, which isn’t action-based, still speaks to the general way in Avati plans his shots. The camera is situated under a bridge, composing Stefano in a frame-within-a-frame as he approaches from the distance of the shot. Stefano walks up the stairs that are frame right. As he does so the camera dollies forward, motivated by his passing action, and tilts and pans to frame him, now from behind, finishing his climb up the stairs. The foreground of the bridge makes for nice movement in the shot on the initial dolly, and the whole thing feels natural, as though Stefano is willing the camera towards him. The initial placement under the bridge is intentionally, and mistakenly, voyeuristic, creating a subtle sense of tension even when no one else is actually present. It’s framing and blocking like this throughout that raises the production value of the film in comparison many peers.
Here’s the poster for the film:
And here’s a still from the film featuring the titular house:
The former is a really nice, simple, and exploitive graphic design, featuring the oddly creepy “laughing windows” from the latter, and injecting the necessary amount of sexual violence to please a giallo crowd.
I recently read another blogger’s post about this film comparing it with Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, a favorite of mine. You can read that blog post here:
I think it’s an unfair comparison, largely for purposes of intention. Where the Roeg film is a thriller that relies heavily on the subjectivity and mental state of its protagonist to find true shock value in its reveal, and also features a sense of place that is downright eerie, Avati’s film searches less for the psychological and revels in its own savagery. Why else begin with such a long – and admittedly tiresome – introduction of heavily post-produced torture? The film does feature its own sense of space and place – one that predates and influences DePalma’s Obsession – but that is more concerned with open, creepiness than the odd claustrophobia in Roeg’s film.
If the giallo begins with Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much in 1963 and goes until god-knows-when (Argento sure is trying – unsuccessfully – to keep it alive), The House is smack in the heyday, right around the same time as Deep Red and The Killer Must Kill Again. But if you look at this film within that context, its aesthetics differ from the Lenzi’s and Fulci’s out there, in that its giallo insistence isn’t at the detriment of the film. Avati uses those tropes to get the narrative rolling and then all but abandons them over the course of the third act, which draws as much from a Psycho as anything else.