(Lamberto Bava, 1980)
Lamberto's directorial debut Macabre is arguably his best film. It is well-written (in collaboration with Pupi Avati), with proper character development and a gripping story. It is also beautifully filmed, and has a haunting soundtrack. The acting is actually pretty good, though the horrendously-dubbed voices might detract from the experience for some viewers. The story is fairly simple, and I will include spoilers, as anyone who has considered watching this already knows the "big secret/twist" from hundreds of other reviews.
Jane Baker (Bernice Stegers) has been having an affair with Fred and leaving her daughter Lucy and son Michael home alone while she does so. While with Fred one afternoon, Jane receives a call from Lucy informing her that Michael has drowned in the bathtub (unknown to her is that Lucy drowned him). In a panicked rush to get home, they crash into a guardrail, which smashes through the windshield and decapitates Fred.
After a year of psychiatric treatment, Jane returns to the boarding house where she and Fred used to frolic. The owner, Mrs Duvall, has since passed away, and left the property to her blind son Robert. Robert has always carried a torch for Jane, and immediately welcomes her. He becomes suspicious of her behavior, though, when she starts getting nightly visits from Fred. His curiosity is further piqued when he discovers, whilst snooping through her room, that she keeps a lock on her freezer.
Lucy, eager as ever to torment her now (assumed) stable mother, starts playing mind games with Jane. She tricks Robert into allowing her into Jane's room, for the sole purpose of leaving Jane a photo of Michael and messing-up Fred's side of the bed. I won't tell what Lucy does to Jane at the dinner table, but it's NOT very appetizing. Needless to say, when Jane finally loses it, she LOSES it!
This is easily the most restrained film Lamberto Bava ever made, most likely because it was co-written by Pupi Avati, director of The House With Laughing Windows & Zeder. Though short on blood, the violence IS shocking in nature. What it really has going for it is style. A LOT of effort went into the composition and detail of each scene. One might notice in some scenes that Jane and Robert's wardrobes match the gloomy interior of the house too well, as though they themselves are a part of it. Lucy and Michael, in blue and red, match the family home. The beginning of Macabre is awash with sunlight. Sprinklers are sprinkling and lawnmowers humming. After Jane's release from the ward, the sunlight is scattered, broken up by trees and the iron grill-work of the city. It then becomes an overcast grey as Jane wanders through the streets on her way to the graveyard. In the last segment of the film the only light is from candles, and Jane blends seamlessly into the shadows in her black nightgown. Bava and Avati managed to create a near-perfect modern Gothic with Macabre.
The story itself is fairly profound, no small feat for a film of this type. One could say it's a story of unrequited love. Jane is cut off from her family, and pining for her dead lover. She actually thinks he is still alive, somehow. Lucy is jealous of Jane's love for Michael and Fred, and her father's love for Jane. Finally, poor virginal Robert sits alone in a dark room at night, cleaning musical instruments while listening to Jane romp about with Fred. If you grasp the metaphor there, you will surely gasp in awkward surprise when Robert asks Lucy if she's ever seen a saxophone before. His situation isn't improved by Jane's constant flirting.
The soundtrack by Ubaldo Continiello is spot-on. Though a little dated, it lends a rather wistful air to the proceedings, and switches to a deep, throbbing beat during Jane's night time scenes. As I mentioned previously, some of the the dubbing is atrocious; Lucy's voice has the charming quality of a parakeet being forced through a meat grinder. I'm hoping there's an Italian print somewhere with subtitles, as the voices (and the cheesy surprise ending) are my only complaint. Highly recommended for those who have an attention span and a pair of forgiving ears.
8 months ago