With plot holes large enough to swallow up several haunted houses, "The Hideout" marks over-prolific helmer Pupi Avati's return to the fright genre, minus sustainable build-up or chills.

With plot holes large enough to swallow up several haunted houses, “The Hideout” marks over-prolific helmer Pupi Avati’s return to the fright genre, minus sustainable build-up or chills. Tale of an Italian woman renting a creepy mansion in Davenport, Iowa, was shot in English with a cast that could be politely described as “available,” dubbed into Italian, and left in an entirely half-baked form. A success with neither crix nor public locally, pic may have a certain camp interest in the Hawkeye State, but no farther.

After 15 years in a Minnesota loony bin, a woman (Laura Morante, given no character name) heads to Davenport to open an Italian restaurant. Realtor Muller (Burt Young) pushes Snakes Hall, a creepy manse that’s going for peanuts. Back in 1957, on a dark and stormy night, something terrible happened there — glimpsed in pic’s opening — when it was a rest home run by a controlling Mother Superior (Angela Goodwin).

Despite minor disturbances such as building tremors and the sound of a heavy weight being dragged across the floor, the wannabe restaurateur jumps at the chance, moving in three tables complete with place settings even before she bothers to clean up the joint. When she does explore, it’s only at night, with a flashlight. The local priest (Treat Williams) tells her she’d be better off in another house, but she doggedly sets out to discover the place’s horrible secrets.

The facts are slow to reveal themselves: Three women were killed that night, and two young residents disappeared. But who can help the restaurateur learn more? Disturbed local researcher Paula (Rita Tushingham) doesn’t have much credibility, and wine merchant Las (Peter Soderberg) is just threatening.

Avati’s tricks have gotten very rusty, with scripting as half-hearted as his direction. Unlike, say, the late Robert Aldrich, he’s incapable of turning the gothic into anything remotely interesting, delivering bland, predictable scenes devoid of tension. Morante certainly didn’t need another neurotic role, and other perfs are largely execrable. Former screen beauty Sydne Rome is barely glimpsed, while Soderberg hasn’t met a facial tic he didn’t like.

Exteriors were shot in Iowa (Davenport, not coincidentally, is the birthplace of Avati’s idol, Bix Beiderbecke) and interiors in Cinecitta. The production designers, at least, had fun with Snakes Hall, though Avati’s inability to appreciate the silly pleasures of the grotesque means the set is never fully utilized. Dubbing is distracting but up to the usual Italo standards.

The Hideout

Italy

Production

An 01 Distribution release of a DueA Film, RAI Cinema production. Produced by Antonio Avati. Directed, written by Pupi Avati.

Crew

Camera (color), Pasquale Rachini, Cesare Bastelli; editor, Amedeo Salfa; music, Riz Ortolani; production designer, Giuliano Pannuti; costume designer, Bettina Bimbi; sound (Dolby Digital), Curt Frisk, Piero Parisi; assistant director, Roberto Farina; casting, Denny Hitchcock (U.S.), Shaila Rubin. Reviewed at Multisala Barberini, Rome, Dec. 1, 2007. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Laura Morante, Rita Tushingham, Burt Young, Treat Williams, Yvonne Brulatour Scio, Peter Soderberg, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Angela Pagano, Sydne Rome, Angela Goodwin, Marin Jo Finerty, Chiara Tortorella, Tom Rottger-Morgan, Marina Ninchi.

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