Gialloween Day 3: The House with Laughing Windows
Alluring sets, garish colors, and bustling cities are some of the major tropes that come to mind when the giallo film is mentioned. The House with Laughing Windows is the antithesis to the form, so much so that its total disregard for convention manages to transform the film into one of the genre’s best offerings.
Stefano is an artist hired to restore the painting of St. Sebastian in a small rural town. A friend tells him of a disturbing discovery in regard to the original artist of the work and is soon killed. Stefano sets off to find more answers, both about the death of his friend, and the secrets of the artist that may have led to it. The plot provides a basic amateur detective / murder mystery template that the giallo is known for. Outside of that, there are a couple of things that separate the film from the start.
The rural setting empty and sparse. Most of the architecture shown looks worn down. There is a thick sense of emptiness that pervades all of the set pieces. The usual lush colors found are substituted with desaturated yellows, browns, greys, and blacks. Even the attempts of the displaying better bits of the town such as an extravagant hotel come off as unpleasant.
The viewer is left with Stefano as he navigates through the rural town. Interaction with other characters take place but it is mostly limited to one or two people at a time. This choice is great for magnifying the isolation felt when being an outsider within a town where everybody knows everybody, and more importantly, knows everybody’s secrets.
The absence of the genre’s usual visual indicators combine well to promote a great atmosphere that is filled with mystery and dread. The mood of this film is palpable and only intensifies as more discoveries related to the painting and artist are discovered. The film takes its time revealing clues to the audience and builds up tension, twisting the peaceful ambience of the small town in to something horrifying.
The quiet buildup of tension comes to head with a harrowing ending where everything falls into place. The film utilizes some nice genre conventions such as a subjective camera view with some great reveals to really capitalize on its build up. Pupi Avati’s use of restraint wonderfully subverts the giallo genres use of excess to capture the mind of the audience, holding on long after the film has ended.