You don't always see such self-assured directorial debuts as Macabre. However, when your father is Mario Bava and you've hung around Dario Argento, it is not surprising that Lamberto Bava did such a fine job.
Writer Pupi Avati brought the project (inspired by a newspaper article) to him. At the time, Bava thought he was to be an assistant on the film. They wrote the script together and Bava was asked to direct.
Jane Baker (Bernice Stegers) lives in New Orleans with her husband and two kids Lucy (Veronica Zinny) and Michael. Her marriage is unfulfilling and she's made it a habit to sneak out for trysts with her lover when her husband leaves for work.
One morning, she does just that. She tells Lucy she is going to a meeting...but the little girl is savvy and seems to know her mother is lying.
Jane is driven to an apartment she keeps with Fred (Roberto Posse). Lucy finds the number in Jane's phonebook and calls her. When her mother answers, she asks her how the "meeting" is going. Jane hangs up and ignores the ringing of the phone as her pesky daughter calls again.
Jane changes into something more comfortable and waits for Fred. When he arrives, they make love - while a blind man named Robert (Stanko Molnar) overhears them. (He and his mother own the boarding house.)
Jane is in the throes of passion and is oblivious to what's happening back at her house. Lucy has killed her little brother by drowning him in the bathtub.
When Jane gets the call that the boy is dead, she becomes frantic. Fred immediately takes her in his car and heads towards her house. "I should never have left them alone!" she screams. She is so shaken that Fred gets nervous and crashes the car. Fred is killed instantly.
A year later, Jane is released from a mental health center. The first stop she makes is at the apartment she shared with Fred. Robert greets Jane and tells her his mother died. He also says he had been receiving Jane's checks in order to keep the place for her.
The apartment brings back memories. She opens the refrigerator door and we see that the freezer is padlocked. She goes back to Robert's apartment to borrow some coat hangers and informs him that she's going to be around for awhile.
Shortly after, Robert stops by Jane's place to invite her to dinner. She answers the door wearing a sexy negligee and says she is busy that night. She sets up a shrine for Fred and calls out her dead lover's name. From his bedroom, Robert can hear her apparently having sex with someone.
Robert has a job repairing musical instruments. A customer named Mr. Wells (Ferdinando Orlandi) picks up his trumpet and asks Robert if "the Baker lady" is back. Wells insinuates that perhaps Robert is having an affair with the woman - but Robert quickly shoves him out the door.
Meanwhile, Jane prepares for a visit from her husband Leslie (Fernando Pannullo) and their daughter. They arrive at the house, where Lucy becomes inquisitive and questions Robert.
The meeting with Leslie is awkward and the two don't stay long. After they leave, Jane takes valium to calm her nerves.
That evening, after shopping and taking in the sights and sounds of the city, Jane asks Robert over. He pours her a drink while she's in the tub.
Jane claims to have a date with her mysterious friend and her admirer doesn't stay long. Jane senses Robert's jealousy and tells him he will have a girlfriend soon enough.
Robert wonders about Jane's whereabouts for the last year and becomes curious about her traumatic accident. He has a friend find a newspaper with the headline "Car Smashes Through Guard Rail - Passenger Decapitated."
The events are described in detail and the article ends with news about Jane's admittance to a mental hospital.
One day, Lucy watches as her mother leaves her apartment. She pretends to bring Jane a surprise present so she can snoop around the place. Robert lets her in and the girl unwraps the gift - a framed photo of her dead brother Michael.
She lies and tells Robert it is actually a picture of her father. Lucy also says she would like for Jane to come home and get back together with her dad.
Her mom is furious when she finds the gift and looks around to see if anything is out of place. She even checks the padlocked freezer and tells Robert that no one is to go into her space again.
Jane returns a glass to Robert that was left in her apartment and tries to make it up to him. She changes the sheets on his bed and starts to undress him. But when Robert reciprocates and tries to touch her, Jane balks and departs immediately.
Robert hears something strange. It sounds as if Jane is greeting Fred. "I was beginning to think you weren't coming tonight," she says.
