In 1976 Pupi Avati's LA CASA DALLE FINESTRE CHE RIDONO ('The House with the Laughing Windows') was released in Italy. No English language version was prepared and the film was hardly seen outside of Italy for 25 years or so, despite being the subject of much acclaim within the genre (see reviews in Phil Hardy's Aurum/Overlook Encylopedia of Horror or Gaetano Mistretta/Luca Palmerini's Spaghetti Nightmares for two glowing critiques). In 2002, the film was released on Italian DVD, with an English subtitles option. Nearly a year later, an American release followed, allowing Western audiences to experience what is surely one of the pinnacles of the Italian horror film. Avati returned to the genre seven years later, with ZEDER – VOCI DAL BUIO ('Zeder – Voices from Beyond'). This time the film was partly shot in English and a dubbed version was prepared for the international audience. ZEDER was released on video in the US as 'Revenge of the Dead' and marketed as an out-and-out zombie film in the style of Romero or Fulci. Viewers tended to be disappointed with what they got, and the situation wasn't greatly improved when, in 1999, Image released a very ropey transfer of the film on DVD. Recently though, an Italian DVD release has surfaced which finally allows ZEDER to be seen as Avati intended. After the neglect Avati suffered with his two horror films he retreated into the safer environs of the 'art house' market and refused to discuss his work in the horror genre for over a decade. In 1996, he made what may well be his final sojourn into the genre with L'ARCANO INCANTATORE. As with LA CASA
, the film has not had an English language release and can only be viewed on a poor quality (but subtitled) screener. Because of the problems outlined above, ZEDER was the only Avati horror film widely seen in the West until very recently
The film opens with a creepy prologue set in Chartres, France, in 1956. Dr Meyer (Cesare Barbetti) is about to conduct an experiment. He has a young psychic girl, Gabriella, brought to his house and forces her to go down into the basement. They're looking for someone and the girl suddenly falls to her knees, digging. "This is where you're hiding, isn't it?" the Dr cries. He rushes off to get help, leaving the girl alone. She is attacked by something, her leg being damaged horribly. After she's been taken to hospital, an old corpse is unearthed. A wallet found with it identifies it as being Paolo Zeder's and the Dr realises that the earth in which it was buried must be a 'K-zone'.
Cut to present day Bologna. A writer, Stefano (Gabriele Lavia) arrives home with a gift for his wife, Allesandra (Anne Canovas). It's their first anniversary and she has bought him an electric typewriter. They retire to bed, but Stefano awakes and goes to try out his typewriter. He (accidentally?) removes the ribbon from it and realises that he can read the previous owner's words on it. He transcribes them and the next day goes to see a professor he knows about what he's found. The professor recognises the theories espoused on the ribbon as those of Zeder, and explains to Stefano about them. Zeder believed that certain sites on Earth had special "alchemical" properties, and that they existed in what was essentially a "zero time". He called these places 'K-zones' and believed that if a dead person was buried in one, resurrection was possible. "The place I have discovered is the place the hierophant was searching for", states Zeder. Stefano traces the former owner of the typewriter through Guido, a police friend. This former owner turns out to have been a priest, Don Luigi Costa. Don Luigi became fascinated by the theories of Zeder, compelled by the fact that he had contracted lung cancer. Stefano becomes increasingly involved in the mystery, travelling to a camp where Don Luigi used to take kids from the parish for holidays. Meanwhile, we meet a grown-up Gabriella, who is working with Dr Meyer and a mysterious dwarf known as 'Mr Big'
As should be obvious from the above synopsis, this is no visceral zombie movie. Avati is concerned with atmosphere and tension, and as in LA CASA
he uses these elements to skilful effect. An atmosphere of foreboding and morbidity builds throughout the film, whilst a net of claustrophobia and paranoia ensnares Stefano, in much the same way as LA CASA
's Stefano is trapped. Avati once again employs his masterful command of space and dimensions, and his ability to use subtle hints and throwaway clues to suggest a network of conspiracy in a way that recalls Aldo Lado's MALASTRANA ('Short Night of the Glass Dolls') as well as Avati%9