Too bad, really, because as much as I do appreciate Demons and Blade, I really do think a different type of Italian thriller was blooming with Macabre (possibly only comparable to D’amato’s Buio Omega). It’s also something that Mike and the bots of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 wouldn’t be able to riff so easily, as they did with one of Lamberto’s other films, Devil Fish (season 10, episode 11).
After suffering from severe shock from losing her lover, Fred (Roberto Posse), in a car accident and finding out her son had drowned, all on the same day, Jane Baker (Bernice Stegers) is admitted to a mental hospital for a year. After getting out, her relationship with her husband damaged, she chooses to live in the flat where she used to have her, not so secret, affairs with Fred. The blind man who maintains the house, Robert (Stanko Molnar) regularly hears Jane at night upstairs in her room copulating with someone she is calling Fred.
The trailer spoils it, but it’s not that hard to predict what’s going on up there in Mrs. Baker’s room. Everything the film is alluding to is true, and yet, even when one knows what’s going on, the way everything is kept unseen, for the most part, keeps the viewer curious and intrigued, which does help the film’s slow pace. It’s pretty sick and a bit stomach churning to think about, and it’s just as gross to look at, even if an amount of restraint is used to keep the visuals from becoming too tasteless.
It’s actually not as gory and violent as one might think, which is helpful to know for those going into this for the first time. If the way things play out seem too far-fetched, stupid, or unbelievable to some, then perhaps it is worth noting that the movie was based on a true story from a newspaper article that co-writer Pupi Avati (Zeder) had brought to Lamberto's attention about something "macabre" that a woman did in New Orleans where the film takes place.
Jane, her daughter Lucy, and Robert are the three primary players in the story, at least among the ones that are alive, and despite the twisted situation, they are actually pleasant and enjoyable company.
Bernice Stegers arrests herself to the role of a post-institutionalized woman of questionable sanity. She’s a classy, attractive, and charming lady with a few screws loose and a sick, disturbing secret. My favorite thing about her is her smile.
Stanko Molnar is very exceptional as Robert Duval, the strongest character. I like to think that Macabre is his story. He plays a blind character who’s lived alone since his mother passed away, maintaining the building and repairing music instruments. His past loneliness gives his character sympathy. He finally has company now that Jane has moved in. Playing out a little like a drama, he shows innocent intent to clean himself up and cook Jane dinner and perhaps establish a connection with her. He’s practically turned away by Jane who’s more enthusiastic about her unseen company she meets with at night. Adding insult to injury is the downer of having to hear Jane have sex in her room above his.
Being blind complements the unseen horrors that Robert eventually becomes suspicious of, being present but never able to confirm his suspicions with his eyes but only with his hands, something that must make for hideous suggestions when he sleuths around Jane’s room.
Veronica Zinny plays a deceitful, wicked twelve year old girl, Lucy Baker (Jane’s daughter), who purposefully drowns her little brother in the bathtub at the beginning of the movie, part of what leads to Jane’s mental breakdown. Everyone knows it was an accident, except for the viewers, of course, so the way her character seems to live with herself without any guilt is an additional disturbing little element to the film. As an interesting side-note, Zinny is the sister of Urbano Barberini, a key actor in Bava’s Demons and Argento’s Opera. Apparently Macabre is Zinny’s only acting credit, which surprised me because for some reason I thought she looked familiar. It might be because she reminds me a little, just a little, of Felissa Rose, Angela Baker from Sleepaway Camp.
Some of you might be wondering where the fun is at, as I’ve painted this to be more of a mentally unsound drama than a fun horror film. It’s true that things are pretty low-key for the most part, but it does get crazy once all is revealed and all bets are off. The last-second jolt is a take-it-for-what-it-is moment that kind of cheapens the proceedings since the rest of the movie may’ve been a little too good for its inclusion, but, in all honesty, it worked for me.
The New Orleans location is a nice touch and was included to give the story some authenticity since it is based on a true story that happened in New Orleans. The location reminded me of The Beyond, but thanks to The Beyond, however, New Orleans will always remind me of that film (not saying that’s a bad thing). The local accents that the dubbing actors provide are an unusual change that, along with the mellow jazz score and that melancholic harmonica theme, really contributes to the film’s flavor.
Mario Bava (Lisa and the Devil), who died about two months after seeing Macabre, was very proud of his son’s film, claiming he can now die peacefully. The love for horror must’ve run deep in the family. If I was a filmmaker and made something like Macabre, I doubt either of my parents would’ve been proud.
The film isn’t necessarily all that shocking, just weird, twisted, and disturbing, conceptually distasteful but nonetheless filmed in good taste. Macabre is my favorite from Lamberto, and, for me, it stands above most everything else I’ve seen from him. Fans of this film should know that they can see Stanko Molnar play another blind character to similar effect in Lamberto’s tribute to his father’s Black Sunday, titled La maschera del demonio, which kind of reminded me of an insane blend between Michele Soavi’s The Church and Demons and is another underrated one from Lamberto.
It might test some viewers’ patience since the film is slow in parts and draws a lot from a fairly simple premise, but Macabre is pretty high quality, with good characters, particularly Jane and Robert, and a simple, straightforward story. There isn’t a whole lot to say about pretentious style and surrealism, as it trades those elements for drama and gritty dementia.