Review: Macabre (1980)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #770

Also known as Frozen Terror
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: April 17, 1980
Sub-Genre: Psychological Horror
Country of Origin: Italy
Running Time: 89 minutes
Director: Lamberto Bava
Producers: Gianni Minervini, Antonio Avati
Screenplay: Pupi Avati, Roberto Gandus, Lamberto Bava, Antonio Avati
Special Effects: Antonio Corridori , Angelo Mattei
Cinematography: Franco Delli Colli
Score: Ubaldo Continiello
Editing: Piera Gabutti
Studios: AMA Film, Medusa Distribuzione
Distributor: Film Ventures International, Arrow Film Distributors (DVD)
Stars: Bernice Stegers, Stanko Molnar, Veronica Zinny, Roberto Posse, Ferdinando Orlandi, Fernando Pannullo, Elisa Kadigia Bove

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Simon & Garfunkel “Mrs. Robinson”

[2] Ubaldo Continiello “Macabro”

[3] Electribe 101 “Talking With Myself”

That Mrs. Robinson has a lot to answer for. While the term M.I.L.F. or “Mom I’d Like (to) Fuck” was famously popularized by American Pie in honor of Jeanine Stifler aka Stifler’s Mom, the concept predated this film by over thirty years. Speaking from personal experience, I know what it’s like to walk into a friend’s house for the very first time and entertain unsavory thoughts about the woman who packs his lunch every day. The one thing we don’t do in such situations is let on about the erection we’re desperately trying to conceal as there’s a certain code of honor between buddies that clearly states thou shalt not covet thy friend’s mother. But the imagination can be a wondrous thing.

One such M.I.L.F. who never failed to get a rise out of me growing up was Liverpool-born actress Bernice Stegers. My infatuation commenced around about the time I was first introduced to Harry Bromley Davenport’s Xtro in which she played the lead of Rachel Phillips. Don’t ask me why my groin was aching for Stegers when Maryam d’Abo was getting her kit off in the very next room; perhaps it had something to do with the fact that d’Abo wound up crystallized over a bath tub, sporting an extraterrestrial phallus that hocked forth gloopy eggs. But there was something about her that insisted I come over all unnecessary, in much the same way that a mother would demand we brush our teeth thoroughly before bedtime.

I blame it on the peepers. Between Stegers’ twin-sentinel assault and that of “the eyes of 1979”, Meg Foster, I stood absolutely no chance. My bedroom wall wasn’t adorned with her lusty image, that space was reserved for more “appropriate” teenage kickers such as Linnea Quigley, Kelli Maroney and Molly Ringwald. Stegers resided under my bunk with the other “Reader’s Wives” and I kept my proclivity for “mommy porn” strictly beneath the sheets. Given that Bernice turned 68 on this precise day last week, I googled her name with great trepidation. And do you know what? She can still put me over her knee anytime.

I ask that you set your M.I.L.F. range finders way back to 1980 and, in particular, Lamberto Bava’s Macabre; as this presented Stegers an all too rare leading lady role and 89 minutes on centre stage. Alas, the Italian director decided to base his debut feature in New Orleans, leaving our Liverpudlian lass spouting off lines in a dubbed over Big Easy accent that just feels wrong. I don’t wanna hear “Where ya’at sweetie? Got some pumpkin pie for ya”, I wanna hear “Where are you at Richard? Care for a cup of Chamomile?” Just to be clear, I happen to find the New Orleans tongue plenty sexy, just not on a bona fide Anglo-Saxon M.I.L.F. is all.

Come to think of it, I could do with a thorough dressing down right now for veering so frightfully off-topic. Unless I’m in the wrong pantry with a thumb in the cherry bakewell and strawberry jam on my balls, we’re here to wax Macabre right? Should poor Lamberto be reading this now with his English phrase book working overtime in a vain attempt to decipher M.I.L.F., then he’ll likely be making arrangements to have me whacked. After all, after numerous collaborations, this was his first foray into directing and signified the changing of the guard. His father, the great Mario Bava, was in grave health by the time this film reached completion and sadly passed away two months before it premiered publicly. However, not before a personal screening could be arranged, which drew to a poetic close with the words “I am very proud of you. Now I can die in peace”.

The baton had been passed, Lamberto would now forge his own path forward, and Macabre (also known as Frozen Terror) offered more than sufficient evidence that the family legacy was in good hands. It also coincided with the emergence of eighties horror as a bankable commodity and he took full advantage of this as the decade wore on. After following up with comfort zone giallo A Blade in The Dark in 1983, he knocked out a couple of gun for hire numbers the following year (Blastfighter, Devilfish) and it appeared he may have squandered momentum. Then in 1985, he teamed up for a second time with screenwriter Dardano Sarchetti and a first with a certain Italian maestro by the name of Dario Argento. The result was…

I love me some Demons and, to a slightly lesser degree, Bava’s 1986 sequel also. When you consider it was released in the same calendar year that George A. Romero’s Day of The Dead, Dan O’Bannon’s The Return of The Living Dead and Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator were gaining immortality, it had no right to do anything other than fester beneath the topsoil. Did it lay down and die? Did it fuck! I’d happily mention it in the same breath as the aforementioned and recommend it above all others as the ideal gateway fix into spaghetti cinema to boot. Highs such as this make Bava’s eventual departure into TV movie fodder all the more distressing. If you are reading this Lamberto, and you’ve forgiven me for the whole M.I.L.F. debacle, then I implore you to reconsider that encore. Perhaps you could give Bernice a call while you’re at it. Grazie.

