This is another I first saw at the local theater in Granbury, Texas, and I promise it will be the last for a few weeks. At the time (1958) it was heavily billed as a heart-stopping horror flick—previews and promotional material advised people with heart conditions to forgo watching. Members in the audience were advised to help anybody sitting next to them in case shock overcame them. Beyond that, it’s fairly tame. There is shock—shock that anybody would take this business seriously.
Produced and directed by William Castle and distributed by United Artists, it’s Macabre, starring William Prince as Dr. Rodney Barrett. One thing that struck me about this movie at the time was the title. I wasn’t sure what the word meant, and even today I did a quick look-up to be sure. Yes, it’s pretty deadly. He plot is all about death, and in hindsight the plot kind of dies at the end.
We see in the opening scene funeral parlor owner Ed Quigley (Jonathan Kidd) complaining to town police chief Jim Tyloe (Jim Backus) about the theft of a child’s casket. Get that, a child’s casket. This is going to play into the plot.
Barrett is a widower. His wife, Alice (Dorothy Morris) was the daughter of wealthy Jode Wetherby (Philip Tonge). Wetherby’s remaining daughter, Nancy, has just died, and her funeral is scheduled this very night. How macabre! Dr. Barret is getting the blame for both his wife’s death and the death of Nancy. Both were in his care, and both died in his absence when his presence was needed.
Barrett goes to his home along with his pretty (and loving) assistant Polly Baron (Jacqueline Scott). There the housekeeper, Miss Kushins (Ellen Corby), tells them that the doctor’s young daughter, Marge (Linda Guderman), is missing. A search ensues. While the doctor is out of the house Polly takes a phone call. A strange voice advises that Marge has been buried alive, with just five hours to live.
The search for Marge takes strange turns. There is no general alarm for the missing child. Dr. Barrett pays a friendly visit to his girlfriend. He advises Miss Kushins not to tell grandfather Wetherby about it. Wetherby has a bad heart, and the news might be fatal. Get it? Might be fatal.
Miss Kushins tells Wetherby anyhow, but he only has chest pains. He does not die.
The plot gets very strange. Barrett and Polly search in the graveyard. The police have not been alerted. The grave digger approaches in the dark with a shotgun.. He is struck dead by an unseen assailant. It’s Mr. Wetherby, thinking the victim was behind the abduction of his granddaughter. Wetherby, Barrett, and Polly hide the body. They don’t tell anybody about the killing.
There is a flashback to the life of Nancy, who is scheduled to be buried in a few hours. We see her as she was in life—young, wealthy, wild, sexually promiscuous, blind. Here she is having a sexual encounter with Chief Tyloe in an abandoned building.
More flashbacks. The late Mrs. Barrett is in the final day of her pregnancy and her life. Her doctor husband is playing footsie with his girlfriend. Marge is born, Alice dies.
If this movie could not seem able to take a grimmer turn, it does. The midnight funeral (midnight funeral?) is held in a pouring rain. The buried child still has not been found. The coffin is lowered. Attendees begin to shovel in dirt. A shovel hits something. It’s a child’s coffin. They uncover the coffin. The grandfather eagerly pries open the coffin. Inside is a hideous sight. It’s what appears to be the decaying corpse of a child. It’s only a doll. The grandfather collapses on the edge of the grave and dies. Ed Quigley plugs Dr. Barrett with a couple of shots from a revolver.
Quigley explains that it was all a plot by Barrett to kill the grandfather so his money would come to him through the granddaughter. Dying, Barrett goes with Polly back to his office, where he reveals Marge has been sleeping comfortably all along. And that’s supposed to scare us out of our minds?
This was one of the last movies featuring Philip Tonge. I reviewed Invisible Invaders back in December. Jim Backus was already famous as the voice of the cartoon character Mr. Magoo. He went on to greater fame in Gilligan’s Island.
After all these years two scenes stuck with me. The first was blind Nancy and the police chief getting a nooner in the warehouse. That was pretty risqué for those days. The other memory was the climactic funeral scene, with gunshots ringing out unexpectedly.
I survived my encounter with Macabre back in 1958. I was only 17 at the time. Amazingly I survived watching it again just yesterday. My heart held out. Not so much my stomach.