The House of the Laughing Windows ★★★★

Stefano, a restorer, is commissioned to repair a fresco in a small rural town in Southern Italy. The painter of the fresco, Legnani, was a famed, and reportedly mad, artist from the town and the residents want to use his art to build up their faltering tourist trade. What Stefano discovers is a town full of secrets and strange village folk (think: The Wicker Man) covering up the true origins of Legnani’s artwork.

The films title sequence sits at odds with much of the film as a man’s torso is repeatedly stabbed with knives whilst a demented voice-over rambles on about God and blood. The expected brutality and bloodletting doesn’t occur again until the end of the film. Instead much of the movie is surprisingly event free. That’s not to say it is not without interest though. Pupi Avati has created a film with a wonderfully creepy atmosphere and although he does resort to some cheap scares along the way he manages to ramp up the tension brilliantly. Some may criticise the pace but it fits in perfectly with the rural setting and Stefano’s laborious restoration work of the fresco painting. The film is suitably ambiguous throughout: A number of seemingly important elements are left unresolved and undeveloped (the importance of an engraved lighter is a particular curiosity) . If this is deliberate or bad filmmaking I cannot tell but it does add a general unease to the atmosphere of the movie.

I’ve seen a number of people criticise the ending but for me it is one of the all time great horror twists. I’m not a fan of films that add a twist for no reason (Haute Tension anyone?) but here it is a genuine WTF moment but one entirely in keeping with the rest of the film and regularly foreshadowed throughout. Few endings manage to juggle so many responses from the comical to the downright eerie but here you are left with a surprising, memorable and satisfying conclusion from a sub-genre that often had disappointing conclusions. The final shot in particular is ambiguous and haunting.

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