Starring: William Prince, Jim Backus, Christine White, Jacqueline Scott
Screenplay: Robb White, based on the novel The Marble Forest by Theo Durrant
Director: William Castle
It’s a shame William Castle got so caught up with marketing gimmicks, because he’s not a bad director. Macabre is a psychological thriller that’s unfortunately framed with a silly disclaimer about viewers dying of fright, and a closing title sequence that features cartoon illustrations of hearses representing the various cast members whose characters died in the movie. Neither of these gimmicks really fit what is at heart a lean, disturbing, and humorless thriller.
Dr. Rodney Barrett (Prince) is a small town doctor engaged to Nancy after the death of his wife, but she’s concerned that the nanny, Polly (Scott), doesn’t know her place, and thinks of herself as the mother of Barrett’s daughter. Barrett has some enemies in town as well, such as the sheriff, Jim Tyloe (Backus, in a rare dramatic role), who blames Barrett for the death of his daughter, from negligence. Polly receives a phone call from a man claiming Barrett’s daughter, Marge, has been buried alive in a pink coffin, and has just five hours to be found before she dies. The film intercuts the search for Marge with a series of flashbacks delineating Barrett’s various conflicts before the mystery is solved.
With a bigger budget and bigger stars, this could have been a really good film. As it is, Castle does all right, but it’s just too compressed and confusing to quite work. I’m always impressed by a downbeat ending from an old, studio system film, but it kind of comes up on you quickly and then it’s over before you can process the point of it.