"La casa dalle finestre che ridono" (1976) d/ Pupi Avati
Tonight, you get a real treat with Halloween hard on our heels, one of my favorites, an odd, cerebral giallo of the highest order from Bolognese writer/director Pupi Avati, the man who helped script Pier Paolo Pasolini's notorious Salo; o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975) and later brought you Zeder aka/ Revenge of the Dead (1983). What the film lacks in the conventions of the sub-genre, black-gloved killers or the usual laundry list of gorgeous victims, it makes up for with deliciously subtle moments of genuine terror, an unsettling rural community vibe of Wicker Man or Don't Look Now (1973) proportions, and effective marriage of photography and score with convincing performances from an able cast, headed by Lino Capolicchio, of Antonio Bido's Solamente nero (1978) and Avati's later effort, La strelle nel fosso (1979). This one is a cult gem of rare luster, brilliance, and fire that begs immediate viewing, if not permanent residence on your shelves.
"...what a brutal painting, they even shivved him in the tits ."
In a rural northern Italian community, an artist named Stefano (Lino Capolicchio) receives commission from their half-mayor (he looks to be a squashed hunchback dwarf of some kind) to restore an aging, creepy fresco on the local church wall, depicting two grinning dames sadistically stabbing Saint Sebastian in the stomach (alliteration, anyone?). As it would seem, the disturbing depiction was realized by a right unstable loon named Legnani, who famously pulled pain and suffering from his palate of colors the way Epstein pulled ABC to victory at that fateful Battle of the Network Stars tug o' war so many years ago. It would also seem that this artist of aggression had a pair of sisters so unhinged that they made him...look...like...Spock, in comparison. Slowly, Stefano begins to uncover the villa's villainous secrets and rumors; had Legnani's siblings slain sacrificial citizens for their brother's crimson canvases? As fate would have it, Stefano finds room and board in an eldritch estate at the edge of town, empty but for a bedridden biddy (Pina Borione) and a young mental midget from the church who performs odd jobs , while his friend Antonio, who happened to be investigating Legnani's life at the time, allegedly decides life no longer holds the excitement it once did, and swan dives out a window.
"We can't watch The Waltons and Welcome Back, Kotter, they're in the same time slot."
After scoring a choice one nighter with the local nympho-teacher whose bags are packed, Stefano also manages to stumble inside her successive substitute in a chick named Francesca (Francesca Marciano), and it isn't long before they're sharing his living arrangements at Secretive Shanty, and it's even shorter before they're both experiencing the place's evil ambience. Stefano's investigation leads him to a mysterious dictograph tape of a man's voice reading pernicious poetry, a journal dating back to the thirties, and ultimately upon the cruel artist's life residence itself, a weird little house with grinning mouths painted over all the windows, located well off the beaten path. He receives anonymous threatening phone calls imploring him to quit his job at the church, and when his restoration is later mysteriously damaged by acid, he decides to gather up Francesca and vacate the villainous village for good, except that the town's resident sot has decided to reveal to him the titular house's darkest secret, which leads to a far out finale that twists harder than Chubby Checker's sacrum that I couldn't, in good conscience, reveal to you here. See for yourselves.
"Maybe you should check out Buvat's work on idiopathic male sexual insufficiency...there's a great listlessness in your slacks."
For the more attention deficient horror fiends out there (from the current generation of you of the fedora, neckbeard, and skinny pants-wearing clan, no doubt... not mine, I can assure you that I was already a fully attentive ten year old for the entire run time of Dawn of the Dead in the theater), the deliberately paced suspense might seem a little long winded towards the middle, but for those fanatics whose genre appreciation extends further than a wisecracking Freddy Krueger with a rubbery prop head skewered on his glove-knives, this one will rapidly catapult into your favorites list, or near enough to it for repeated viewings hereafter. Naturally, it merits Wopsploitation's highest rating, four Wops; a mature and intelligent horror-giallo hybrid that'll effect many of you profoundly the first time you screen it. The Euroshock Collection print from Image suits me nicely, though there may indeed be a BD out by now, your call. Recommended.
"That's the best-ah tomato fight I've had-ah in years! Still-ah the fahking-ah champ-ah!"