On the anniversary of Michael's drowning, Jane leaves town to visit his grave. Now it's Robert's turn to look around her apartment. He finds an earlobe (!) in her bed and then starts to fiddle with the lock on her freezer.
He is interrupted by another visit from Lucy. The girl seems intent on telling Robert about Michael's death but he would rather not hear about it.
During another one of Jane's passionate lovemaking sessions, Robert goes upstairs and this time opens her door. He can't see anything but it appears as if Jane does indeed have someone in her bed.
Robert goes into the kitchen and is shocked to find the freezer unlocked. He opens it but there's nothing inside. Thinking quickly, he rigs the padlock so it won't lock again.
Hearing Jane, he hides as she places an object in the freezer. When she leaves, Robert finally has a chance to find out what it is. He discovers just what he suspected all along: Fred's decapitated head.
Jane tries to reestablish her bond with Lucy. Before they head out to spend the day together, Robert asks the young girl to pick up some special kind of glue for him. He calls Mr. Baker but Jane's estranged husband tells him he doesn't want to know anything about her anymore.
"As far as I'm concerned, she's dead," he says. He adds that he blames the death of their son on Jane's negligence. Furthermore, he doesn't believe Robert's outlandish story.
Lucy overhears her father's end of the conversation. She tries to find out from Robert what they talked about. It was something about "a freezer" she says. But Robert will only tell her it was a misunderstanding on her part.
Pretending to leave the house, Lucy steals the key and gets into Jane's apartment. Robert tries to stop her but it's too late. She sees the head in the freezer - but oddly enough, won't admit it to him. She implies that he's making up the story because he's in love with her mother. Robert shows her Fred's earlobe to prove his story.
Mr. Baker drops Lucy off at a friend's house for the weekend. However, she has other plans and sneaks off to Jane's place instead. She cooks dinner for her mother and the two invite Robert over.
The soup is delicious...but the girl has something up her sleeve. She has somehow managed to put the earlobe in Jane's bowl. When Jane realizes this, she freaks out and leaves the table.
Lucy follows her to the bathroom where she tells her that everybody knows her secret and that she's going to be locked up again. She says that her father knows because Robert told him.
On top of that, she reveals that she killed her brother and is telling her now because no one would believe her mother anyway.
Jane loses it completely, strangles Lucy...and then shoves the girl's face down into the bathtub.
Robert hears the commotion and tries to intervene - but Jane attacks him and pushes him down the stairs.
She locks the front door and takes Fred's head back to her bed, where she makes out with it. (Talk about disgusting!) The water from the tub overflows and Robert regains consciousness.
Jane runs into the kitchen where she struggles with him. Gaining the upper hand, Robert manages to stick her head in the oven and scald her to death.
Robert enters the bedroom and goes onto the bed. Suddenly, the severed head jumps up at him and imbeds its teeth in his neck! A gratuitous ending, to say the least.
The film was shot nicely by Director of Photography Franco Delli Colli, and Ubaldo Continiello's jazzy score complimented Macabre immensely. The unsubtle title the film was given in America was Frozen Terror.
Perhaps the most important review Lamberto Bava received was from his father. After having seen Macabre for the first time, the elder Bava said, "Now I can die I peace." He passed away two months later.
Dad had reason to be proud. The film is a horror piece, true. The story is freaky. But it is also an interesting character study of an unbalanced woman. As played by Bernice Stegers, she's actually sympathetic at times.
Bava Jr.'s delight in his main character, the object of his study...carries this extremely gruesome story along in a surprisingly graceful and touching manner.
Slow moving and thoughtful, Bava decides to apply most of the horror to the character of Jane - but not without revealing the ugliness in others: her demonic daughter, the unforgiving ex-husband, etc.
The plot unfolds like any unravelling tragedy, with Jane alternately creeping us out and demanding our affinity. The overall result of the movie is a horror flick original - a film achieved in a lonely style we know as we're watching, we shall probably not see repeated again...