Among all the understandably gushing tributes to great cinematographer Gordon Willis in the wake of his sad passing a few days back, one project has been noticeably absent in the main.

Sure, there’s been mention of the likes of The Godfather and a handful of Woody Allen classics – but a whole lot less coverage has been afforded to Willis’ one stab at direction himself – 1980 trash classic Windows.

In fact, having scanned a couple of articles popping up in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter over the weekend, the film gets no mention at all.

To be honest, it is hardly surprising that these ‘serious’ publications have chosen to conveniently forget the existence of Windows, a film that truly has to be seen to be believed and one that firmly belongs in the ‘did this really get made?’ camp.

After all, a flick that revels in a psychotic lesbian stalking a neighbour, setting her up to be raped and even bunging her pet cat in the freezer in the process, hardly rubs shoulders with Oscar winners does it?

But for lovers of trash cinema this is pure must-see stuff, so I’d hate for it to get forgotten among all the tributes (although I admit it is pretty much forgotten to begin with……)

Windows kicks off with female lead Emily (Talia Shire) being raped in her own home in a grubby, mean-spirited scene that really sets the tone for the rest of this bizarre film.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Emily is forced (at knifepoint) to moan and groan during the rape to suggest she is enjoying the ordeal – all for the benefit of the rapist’s Dictaphone.

Naturally the police are informed and investigate, and before long the chief detective on the case, Bob Luffrono (Joe Cortese) decides he fancies getting in the pants of Emily himself – which I’m pretty sure would be a sacking offence if this film had any semblance of reality.

Anyhow, turns out the villain of the piece is wealthy neighbour Andrea (Elizabeth Ashley), who happens to be a lesbian.

She’s had her eye on Emily for some time (why is never made clear, especially when Shire merely repeats her mousy act from the Rocky films) and decides, in her infinite wisdom, that the best way to turn Emily from straight to gay is to arrange for her to be raped by a rough, surly taxi driver.

Yep, you’ve read that right – paying to have someone raped in the hope that they actually realise they don’t like men after all.

Emily, quite understandably, decides she wants to move to pastures new in a bid to start afresh, setting up digs in a New York apartment block.

But that doesn’t put off Andrea in the slightest, who buys her own place opposite, splashes the cash on some giant telescope and spends hours licking her lips and spying on her target.

Despite Andrea’s best efforts though, Emily does not suddenly wake up one morning and realise she has become a lesbian – instead striking up a relationship with the copper mentioned above.

All that does though is enrage our villain, who decides she will slice up her psychiatrist and one of Emily’s elderly neighbours, bung her wannabe lover’s pet cat in the freezer and start getting suitably hysterical.

It all leads to a face-off between the pair, which leads to a truly amazing sequence that sees Andrea playing the Dictaphone recording of the earlier rape back to Emily, moaning and groaning along to the noises.

I’m pretty sure if a film like this was to get made nowadays (which I highly doubt), I’m sure Andrea would have been killed off complete with some pithy one-liner, but not here – as the police conveniently burst in to cart her off, presumably to the loony bin.

The film lurches from one bizarre scene to another, and each time you think sanity must take over at some point, Windows succeeds in raising the crazy barrier.

A classic example sees Emily take a cab, oh-so conveniently being driven by the same man who raped her.

She recognises the brute, and asks him to pull over at a phone box while she makes a call.

Now in any sane world I’m pretty sure the police would not tell you to get back in the cab with your rapist and get them to drive you to the police station so they can be arrested – but this is the Windows world we are talking about.

The bizarre thing here is that Windows is stocked full of talent – Willis in the director’s chair, edited by Oscar-nominated Barry Malkin and featuring music from Ennio Morricone, among others.

All of which makes the fact that nobody stepped back at one point and said ‘what the hell are we making here?’ all the more strange.

Truth is though, if they had done then Windows probably would not have been made, and robbed bad movie fans of a sensational slice of trash cinema.

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.

  • Jeff Cramer

    I just watched it. And sadly, your description of the story is more entertaining the film itself. What struck me is how Gordon Willis moves everything at such a SLOOOOW pace that I couldn’t even enjoy this as a good trash. Any other director with the same material could have made this far more entertaining but no, Gordon has to direct this like it is an European Art House film.