31 March 2008 | Coventry
The House with the Laughing Crawlspace
Although not nearly as acclaimed as his colleagues Dario Argento, Mario Bava or Lucio Fulci, Pupi Avati is another important and hugely influential director of the legendary Italian horror industry. His mid-seventies masterpiece "House with the Laughing Windows" almost single-handedly embodies everything the Giallo sub genre is all about and his still vastly underrated "Zeder" is probably the most unique zombie movie ever made. Personally I was enormously thrilled and excited upon hearing the news that this great filmmaker returned to his roots with the internationally produced horror-mystery-haunted house thriller "The Hideout", and even more excited when I found out the film would tour around the world's most prominent Horror Film Festivals in 2008. My initial enthusiasm cooled down a lot already by now because what I saw was a deeply flawed and too slow-moving film but still I'm more than happy to announce that Avati still remained a gifted storyteller and he definitely hasn't unlearned to involve his viewers into an absorbing (albeit overly convoluted) spider web of intrigues, twists and surreal elements. The film opens with an extended flashback of macabre events that took place in an Iowa orphanage during the winter of 1957. Three of the female staff members are brutally killed and two young girls, who are likely to have committed the vile crimes, mysteriously vanish without any kind of trace. More than half a century later, in present time, the still abandoned mansion is offered to the beautiful Lee to open her very own Italian restaurant. Lee was recently dismissed from a mental institution, where she received treatment for hearing "voices" after her husband committed suicide fifteen years earlier. Whilst working in the mansion, she senses a strange presence and hears eerie voices that actually differ from the ones during her mental instability. Lee rapidly becomes a notorious figure in town, as she intends to uncover the whole truth regarding the unsolved case even if it means harassing some eminent citizens with provocative questions.
The plot is compelling and potentially scary enough (much scarier than the majority of Asian ghost stories, at least), but far too long and unnecessarily complex. Lee involves literally half the community in her investigation and they all have dark secrets to hide or at least suspiciously behave like they do. This soon leads to numerous sub plots and detailed character drawings that eventually lead nowhere and exclusively cause confusion instead of extra mystery. There easily could have been less dead-end red herrings and supportive characters without it affecting the plot's denouement too much, in my humble opinion. Especially since the whole outcome of the mystery is fairly predictable as long as you think logically. "The Hideout" is primarily atmospheric and stylish. Given the subject matter, there's obviously very little action and quite a large number of potentially exciting scenes end with an anticlimax. Hey, I'm all for atmospheric, story-driven suspense, but *slightly* more action footage would have been welcome. The acting performances are overall decent, but practically all the Italian cast members heavily struggle with their English accents and the English top stars (Treat Williams, Burt Young) are reduced to the supportive cast. Along with director Avati, the brilliant Italian composer Riz Ortolani returns to the genre with a superb score as well. Recommended, despite of the minor defaults.