Sweet Santa Maria, I really oughta get on with the task at hand here and have an teensy-weensy confession to make while I’m awaiting the inevitable string of Hail Marys. You see, the reason I haven’t breached the topic of Macabre in greater depth thus far is that there really isn’t a great deal to tell. There are certainly flashes of Bava’s distinctive style, at least visually, but it’s a long slog from buon giorno to arrivederci and not aided by a labored screenplay that places all its spicy meatballs in one basket. We all want to know what’s in the freezer and, with a tagline like “Once she kept a lover on the side. But that’s nothing compared to what she’s keeping in the freezer”, it seems positively cruel to keep it under lock and key for 80 freaking minutes. Bully for me then that I packed my M.I.L.F. goggles.

Stegers plays bored and desperate New Orleans housewife Jane Baker whose extra-marital activities blow up in her face during one such forbidden rendezvous. While she’s taking a length of discreet lover Fred’s leaning tower in their shady base of operations, her sweet innocent daughter Lucy (Veronica Zinny) is drowning her younger brother in the bath tub in a petulant bid for attention, as you do.

Worse still, while hightailing it back to the scene of the crime in Fred’s gas guzzler, his enduring knee trembles cause him to lose control of the vehicle and this whole sordid mess ends in twisted metal and decapitation. Talk about a costly affair.

Mercifully, a year in the nuthouse appears to have worked wonders as Jane celebrates her release by returning to the boarding house where their dangerous liaisons played out and is quickly offered her old room by landlord Robert Duval (Stanko Molnar), as though he’s been keeping it warm just for her. Estranged from her husband and only permitted scheduled visits from her psychotic offspring, it is left to Robert to help her acclimatize to her surroundings and he’s only too happy to oblige.

You see, Robert may be as blind as a bat, but breasts have their own braille, and Mrs. Baker makes a habit of brushing past him provocatively just to offer some milk and cookies in advance of his planned midnight self-defillation. That is to say she’s a shameless cock tease and gets some kind of sick kick from leading the poor lad on.

Those come hither eyes may be lost on him, but perfume can be a potent aphrodisiac when used as a weapon of mass seduction. Meanwhile, Robert is forced to endure all manner of sultry soundbites through the world’s thinnest ceiling as she entertains yet another lover in her boudoir. Night after night, he wanks himself to sleep, yearning to pluck up the courage to request a spot in her crowded fuck roster.

So who are these mysterious suitors leaping in and out of her bed linen like gay salmon on uppers, at any rate? Moreover, could it actually be one lucky repeat visitor hogging all that good breast milk? As Jane’s landlord, Robert feels he deserves to be let in on the secret and do you know what? I’d say he does too goddammit.

Macabre plays out like a Gothic psychodrama of sorts, running as far as it can with the whole “crazy attic woman” scenario and out of steam long before we arrive at the big reveal. Slipshod editing and a deeply uninspiring discordant saxophone-heavy score work undermine much of Bava’s good work, while his lens is seldom on the move, preferring instead to remain largely motionless outside of the odd pan or slow zoom. That said, while the journey undertaken is often arduous and the interior design painfully uninspired, he milks additional tension juice from every last creaking floorboard and shadowy recess. And we still have the small matter of Bernice Stegers.

With the horrendous dub opposing her at every turn, it’s hard to gauge her performance and her gradual decline into outright madness isn’t always entirely convincing. However, for the most part, she fares well and the same can be said of Molnar as her perpetual plaything Robert. Socially awkward to the point of reclusive, he never feels anything less than legally blind, and his glazed baby blues back up every blank stare.

It’s a fascinating premise and the players do their level best to sell the concept, even when things take a turn for the more outré as they invariably do with a slow simmer potboiler such as Macabre. The closing shot and shock alone is so utterly ludicrous that you’ll need a stiff drink once you can manage a solitary sip without snorting it straight out through your nostrils.

Necrophilia is an acquired taste when it comes to the movies and any filmmaker brave enough to tackle such a taboo topic is playing to a limited demographic from the get-go. So we horror buffs are easily appalled then? Not at all, but we are easily bored, and let’s face it, runs don’t come much drier than the thankless quest to rigor mortis setting in. Let’s face it, Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik films are positively screaming out for a dash of fast forward, and the fact that Macabre is best experienced on 2x speed is hardly a winning endorsement. But as a long-time admirer of Bava’s craft and proud supporter of all things M.I.L.F. related, I’m only too willing to turn a blind eye. I’d prefer if we leave the champagne on ice however.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: While thrilled to report that Bava gives good head, a single subtracted top box is scant consolation for our efforts here. That said, the priceless moment when Lucy learns of her punishment for drowning her little brother in the bath tub is the equivalent of a thousand grue-laden disembowelments. In the interest of ending on a positive, Stegers performs her M.I.L.F. duties like she knows which part of the videotape will wear out first, to the tune of full frontal, complete with neatly pruned eighties bush and “real woman” udders. Just so I’m clear, 43 is too old to still be breast-feeding right?

Read A Blade in The Dark Appraisal
Read Demons Appraisal
Read Body Puzzle Appraisal
Read Beyond The Darkness Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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