Macabre DVD review

Lamberto Bava’s 1980s Italian horror movie Macabre is let down by pedestrian plotting and a lack of identity — a curiosity for genre fans only


It seems that it takes only the most tenuous link to reality for a film to be ‘based on a true story’. Reality has become such a marketable thing that if something real has inspired an idea, it almost immediately becomes based on a true story, or inspired by true events. I recently found out that Shia Labeouf once drove a car. That gave me the idea for a screenplay I’m developing where he drives a car that turns into a robot and this massive robot war breaks out (I know it sounds stupid, but trust me, it’ll be brilliant). Before the film starts I’ll be adding the tag ‘Based on True Events’. 

I don’t know to what extent Macabre is based on true events. When watching the film, I felt that it was most likely the real key events spiced up for the exploitation crowd. But the director states in an interview on the disc that the film is based on a very small news story, which would suggest that the film was more a work of fiction. However, his English was quite limited, and this doesn’t help to explain why the film is quite sluggishly paced and dull in places. Now, I’m not suggesting that I know more about the production of Lamberto Bava’s film than Lamberto Bava does. That’s not for me to say. That’s for you to say if that is what you think, and I imagine that is probably your conclusion. But, in fairness to him, this is the Italian’s first film, made back in 1980. 

When I describe that plot of this film I’m going to be giving away one of the major plot revelations, so please be warned that a spoiler lies ahead. However, the front cover of the DVD does show this plot twist, in quite graphic detail, so it’s unlikely I’ll be ruining the surprise for anyone. In fact, and here it is, Macabre is basically known as the head in the fridge film. 

Macabre is about a young mother, Jane Baker, who, bored with her quiet suburban life in New Orleans, rents a room in a local house where she meets with her lover. Her daughter Lucy feels neglected and one day when left unattended drowns her younger brother in the bath, setting it up to look like an accident. Jane’s lover rushes her home as soon as she finds out, but his driving isn’t perhaps as careful as it ought to be, and he ends up beheaded in a car accident.  

Ad – content continues below

Months later, Jane takes up residence in the room she has previously used for trysts with her now dead and headless lover. The buildings owner, a strange but friendly blind man, is happy of the company but soon becomes concerned about Jane’s erratic behaviour and the sinister manner in which her visiting daughter behaves. He soon finds out that the noisy sex that Jane has been having is with a couple of pillows and her dead lover’s disembodied head which she’s been keeping in the freezer (how romantic). It’s not long before a bizarre showdown, triggered by her young daughter’s decision to make them a delicious ‘head soup’ lunch, which sees a violent ‘three-for-all’ between a psychotic twelve-year-old, a deranged necrophiliac and her well-meaning blind landlord. 

Macabre was released at the tail end of the Italian horror boom. As such, it sits uncomfortably with other films of the genre. It seems to be trying to take a step forward for the genre, but never quite commits and is caught in limbo. It’s trying to be a serious drama, then an erotic exploitation, then a bloody horror and then back through the loop again.  

From a technical point of view, the film is fine. It’s okay to look at (it’s unfortunate for director Lamberto Bava, son of Mario Bava, that his films will always be compared to the fantastic gothic look some of his father’s films had) and the transfer on this DVD is good. The music generally works, some pieces being particularly good whilst others are terrible. The acting isn’t up to much, but it seems unnecessary to be too critical given that many other Italian horror films of this era feature the same flaw. 

Macabre is not, unfortunately, a particularly good film. Reasonably well made, it’s hampered by an uneventful script that relies heavily on the impact of a few interesting scenes. It moves at a plodding pace and the pay-offs it builds up to are never worth the wait. It’s worth a watch if you’re interested in this type of film, but for the curious there are much better examples of Italian horror than this. Mark this one down as for genre fans only. 

The disc is nicely laid out, with colourful menus and music that is evocative of an ’80s video release. For extra content we get the trailer and a 10-minute making of documentary. The documentary features clips and interviews with the makers of the film, including director Lamberto Bava, and also features Joe Dante offering his thoughts on the genre and Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato. It’s a really interesting extra but is frustratingly short.  


Ad – content continues below


3 out of 5