There are certain things we come to expect when we sit down with a giallo, named for the yellow color adorning lurid tales of sex and murder popular in Italy as far back as the 30s: twisted violence and garish colors. Point of view kills. Hands covered in black gloves. Women in peril. We tend to stick to the cliches made popular by the films that captured the public’s imagination thanks to Argento, Bava and others, but what makes The House With Laughing Windows so singular is its ability to evoke much of the same tension and disturbing tone without so many of the touchstones the genre has created in film. Don’t worry, though. There’s more than enough to make this stand with the classics thanks to director Pupi Avati sticking the landing and making the film more than just a vehicle for violence.
THE QUICK SUMMARY: Young artist Stefano comes to a remote village in order to restore the fresco of a famous painting in a church. The artist Legnani really has a way with evoking the reality in his paintings, most of which portray various agonies with the fresco depicting the famous martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. In fact, the fresco looks a little too realistic, and Stefano soon finds that maybe the images are based on real murders. Soon enough he’s embroiled in a mystery the whole town seems to be in on. What happened to Legnani? What’s the story with his twisted sisters? Who’s killing off all the people interested in finding out the truth? And finally, what is it about the abandoned house in the country, the one with the laughing mouths painted on all the windows…
To be honest, I do miss a lot of the touchstones of films like Deep Red, Don’t Torture a Duckling or Stagefright, but there is a pervasive sense of dread throughout The House With Laughing Windows that’s heard to deny. There’s also something to be said about the story of a town denying the sins of its past and it connections to Italy’s history only a few decades prior. That combination of dread and a story with a little more substance makes up for the fact that for much of the film we’re basically stumbling along with Stefano. The violence is minimal – outside of the murder of his friend who’s pushed out a window (the town chalks it up to suicide) there’s little going on. If anything there’s more time devoted to Stefano making it with not one but two school teachers.
But if you’re willing to hang in there, when things do come to a head, they come to an INSANE head. We soon understand more than the obvious hook of Legnani basing his art on reality, and when the reality becomes a clear and present danger to Stefano The House With Laughing Windows fully comes into its own. The last 15 minutes are fantastic, with the twin becoming implicit in the crimes perpetrated in the name of Legnani and one more twist in the film’s final minute that just puts a beautiful bow on the entire thing.
All that and we haven’t even mentioned how disturbing the opening credits are. I won’t mention it here, but if you’re interested the entire film is available on YouTube here since it’s not available for sale or streaming anywhere except through third party sellers with jacked up prices. All that and an incredible title make The House With Laughing Windows a great entry in the genre and one not to be missed, especially if you want a slight variation on the theme of giallo.