Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

New Orleans. Long, hot summers. Beautiful, decaying buildings. Frustrated housewives. After a long apprenticeship working with his father Mario and with Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava jumped straight in at the deep end with this one, and it really paid off. It's based on the true story of a woman who remained somewhat unusually attached to her dead lover, and was originally conceived as a joke but soon developed into a full blown gothic melodrama alternating between dark humour, gruesome revelations and high camp.

Bernice Stegers, looking like a refugee from Dynasty but with heavier make-up, is Jane, a bored mother who likes to while away the afternoons with her lover in a guest house. One day she gets a telephone call telling her that something terrible has happened to her young son, and in her rush to get back she crashes her car; she is injured and her lover is decapitated.

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We meet her again one year later when she has just left an asylum and is returning to her rooms in the guest house. Its elderly owner, Mrs Duval, has passed away and it is now run by her blind son Robert Duval. Our first suspicions about Jane's state of mind are raised by the way she taunts Robert, knowing he's attracted to her, but as time goes on he becomes suspicious too, hearing her engage in passionate lovemaking every night even though nobody else seems to be entering the house. Just what is it that she's so secretive about, why won't she even allow her daughter in her rooms, and why is there a lock on her freezer door?

Macabre has obvious parallels with Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, with a vulnerable disabled character (Robert is played by Stanko Molnar, all cheekbones and fragile gestures) trying to help an increasingly unhinged woman who may be dangerous. In the central role, Stegers hams it up like a pantomime dame, too cartoonish to evoke our sympathy but compelling to watch nonetheless. The catalyst in their disintegrating relationship is Jane's pubescent daughter Lucy, who has dark secrets of her own.

Many people have criticised this film for its ending, which produced delighted laughter in the audience I went to see it with. It's true that this makes it impossible to take the film seriously, but I don't honestly think anyone should be trying to do that in the first place. It's full of witty lines and deliberately OTT scenes, often taking the drama to the point of absurdity. What's more, it's that ending which ultimately delivers on its Gothic credentials.

What may be more of a problem for many viewers is the slow pacing of parts of the film, not something modern horror audiences are used to. The power of these sections depends entirely on Molnar's performance - at times he's reminiscent of Anthony Perkins in Psycho - but it may be too subtle for those attracted by the grand guignol.

If you're ready to take the rough with the smooth and you like your horror a little overcooked sometimes, Macabre is deliciously sinister fun.

Reviewed on: 30 Jun 2009
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A woman loses her mind after her lover is decapitated in a car accident.
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Director: Lamberto Bava

Writer: Antonio Avati, Pupi Avati, Lamberto Bava, Roberto Gandus

Starring: Bernice Stegers, Stanko Molnar, Veronica Zinny, Roberto Posse, Ferdinando Orlandi, Fernando Pannullo, Elisa Kadigia Bove, Carolyn De Fonseca

Year: 1980

Runtime: 89 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy


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