Stefano (Lino Capolicchio) is a renown restorer of paintings. When he is called to a semi-derelict island by a mysterious benefactor to revive a rather macabre fresco in an ancient local church (the artwork, he’s told, was defaced by the Nazis some 20 years previously, when the SS occupied the small village), it’s all in a day’s work. Even when a little person straight out of Twin Peaks (though the Lynch series wasn’t even invented yet) meets him at the ferry, or when it turns out the altar boys have hair on their chests, or when the local schoolmarm greets him with a roll between the sheets… Stefano is cool as a cucumber. He works on the bizarre fresco by day and stays in an isolated mansion by night where the windows laugh.
Actually, the windows are probably the only things still smiling after the end credits have rolled on this bizarre bit of Italian horror (made in 1976 but not put onto DVD for the U.S. market until recently). The extremely uneven film does pay off in the end, but you may not be able to stick with it that long. It’s either very poorly edited, or it as been hacked to bits and the pieces lost over the years – there are basically no segues from scene to scene, so it can be quite hard to follow if you don’t have your eyes open and your finger at the ready on the rewind button at all times.
The thread of suspense and terror, tenuous though it may be, is the local legend of an insane artist (the very one who painted the fresco in the church, naturally) who had such trouble separating himself from his art that he eventually died for it in a flurry of blood and drama. (However, if you’re looking for giallo gore or stylized slasher sensibilities, look for a Dario Argento film instead.) His villa (actually the one with laughing windows; the Rolling Stones logo-like lips are painted on) is said to be site of horrible carnage, and the final resting place for many in pieces.
There are a few chilling, compelling scenes that work extremely well, and the use of negative space in the cinematography is often artful and sometimes brilliant. The use of voices, laughter, and sound is effective. The ending, as I mentioned, is a real zinger. But it’s all the stuff in between those few dangling carrots that are liable to put any but the most devoted fans of obscure Italian horror movies sipping espresso to stay awake.
Additional release material on the DVD of House With the Laughing Windows includes the original theatrical trailer, as well as fairly recent remunerations from director Pupi Avati and actor Capolicchio.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson