Macabre Review

Lamberto Bava’s creepy directorial debut might have been better titled An Icebox Named Desire. The easily offended should read no further…

The Film

The Bava family represents four generations of the Italian film industry. Eugenio Bava was the cinematographer on the silent version of Quo Vadis in 1912. His son, Mario, is justly celebrated for his reluctant career of gothic horrors, gialli, and any genre that came to him. His son, Lamberto, completed a long apprenticeship on his father’s best films before moving into the directorial hot seat, and his son, Roy, has worked with Argento as an assistant like his father did before him.

Allegedly, when Mario saw his son’s debut feature film, he stated that he could die happy because of Lamberto’s achievement. Bava senior died mere weeks after the film’s release and it is easy to see some of the father’s pre-occupations in the decay and tragedy at the film’s heart. If you consider Mario’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon you will find there, like here, a lover haunted by the dead head of their partner. Although it needs to be stressed that the earlier film is certainly far less explicit than what you will discover with Macabre.Scripted by the director along with the Avati brothers and Roberto Gandus, the tale of Macabre is culled from a particularly gruesome news story. Set in New Orleans, we follow adulterous Jane Baker as she deserts her children for an afternoon quickie with her lover in their love nest. Her nutty daughter twigs where mommie has gone and decides to take the opportunity to drown her younger brother in the bathtub. A post-coitus Jane speeds back to her home, her car leaves the road and a crash barrier takes her lover’s head clean off, leaving Jane screaming, covered in blood, and quite out of her mind.

Now this represents the first fifteen minutes of Macabre, and what follows is a real indicator of how hard Italian genre film-makers had to work to excite a jaded audience back in 1980. The remainder of the film is Jane returning to her love nest from a mental hospital as she spurns handsome blind landlord Robert’s advances and is provoked into further madness by her evil daughter. Oh, and a love story based on coprophilia, necrophilia, and a carefully guarded icebox.For Jane has found letting go too difficult and she has squirreled away her dead lover’s head in her freezer compartment as, at first, a memento of their past happiness and, then, a rather inanimate, almost, and rather rank love stimulus. I just invented the term “love stimulus” rather than bask in gags around “head”, and to give the director similar credit he does wait almost an hour to reveal the full truth about whether Jane’s locked icebox hides sinful turkey drummers, a voluptuous strawberry cheesecake, or not. I can’t imagine that having seen the cover art, you will imagine this revelation a spoiler but forgive me if you do.

That it’s all a bit loopy is pretty obvious. Despite some good taste and restraint, the film must finally rely on scenes of its female lead frenching a decomposing noggin and a final joking twist which I won’t spoil for you. The English dub adds to the nonsense with the whole cast given bad Southern accents, and Bernice Steegers shows eye popping commitment to her lunacy and succeeds in delivering some serious crazy. Best of all are some unintentionally funny moments with the blind landlord Robert whose reactions when eavesdropping on Jane’s nocturnal activities are chucklesome (the best scene is where he is actually cleaning a trumpet vigorously as he listens to the moaning above – or should that be buffing the bugle, I’ll let you decide). If you enter Macabre with a desire for rational characters – ex-hubby’s response to learning about the icebox lover is that it’s “none of my business” – or tasteful development of a dreadful subject, then you are loopier than the central character. Sure Lamberto is not his father’s equal in visual skills, effects, photography, or creating atmosphere, but this jaded nonsensical film is fun despite that. Macabre is bad taste, silly, and a guilty pleasure.

Transfer and Sound

Now there is plenty in the way of damage to this print, tears, burns and hairs and the like, but this is a very acceptable transfer. The external location scenes are of a lower grade than the studio shot sequences, yet the image always looks like film rather than pixels and it is sharp and relatively deep in its detail. Colours are well balanced and contrast is excellent, this is very nice indeed.The uncut transfer is accompanied by a soundtrack which does include some dropout and similar damage to the print with pops and hiss present regularly. Distortion is never an issue but the source materials are far from perfect.

Discs and Special Features

The Masters of Giallo release is a single layer disc and includes a featurette, a trailer and the same morphing photo slideshow of scenes from the film that you’ll find on other releases from this series. The featurette is original and contains interviews with Joe Dante, and Ruggero Deodato and Lamberto himself. The latter two speak haltingly in English and are subtitled to make their comments easier to understand. Bava talks about putting the project together, Dante talks about the joy of seeing such films in fleapit cinemas, and Deodato celebrates how film-makers like himself, Fulci and Mario Bava worked across all kinds of genre when the industry was at it’s height. There’s nothing too novel here but it’s welcome all the same. Bava also offers an introduction that plays with the movie.

The disc comes with reversible cover art like the existing Shameless releases.


A nice transfer and a guilty pleasure. The Blue Underground release contains a longer piece with the director but this release is available at a decent price from our affiliates so if you fancy a guilty pleasure you don’t need to dig deep.

John White

Updated: May 25, 2009

Get involved
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum
Macabre Review | The Digital Fix