What a treat! Back-to-back Italian genre films from the 70s and 80s! I’d not seen either The House with Laughing Windows (1976) nor Zeder (1983) before so the screening of both at the Hyde Park Picture House was too good an opportunity to miss. As if that wasn’t enough, there were the added bonuses of Pupi Avati himself being there for the screening and the fact that both features were being lovingly projected in full 35mm glory, courtesy of Cigarette Burns and their enthusiasm for all things film.
House with Laughing Windows was up first and was a treat. Despite what Avati said during the Q&A (more on that later) about this being an off-kilter approach to the genre, that defied as many rules as it observed, I’d say it was pretty much textbook Giallo. This is by no means a bad thing! We have many of the familiar ingredients: the lead character is from out of town, a friendless stranger in a curious town; there’s a gibbering half-crazed local loon (could he be the killer?); there are anonymous phone-calls; noises in the night; mysterious recordings; unhappy history; bad blood… Every Giallo I see only reminds me how much I love the genre and this seems every bit the equal to the some of the more famous – the Argentos and the Fulcis of the day. Its well-paced, undeniably creepy in places, a decent mystery: exactly what I’m looking for in a Giallo film. Top marks.
I’m not usually a massive fan of a director Q&A session: they tend to be pretty dull, with much self-important waffling on the part of the director and fawning questions from the audience. Refreshingly, Avati managed to avoid this for the most part. Sure there was some pretty self-indulgent rambling but it was all cut with a hefty dose of self-deprecation and some humour. It was quite lovely to see how keen he was to always move on to the next project, to talk about what was fresh and interesting to him rather than wallowing in the films of the 70s and 80s. When asked if some of his once-banned films would ever see a release, he simply shrugged and explained that with so many films under his belt it was hard to keep track any more. I remember a previous Q&A with Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato which took the opposite track: he still made out that his banned film was some long-persecuted artwork.
Onto Zeder. Although I’d say I enjoyed the two films equally, there’s no doubt that Zeder was the more surprising and innovative of the two. While I loved House With Laughing Windows for its Giallo familiarity, Zeder is a quite different beast. Probably best described a Zombie Giallo, or even just a zombie-mureder-mystery, its a zombie film (with all the re-animated corpse that that implies) set at the meandering, slow-build pace of the giallo.
I do love a good zombie film but they essentially play all their cards early: after a short intro, you’ve usually got to the basic story all laid out. There are some people, And some zombies. The people would like to survive. Zeder by contrast is all investigative journalism, night-time encounters and creepy old buildings. Our hero Stefano discovers some alarming messages hidden in the used ribbon of his second-hand typewriter that send him into detective mode. Of course, asking too many questions always irks the bad guys so Stefano soon finds himself caught up in series of threats, robberies and murders. It all builds gently (but inevitably) towards a gripping finale set in an enormous abandoned building. The choice of location is so perfect that I almost don’t want to say anything more about it… I’d be interested to know if had been used in other films as its great, hulking empty frame, overgrown courtyards and passageways all just seem to scream ‘cinematic’ at you.
If anything, these two films are going to send me running back to 70s/80s Italian genre film. They’re just done so well. Neither film is perfect, but they don’t have to be! They’re stylish, intriguing and creepy. And a whole lot of fun.