31 Days of Horror: Macabre (1980)

macabre poster

There has been a lot of discourse over on Twitter lately about how cinema is more than just plot. This stems from a certain contingency of filmbros who loudly complain about things like perceived plot holes or a lack of narrative or some other problem within the film’s story without paying attention to the atmosphere or direction, acting or other aspects of a film’s artistry. The argument is that what makes movies special is not what actually happens, but how it happens, or how the story is told.

Lamberto Bava’s first film as a director Macabre is a good example of what I’m talking about. The plot is razor-thin. A woman returns to a rambling old mansion where she rents an apartment after being away for several years. The apartment is not her home, but rather a place she used to sneak away to and have an extra-marital affair. This was before her daughter drowned her son and before an automobile accident decapitated her lover (which happened just moments after she learned about the dead son). The reason she was away was due to being in a mental institute, having broken down after those two deaths.

All of this happens within the first five minutes of the film. For the rest of the movie the lady spends most of her time in her apartment having spirited relations with some unknown lover all the while the blind man who owns the building listens attentively downstairs. The woman’s daughter (who was not arrested for her brother’s murder as she made it look like an accident) periodically shows up and asks a lot of questions.

There is a mystery around the woman’s lover as he is never seen. And she has the freezer locked up for some reason. It is pretty easy to figure out what’s going on, especially since the posters and synopsis tend to give away the surprise.

But Bava (who is the son of Mario Bava, one of the grandfathers of Italian horror) knows how to make a movie, even when the plot is slim and rather hokey. The mansion is filled with creaky old stuff and interesting bric-a-brac. He films it from various angles with lots of shadows and light giving it a great gothic feel.

It reminded me a lot of really old films that clearly didn’t have much of a budget and were hemmed in by the censors from creating something really creepy. But were still able to create a mood, a vibe, and then had some ridiculous twist at the end. Bava does his best to create tension about what it is that freezer. He moves his camera slowly towards it, adds in mysterious music, etc. Even though you know what it is, and how ridiculous the idea is, you are still along for the ride. At least I was.

The House by the Cemetery (1981)

house by the cemetery poster

It is almost October which means it is almost Halloween which means I’ll be watching a lot of horror movies. I should be creating a list for my #31DaysofHorror and #Hooptober hashtags (more on that later) but for today I just watched an old Italian horror. Lucio Fulci was an Italian director who made lots of films in lots of genres but is mostly known today for a series of Giallo and Horror films, most of which included high levels of graphic violence (he is sometimes called the “Godfather of Gore”.)

The House by the Cemetery is not his best work, nor his worst, but it is a pretty good example of what he is about. The story is hard to follow and mostly nonsense. The screenwriter, Dardano Sacchetti, says he was inspired by Henry James and Fulci says he wanted to make a Lovercraftian story. I’ve not read anything by any of those authors so I can’t comment on that, but I can say little of what’s on the screen makes much sense.

The story involves an intellectual, Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco) who moves from New York City to a small town in New England. He takes his wife Lucy (Catriona MacColl) and young son Bob (Giovanni Frezza) with him. He’s there to continue the research of his mentor Dr. Peterson, who previously went a little crazy and killed his mistress and then offed himself. All of this was done in the titular house by the cemetery, the house Norman and his family are moving into.

It is a creepy old horror movie house – big and dilapidated, filled with shadowy corners and a scary basement. It is not only located next to a cemetery but also on top of one. Or at least when they pull back a rug they find a tombstone in the middle of one of the rooms. Norman says that lots of homes bury their loved ones inside their houses because it gets cold up there in the winter and the ground is too hard. Sure Norman, whatever you say. There are lots of cold places in this world and I don’t think any of them keep grandma’s corpse in the basement.

People keep telling Norman that they’ve seen him before, that he must have been up in that town a few months prior. Norman keeps denying this. The librarian is a creepy dude who seems to know more than he lets on. A babysitter (Ania Pieroni) shows up and is found trying to get into the locked basement. Then she gets brutally murdered down there. Bob befriends a young girl who no one else can see and who may actually be a ghost.

None of these things are connected very well. It feels like several scenes are missing. Or the screenwriter got drunk and forgot to write a few pages. But it doesn’t really matter. Nobody watches a Fulci film for a great story. They watch it for the gore and this film gives you plenty.

It is the type of film that not only includes a dungeon filled with bodies chopped into pieces but that quick zooms into the viscera and lingers on the gore. In the very first scene a woman gets a knife stabbed through her skull. If you enjoy handcrafted gore effects, and I certainly do, then Lucio Fulci is your man, and The House by the Cemetery is not a bad place to start.

It isn’t just blood and guts though, that make this worth watching. The story is a bit bewildering but Fulcio does a nice job of creating an eerie atmosphere and keeping things just enough off balance that your left feeling on edge for most of the film’s runtime.

Planet of the Vampires (1965)

planet of the vampires bluray

Mario Bava is one of the all-time great horror directors. He basically created the Giallo subgenre and was a master visualist. He also directed lots of other genres, including sword and sandals movies and science fiction. Planet of the Vampires is a bit of a genre blend including both sci-fi and horror. Kino Lorber recently released a nice copy of it on Blu-ray and I wrote a review which you can read here.