My evening at the Anthology Film Archives began with a quick hello to the festival organizers Alessio Giorgett, Yunsun Chae and Alessio Grana; I had meant to introduce myself to them on Thursday and congratulate them on such an exciting lineup, but they were understandably busy with Tony Musante and a crowd of well-wishers. It was a brief exchange – after all, there were people in need of stabbing! – but it was nice to hear them talk about the evening’s lineup, especially when I explained that I had intentionally avoided watching any of the films in the festival’s lineup while researching gialli. They assured me that both movies were among their personal favorites in the genre and that they had worked hard to come up with excellent prints of the films. Meeting them reinforced a lot of what I already knew; that they were fans first and organizers second, and that they were genuinely touched by the turnout from the first evening. My favorite part of writing for Paracinema is when the opportunity presents itself to help promote a really great film or event, so it was a pleasure to find the organizers to be as gracious in person as they appear through social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Kickstarter).
I was looking forward to the screenings of The House of the Laughing Windows and Don’t Torture a Duckling, but I was also a little worried about how well I would hold up. A long week at the office and a late night writing had taken their toll on Thursday, and although I had set up a caffeine drip (not literally), I was conscious of the fact that four hours in a comfy, dark theater would be difficult. I don’t say this to generate sympathy, but rather as a way of setting the stage for my thoughts on The House of the Laughing Windows. Because the movie nearly lost me.
I mentioned this on Twitter after the screening, and someone immediately chimed in to say that they had never made it through the entire film, so I’ll take it on faith that it wasn’t just me. House has as strong a start as any, complete with a ritualistic sacrifice and a truly terrifying disembodied rant about art and blood; it then presents us with a small town in the Italian countryside which would not seem out of place in a Wes Craven film. The natives, while seemingly welcoming to the main character – an art restoration expert working on a mural at a local church – are grotesque underneath the surface. Even the love interest, a local schoolteacher, has a few lines early in the movie that made me wonder if anyone in the village wasn’t murdering someone. What emerges from this interesting premise is a tale that reminded me of Flicker by Theodore Roszak, a book about a scholar who becomes obsessed with the work of a lesser filmmaker with oddly powerful images. The expert begins to dig into the history of the painting and the artist and attracts the attention of the wrong people.
The first 30 minutes of the film are interesting and suggestive, with at least one murder and quite a few darkly humorous lines. However, the middle hour dragged. Knowing that I was already tired, I can’t say for certain how much of that was on the movie and how much was my own fault. One person mentioned on their way out of the theater that the film had been a little long, and that “no exploitation film should ever clock in at two hours,” so I think I was not the only one sensitive to the length. But an hour and a half into the film, I was worried. I was slapping the side of my face to keep awake and faced with my first giallo that I really didn’t like. Sure, I recognize that some of the films I have watched were not objectively good, or even subjectively good, but until this point I had found something to enjoy about each of them, and I was sad that this streak was coming to an end. I was already making note a few things to cover in my article, such as praising the quality of the print (which is incredible) before admitting that the movie itself was flat and lifeless.
And then the final 30 minutes of the movie happened, and holy shit. All of the “exploitation” aspects of the movie that had been lacking up to that point, such as violence, gore, and nudity, came in spades during the final half an hour (though, in hindsight, I could probably live without the nudity). My guess would be than many Paracinema readers are already familiar with the shocking ending to House, and that I could probably discuss the twists and turns of the final 30 minutes in great detail without ruining the viewing experience for many people, but I think I’m going to bite my tongue. One of the downsides of researching the genre before attending the film festival was that I have seen synopses of most of the movies on the festival list, and while it’s one thing to say, “Oh, that’s what the author was talking about,” it’s quite another to listen to the people in the auditorium gasp or offer surprised laughter at what happens. I stand by my opinion that the middle hour of the movie is somewhat boring, but if you are brave or curious enough to stick it out, then you deserve an unspoilt ending.
Put another way: does the final 30 minutes of the movie make up for the slower middle section? Yes, absolutely. My experience with gialli thus far has been that it’s a genre of trade offs; the movies that rise above the rest are the ones that trade the least. The House of the Laughing Windows also serves as a kind of extreme example of the concept of the “set piece,” where all of the style and substance of the film are contained in these extended sequences of murder and mayhem. It is one thing to read on paper that these sequences are the real focus of a movie, and that the story is intended to be (for the most part) disposable; it is quite another to nearly fall asleep at the 90-minute mark and walk out of the theater completely enthusiastic about the film. Maybe next time the movie begins to drag on me, I’ll invite my neighbor to enact traditional terza visione norms and have a chat and a beer… at least until the killing starts again.
And what about Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling? Why don’t you watch this clip and you can tell me if we all had a good time.
Thanks to Giallo Fever! you can still catch The House of the Laughing Windows on the big screen on September 24 at 6:45 PM and September 29 at 4:45 PM. You can also see Don’t Torture a Duckling on September 27 at 7:00 PM or September 29 at 7:15 PM. Be sure to check out their full schedule of screenings!