As the son of that great Italian director Mario Bava, Lamberto Bava cut his teeth as assistant director on many of his father's greatest films, developing and refining his technical talents before he ever came to direct a movie himself. Not surprising then, that his directorial debut would feel very much in the same vein as some of Mario's well-remembered genre movies, particularly the later films such as "Shock" where Mario's ill-health meant that Lamberto was taking an even greater role than ever. Gothic themes like the interchangeability of love and madness, and how evil can take the innocent form of a child, that predominated in classics like "Kill Baby ... Kill" and "Twist of The Death Nerve", are also very much in evidence in "Macabre"; although there is the sense that Lamberto is always teetering on the edge of satirising his father's great heritage without really having the strength of conviction to go all the way.
"Macabre" ends up as a highly uneven film that veers between the two extremes of being one moment a Polanskiesque and sedately-paced piece of psychological horror, the next a hysterically overwrought example of Italian exploitation at its silliest. The film remains a curiosity though, and, despite a certain languor in the drawn-out narrative (in reality this is a very simple story that feels stretched, even over eighty minutes) it has to been seen to be believed — simply for the last few seconds, which have either to be the best example of misjudged tone in film history, or the final crazy payoff in a story that was always meant as a joke to start with. The choice is yours.
The film starts with hot MILF Jane Baker (Bernice Stegers) blithely abandoning her preteen daughter Lucy (Veronica Zinny) and toddler son, to go off for a spot of extra-material dalliance with her lover Fred (Roberto Posse), while her stodgy, past-it businessman husband is at work. The two lovers regularly meet up at a rented flat at a clapped-out boarding lodge that would have once been an ornately furnished luxury hotel, but which has since fallen into disrepair and is presided over by a decrepit, semi-senile old woman who still baths and washes her grown-up blind son, Robert (Stanko Molnar).
Meanwhile, home alone, Lucy does what any self-respecting little girl given carte blanche around the house would do: she smokes a few illicit fags, rifles through her mum's bras and knickers ... and lures her little brother into the bathroom with a toy sailing boat and drowns him in the bath!
On hearing the news, a distraught Jane gets Fred to speed her back home. Unfortunately, in the rush, the car hits the curb and crashes through a side guard that smashes through the windscreen, decapitating poor Fred and leaving a screaming Jane marinating in her boyfriend's steaming brains.
It's a year later, and Jane has just been released from a mental health clinic after the trauma of her horrific experience. Now estranged from her former husband, she goes back to live alone at the old flat, where the blind Robert now runs things on his own after the death of his aged mother. The place is a boarding house in name only, since all the electricity has been turned off and the crumbling building is even more dusty and disused than ever, with no other residents anywhere in evidence; although Jane's old room still seems to have been kept relatively clean, for some reason.
Soon though, the reserved young blind man, Robert, gets the hots for Jane and starts dressing himself up in his best check shirt-and-tie combo, and nifty tweed jacket. However, he's getting the brush-off all the time (although she's not adverse to walking around naked in his blind presence) and he starts to hear the sound of love making coming from Jane's room, the calling out of Fred's name, even though no one ever seems to visit Jane and Fred was reported dead in newspapers at the time of the accident. Robert starts to become obsessed with what might be really going on in Jane's room, particularly in what she keeps hidden inside the freezer drawer, which has a lock on it!
Jane's murderous daughter Lucy proves as dangerous as ever, and manipulates Robert into letting her gain entry to Jane's room while her mother's out, leading to the discovery of the macabre secret: Jane keeps a shrine to Fred in her bedroom and his maggot-ridden decapitated head in the freezer, preserving it for frenzied bouts of lovemaking in the sexy undies bought from downtown New Orleans boutiques! Little Lucy wastes no time in concocting an evil scheme that leads to a bizarre and deadly climax!
The film was shot over a period of four weeks in Italy, with a week of extra location shooting in New Orleans with lead actress, Bernice Stegers. Italian films were often set in either America or Britain in those days to help overseas sales and distribution, although like most of these films, the bad dubbing gives the film's true provenance away pretty quickly. The script was co-written by Lamberto Bava with a number of collaborators, one of which was Pupi Avati, director of the cult giallo "The House with the Windows that Laughed". "Macabre" shares with that film its slow deliberate pacing and a thoroughly crazy final few minutes that take the film out of the straight mini Hitchcock thriller format (which Hammer films perfected in the late-Sixties and Seventies) and into the territory of the utterly strange and surreal. At least "Macabre" paves the way for the sudden switch in tone with its title!
By no means a classic of its genre, the film is weird enough to find a new audience in each generation of Euro Horror fans, simply by virtue of the important familial connections and it's particularly off-the-wall finale. Arrow Video present a relatively good print and the extras consist of a trailer, a photo gallery and a short featurette on Italian Exploitation movies with contributions from the ubiquitous Joe Dante and Lamberto Bava himself; as well as comment from Cannibal Holocaust director, Ruggero Deodato.