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Video Essay - Pupi Avati's The House With The Laughing Windows

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    Ian Jane
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  • Video Essay - Pupi Avati's The House With The Laughing Windows

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    Rock! Shock! Pop! is once again proud to host Paul A.J. Lewis' latest video essay, a look into Pupi Avati's classic 1976 picture, The House With The Laughing Windows!


    La casa dalle finestre che ridono (The House with Laughing Windows; Pupi Avati, 1976)
    By Paul A.J. Lewis

    With equal parts occult mystery and folk horror-style rural weirdness, Pupi Avati's 1976 giallo all'italiana La casa dalle finestre che ridono (The House with Laughing Windows) stands apart from many of its contemporaries and their focus on night-time metropolitan horrors. Avati's film is set in a rural environment, mostly during the daytime. Often cited as a classic example of what has been called 'Po Valley Gothic', the name deriving from the region of Italy in which the picture was made and set, The House with Laughing Windows takes as its origins a story Avati, a native of Bologna, heard as a child when visiting family in Sasso Marconi: this story was about a priest whose coffin was exhumed, only for a female skeleton to be discovered within it. This story haunted Avati for many years.

    Including his most recent production, Il signor Diavolo (2019), Avati's films are largely inspired by such folk tales; and in The House with Laughing Windows, Avati marries this fascination with the oral folk tradition with an examination of the ethics of art. Through the film's depiction of the painter Legnani, whose obsession with painting his subjects at the moment of death, Avati raises questions about the nature of art: if the production of an artwork can be said to be unethical, does that render that work of art illegitimate? If an artist is known to have committed heinous acts, does that automatically negate the value of the artworks they have produced? In Avati's film, this story of Legnani, and the questions it raises, is connected to the legacy of fascism.

    With this film, Avati demonstrates his skill at creating a sense of unease through small gestures and moments: the fuzz of an aged reel-to-reel audio recording; a sandbag swinging from the rafters of an empty studio space; a window creaking open... very slightly, not fully - but open nonetheless. Its an incredible film, and what is even more remarkable is the extent to which, for many years, it was almost impossible to see: a film whispered about amongst obssessives of the Italian-style thriller, or read about via small yet tantalising entries in the likes of Phil Hardy's Aurum/Overlook Film Encyclopedia. Shonky bootleg tapes circulated in the 1990s, but thankfully in the 2000s the film found pleasing home video releases - first via the English-friendly Italian DVD release from Fox, based on a restoration of the film, and then via the US release from Image Entertainment and UK releases from Nouveaux Pictures and Shameless.

    Like the bodies in the shallow grave in which Legnani hides the corpses of his victims (or rather, the victims of his sisters' cruelty), The House with Laughing Windows has resurfaced. Thankfully.


    • Andrew Monroe
      #4
      Andrew Monroe
      Pallid Hands
      Andrew Monroe commented
      Editing a comment
      Loved this! One of my favorite horror films, absolutely haunting and unforgettable. The atmosphere is really tough to shake off after the film.

    • Scott
      #5
      Scott
      Intellectual Carrot
      Scott commented
      Editing a comment
      Nice work, Paul. The last time I watched this movie it left me unnerved for a few days after.

    • Paul L
      #6
      Paul L
      Scholar of Sleaze
      Paul L commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks for the kind words, chaps :) This is such an incredible, deeply unsettling film. It was a joy to put this together.
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