The House of the Laughing Windows ★★★★

I'm not sure I would have thought of The House With Laughing Windows as a giallo if it's subgenre hadn't been pointed out to me before I viewed it. Quietly menacing and laced with frightening atmospheres, many of the more lurid aspects of it's brethren are absent and there's very little camp on display in what could also be classified as Italian folk horror. Some of the more familiar ingredients include creepy anonymous phone calls, a quirky cast of potential suspects and a doomed quest to understand a particularly macabre work of religious iconography.

The story focuses on an artist named Stefano who travels to a small town to restore a fresco in a local church. He soon finds himself perversely fascinated with the artist who initiated the project, a mentally disturbed painter who may have murdered his models for verisimilitude before committing suicide. He finds romance with a schoolteacher who's new to the area but nothing can fully distract him from dredging up the dark history surrounding his predecessor's legacy.

Wasting no time, the opening title sequence is nerve wracking and graphically violent, setting one up for a Fulci-esque gore fest that quickly settles into a bucolic slow burn with echoes of Don't Look Now. Nonetheless, the threat remains as it's a perfectly grim attention grabber that effectively casts a creepy shadow over the rest of the film. Pupi Avati's skilled craftsmanship also results in one of the rare Italian genre efforts that features a genuinely sympathetic male protagonist you really feel concerned for while ominous portents stack up in his wake. He's neither a jaded smartass or a buffoonish lothario. The movie's morbid excavations of the past inform it's meditations on sadism and murder with results that are much closer to homegrown outliers like Don't Torture A Duckling or Avati's own Zeder than they are to stylish, entertaining garbage like Strip Nude For Your Killer. Set among evocative, crumbling houses and other emptied out places hidden away in isolated locations, it's sort of timeless and almost elegant. An eerie sleeper.

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