Review: Macabre (1980)

Macabre

Directed by Lamberto Bava
Starring Bernice Stegers, Stanko Molnar, Veronica Zinny

Before the ten minute mark of Macabre, Bernice Stegers removes her clothing. I said to myself, “Oh, how generous of her. On film and everything.” I would soon eat those words.

Bernice plays a woman named Jane Baker. Jane is a terrible mother. The second after her husband, Leslie, leaves for work, she runs off to rendezvous with Luke, her lover on the side, at an old boarding house. While she’s gone, her daughter (her name’s Lucy) drowns her younger brother in the bathtub. Word gets around to Jane about the “accident,” and the two illicit lovebirds drive back to her home. On the way there, however, Luke’s incompetent driving sends the car flying off the road and straight into a construction zone. Luke is violently decapitated. Jane checks into a mental institution. A year later, she moves into the old boarding house, where a blind man (by the name of Robert) has been left to take care of the place after his mother’s death. Robert can’t help but notices that Jane is still moaning Luke’s name in ecstasy night after night, a year after his death.

The plot sounds busy, but it’s really not. Half the movie consists of Robert, hands out in front of him, searching Jane’s room for clues, trying to catch a ghost. Lucy visits the boarding house often, acting upon unknown motives. She argues fervently with Robert, who is both legitimately worried about Jane and hopelessly in love with her.


The thing is, the plot twists aren’t important. Anyone who’s watched a few horror movies (or glanced at the DVD box) can guess what mysterious object Jane is hiding in her freezer. Macabre is a deeply disturbing film because it shows us so little. In one perplexingly hair-raising scene, little Lucy applies heavy makeup to her face, changes her clothes, and eavesdrops on her father arguing over the phone with Robert about Jane’s behavior. This is scary because no one knows what Lucy did. No one knows she drowned her little brother, and no one knows what she’s going to do next.

And then there’s Jane. Living above Robert in the boarding house, flirting with him, undressing in front of him, knowing he lusts for her but never allowing him to touch her. Jane, who goes out late at night to buy sexy lingerie for a dead man. Who sits in front of her mirror, laughing hysterically at her own reflection.

Robert must touch and feel to solve the mystery, and there are things lying around that we don’t want him to touch. Agonizing minutes are spent hoping he doesn’t find what he’s looking for while he stumbles around the run-down boarding house, hands outstretched, eyes blank and staring.

Macabre is made up of ominous tracking shots, mist-covered cemeteries, and a plot that refuses to let up. Robert keeps searching in places he shouldn’t. Lucy continues to mentally dominate her mother. Jane retreats further and further into fantasy.

The soundtrack hisses and pops. The dialogue is all dubbed over. The acting is all horribly over-the-top. By all means, this shouldn’t be so effective.

But when Jane takes off her clothes for the last time, I feel sick. I don’t want to see this. I want this to end.

Bernice Stegers is a good-looking woman. But Jane? Jane’s insane.

Links:

Amazon – Macabre DVD
YouTube – Original Theatrical Trailer

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