If any director had big shoes to fill, it was Lamberto Bava, the son of Mario who is generally regarded as one of the greatest Italian horror directors and the 'godfather' of the Giallo film.
Approached to make a film with a script and a newspaper clipping guaranteeing the authenticity of the material, Lamberto Bava made Macabre as his debut feature to critical and commercial success. The third act reveal is oddly given away not only by the trailer but, more luridly, by the DVD cover - I would have expected them to keep it a secret, just as the plot twists in Psycho were closely protected but at least I don't have to pussy foot around them in this review!
The clipping that Bava was handed was only a small report of a woman who kept her lover's head in the freezer and that's what happens in Macabre. Jane Baker (played by British actress Bernice Stegers) is busy having an affair with Fred Kellerman at the home of blind musical instrument repairman Robert Duval. One day when she tells her daughter, Lucy, that she has a meeting to go to, the resourceful young girl goes through her address book and calls Fred's room where her mother answers. A little peeved, Lucy tries to think of something to do to get back at her mother and comes up with the obvious answer: fratricide! Luring her younger brother upstairs to play with his toy yacht in the bath, Lucy unemotionally drowns him and then lets her mother know that he's dead. Desperate to get home, Jane gets Fred to drive her but they crash and Fred is beheaded which tips her over the edge so she spends a year in a mental hospital.
Upon her release, Jane lodges in Fred's apartment in Robert's house where she has a shrine to her late lover and begins confusing her blind landlord when he hears orgiastic moaning from the room and Jane saying Fred's name. Does she have another boyfriend called Fred or is she imagining things? The answer is worse than both of these and is in the freezer.
Macabre isn't consistently horrific and I wanted Bava to do much more with Jane's homicidal daughter, but he's obviously a better filmmaker than I would ever be and knew what he was doing as everything is held back for the third act when all plot strands converge into a quite incredible ending.
As with The House by the Cemetery, we can debate Lamberto Bava's status as a Master of Giallo and wonder why this, clearly not a Giallo, is released under that title but it's good to have it available - I've never seen it before and it is now available uncut in the UK. This is a good thing.
The film has a brief introduction by Bava who talks more at length in the Macabre and the Golden Age of Italian Exploitation featurette which is largely dominated by Joe Dante's contributions. The disc also has the trailer but the set comes with a booklet apparently containing a Q&A with Lamberto Bava but I haven't seen this so can't comment on how good it is.
Macabre has not aged well as the film has scratches and spotting throughout and it's a shame that no restoration has obviously taken place to remove them. On the plus side, it's a very well shot film, well constructed and edited so the shocks are effective. Colours and clarity are pretty good throughout.
As with the picture, the soundtrack is affected by pops and crackles which vary in volume but are consistently noticeable. The dubbed dialogue is clear to make out and there's a decent score by Ubaldo Continiello.
Though I knew the major reveal, I really enjoyed Macabre even when it neglected the tension and horror for a more darkly comic theme in the latter stages. The fact that they didn't keep the 'head in the freezer' aspect a secret is puzzling as the film would have been so much more effective if that had come as a surprise but there is a decent twist in the tail that gets you just before the final credits. Lamberto Bava isn't a director of his father's calibre but this is a pretty good film with creditable performances throughout and a DVD well worth getting for any horror fan, particularly if you like Italian genre stuff.