Sunday, December 15, 2019

Macabro (1980)

... aka: Baiser macabre (Macabre Kiss)
... aka: Conspiración macabra (Macabre Conspiracy)
... aka: Frozen Terror
... aka: Hátborzongató (Creepy)
... aka: Macabre
... aka: Macabro - Die Küsse der Jane Baxter (Macabre - The Kisses of Jane Baxter)

Directed by:
Lamberto Bava

Well-to-do New Orleans wife and mother Jane Baker (British actress Bernice Stegers, who later starred in XTRO) can't wait for her older husband Leslie (Fernando Pannullo) to scoot off to work in in the morning. It's not that she completely hates him or anything. She's just got stuff to do, like sneak off to meet with her lover Fred Kellerman (Roberto Posse). Jane even rents a separate apartment in an old home from elderly Mrs. Duval and her blind adult son Robert (Stanko Molnar) just to carry on her affair. As for her two children, Jane has a normal young son but her pre-teen daughter Lucy (Veronica Zinny) is something else. While Jane's at her apartment, Lucy smokes cigarettes, thumbs through mommy's underwear drawer and even finds the phone number to the apartment and starts incessantly calling there, which prompts Jane to just hang up on her. What can poor neglected Lucy do to get her mom's attention? Well, if you're this little psycho, you're going to resort to attempted murder and try to drown your little brother in the bathtub.

When Jane gets word of the "accident," she and Fred jump in his car and start rushing back to her house. They're in such a hurry, and she's in such a distracting hysterics, that Fred goes off the road for a split second, hits a guard rail and manages to decapitate himself. The traumatic event is enough to send Jane to a nuthouse for an entire year. When she's finally released, she doesn't go straight home. Instead, she hops in a cab and returns to her secret love nest. Mrs. Duval has since passed, but Robert is still there and her locked apartment was left as is the entire time she was away.

The lonely and alienated Robert, who barely scrapes by fixing musical instruments and has let both himself and the place go in the past year, starts cleaning things up and making himself presentable again to try to impress her. His only real thrill before Jane went away was listening to her passionate lovemaking through the walls. Now that she's single, perhaps she'd give him a chance? The good news is that the amorous sounds start emanating from Jane's apartment yet again. The bad new for Robert is that he isn't the one causing them. Nor is any other man because she never seems to have any guests aside from her estranged husband (who now hates her guts) and daughter. So who is it? Why, the only man who could ever satisfy Jane before... and she's not letting little things like death and decapitation stand in her way!

As it turns out, Jane is keeping Fred's head tucked away in her always-locked freezer and has started "making love" to it by basically dry humping a mound of pillows with the head placed on top. The first question that popped into my mind was, "How in the hell did she even get his head there?" Just the idea that she was in a bad car accident, immediately found the severed head and somehow managed to walk miles through a densely-populated area of New Orleans back to her apartment without anyone noticing there was this blood-covered woman carrying around a severed head is just too ludicrous for words. The car accident itself would obviously prompt a swarm of onlookers, the police immediately being called to the scene and the authorities, ya know, actually looking for the missing head afterward. If you're to get any enjoyment out of this one, that's one major detail you're just going to have to overlook.

Robert, who's fallen in love with Jane, starts sneaking into her apartment when she's out and discovers her morbid little secret but he's unable to convince the ex-husband to help. Meanwhile, the daughter basically starts stalking and annoying her mum mom with her constant presence. She too becomes aware of the head but refuses to acknowledge it because she's desperate for her parents to get back together. The twisted little psycho does however manage to sneak a piece of the dead lover's earlobe into mom's veggie soup just for a kick.

First released here in the U.S. in 1983 under the title Frozen Terror, this is slow-paced and surprisingly restrained considering the director's later reputation as a goremeister and the distasteful subject matter. There's effective claustrophobic atmosphere, some genuine suspense at times, lots of great shots around New Orleans and interesting dynamics between both Jane and Robert and Jane and her daughter that keep things fairly intriguing through the slower passages. Unfortunately, the build up is undermined somewhat by an unintentionally funny finale and a silly freeze frame shock ending grafted on at the very last second.

"Inspired by" an actual incident that occurred in New Orleans where an unstable woman kept her dearly departed husband's head in her refrigerator, this was the feature film debut of Bava, who'd spent the previous fifteen years mostly working as an assistant director to his legendary father, Mario Bava. He also assisted other top Italian horror directors like Dario Argento (on Inferno) and Ruggero Deodato (on his notorious Cannibal Holocaust). After Macabro proved to be a success, Bava would direct many other films over the next decade, most famously the big hit DEMONS (1985). After the Italian film industry hit the skids, he settled into mostly TV work.

Bava co-wrote the script with Roberto Gandus and brothers Antonio and Pupi Avati. It was filmed in late 1979 in both New Orleans and Italy and has always been one of Bava's easiest-to-find and best distributed films. There were VHS releases from Avid and Lightning / Vestron and DVDs from Anchor Bay and Blue Underground. The German company X-Rated Kultvideo released it on Blu-ray in 2016.

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