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Macabre
cast: Bernice Stegers, Stanko Molnar, Veronica Zinny, and Roberto Posse's head

director: Lamberto Bava

89 minutes (18) 1980
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Mark West
New Orleans, 1979 and Jane Baker (Bernice Stegers) is having an affair with Fred Kellerman (Roberto Posse) at his apartment in a building run by Mrs Duval (Elisa Kadigia Bove) and her blind son Robert (Stanko Molnar). As the film opens, Jane waves off her husband Leslie (Fernando Pannullo), and goes to see Fred, leaving her daughter, the creepy Lucy (Veronica Zinny, who apparently never made another film or TV show, which is a shame because she has a real presence here) to baby-sit her son Michael. Creepy Lucy sneaks through her mother's things, has a smoke and then drowns her brother in the bath. Called with the news, Jane rushes home but Fred crashes the car and is decapitated in the process. One year later, Jane is released from the mental hospital, her husband having left her (and gained custody of creepy Lucy) and goes to live in the old apartment at Robert's (Mrs Duval, one assumes, has died).

It is clear that Jane clearly hasn't got over Fred and has erected a little portable shrine in her apartment, featuring pictures and personal effects (including a Visa card, stuck to the top!). Robert, who makes his living repairing trumpets and saxophones, listens as a secret lover comes into the house, goes upstairs and makes love to Jane. As his infatuation with her grows, Jane seems to realise this and teases him - she invites him into her room when she's having a bath then, later, helps make his bed and allows him to touch her, before rushing off to be with her lover. Creepy Lucy comes back into Jane's life, using Robert and his good nature to try and further unsettle her mother (she places a framed photo of her dead brother in the apartment), until everything comes - quite literally - to a head and the film goes into overdrive, killing off two characters (one in a bath, one in an oven), in a climax that is surprisingly effective.

Very much of its time (in tone, look and soundtrack), this directorial debut by Lamberto Bava is measured (or very slow, depending on how much you like the film), full of atmosphere and often quite beautifully composed. Although set in New Orleans, the film actually shot in Italy (with only a week of location shooting) and so the bulk of it is set indoors but that doesn't harm the film at all, the claustrophobia almost heightening the way the viewer looks at Jane. The performances are generally good, though the dubbing often seems out of place - especially since it appears most of the southern accents seem to be based on Joan Crawford (creepy Lucy, at one point, calls Jane 'mommy dearest').

But Macabre (aka: Macabro) is a giallo and so we need to know who the mysterious lover is. Unfortunately, one look at the cover art - and then the fact that the icebox in the fridge is securely locked - tells you exactly what you need to know. It's a credit to the film, though, that the make-up works so well - both in terms of Fred's latter appearance and also in the accident, where what you don't see is all the more effective. The Fred effect, however, does lead to a wonderfully barmy final shot, which completely changes the tone of the film and is explained away by a title card that really wasn't necessary (based on a true story!). I actually quite enjoyed the little shock, but I'd have preferred it not to be there.

I liked this film a lot, the performances and the overall feel. As a mystery-thriller, it's a non-starter, but as a horror film about one poor woman's descent into madness, more than anything, this works very well, if a little slowly.

The film comes with a trailer, a photo gallery and an 11-minute featurette Macabre And The Golden Age Of Italian Exploitation that is very good (and full credit to the Arrow Films folk, for putting it together). Featuring interviews with Bava himself (who also introduces the film), Ruggero Deadato and Joe Dante, it explores the way Italian cinema changed through the late 1970s and early 1980s, with everyone involved lamenting the fact that very few Italian films now make it out of their home country. I'd have liked to see contributions from some of the cast but you can't have everything.
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