|Hatchet for the Honeymoon|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 06 June 2000|
Another entry in Image's very welcome Mario Bava Collection, "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" is one of his most vividly colorful movies, with superb photography by the director himself, and rich production design by Jesus Maria Herrero. A Spanish-Italian coproduction, "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" was shot partly in one of Generalissimo Franco's sumptuous villas.
According to the excellent production notes by Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas, Bava made the relatively low-budget "Hatchet" right after his most expensive movie, "Danger: Diabolik." He was unhappy with the increased interference the higher budget brought, and was far more content making this witty, well-plotted shocker. He and Mario Musy adapted it from a somewhat different screenplay by Santiago Moncada, then altered it again when Laura Betti, a major Italian star, agreed to appear in it.
Her arrival added an extra dimension to the movie that changes it from a slightly dark-comic portrait of what we'd now call a serial killer to something even more exotic: a straight horror movie that changes into an avenging-ghost thriller in the last third. Though not as intense as his best films, such as "Black Sunday" and "Black Sabbath," "Hatchet for the Honeymoon," like "Twitch of the Death Nerve," exposes a vein of wry wit that otherwise only intermittently surfaced in Bava's movies.
Actor-model Stephen Forsyth plays John Harrington, a handsome young couturier who owns a fashion salon with his wife Mildred (Betti). She's somewhat older than he is, but she has all the money, and despite his frequent requests, refuses to give him a divorce. But we learn this as the movie progresses: what we know immediately is that Harrington is a murderer and a paranoiac -- because, in voice-over narration, he tells us. "The fact is," he says, "I am completely mad, the realization of which annoyed me at first, but now is amusing to me."
His madness takes the form of killing women on their wedding nights, and the grooms too, if they happen to be around. As in a lot of Italian thrillers of this nature, the reason he's nuts lies in childhood trauma; with each successive murder, he exposes a little more of his buried memory, which involves his mother in a bridal gown, moaning his name through bloody lips. Because his salon is exclusively devoted to wedding gowns and other garments brides will need, and because his models frequently leave to get married, he has plenty of opportunities to kill.
His mental snarls go way beyond this: sometimes HE wears the bridal outfit while hacking away with a cleaver at his latest victim, and sometimes he seems to kill, then rape, the brides. He also has a secret room off his salon office where he stores special bridal gowns. And many of his murders are observed by a sad-faced boy, who at first seems to be a ghost, but whom we later learn is John as a child. (Note: he never uses a hatchet, despite the title; Bava is far too in love with the chromium gleam of a cleaver to hand his hero something as plebeian as a hatchet. But then again, the Italian title, "Il Rosso segno della follia," The Red Sign of Madness, doesn't make much sense, either. No red signs.)
Though plot structure was never exactly one of Bava's strengths, and though some elements regarding Betti were thought up late in the game, "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" is reasonably well-plotted, with a police inspector (Jesus Puente) sniffing around, and a new model, Helen Wood (Dagmar Lassander) who might be falling in love with John, but who might have another agenda altogether.
Many of these "Eurohorror" movies are gruesomely violent, but "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" is almost fastidious; a little blood is seen, but the murders all take place just off-screen -- we never see the cleaver strike home. This enables Bava to maintain an almost light tone throughout, and also allows him to increase our identification with Harrington. He even knows how to interpolate, rather than copy, Hitchcock. In "Psycho," we wanted Marion Crane's car to sink into the bog; here, when blood drips from the fingers of Harrington's latest victim, plopping onto the carpet next to the detective, we want him not to notice. On the other hand, Bava doesn't push this too far, and we're quite delighted with Harrington's final fate.
As always with Bava, "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" looks simply terrific, with crisp, clean, intense photography of lush rooms, vast green lawns, and Foryth's vividly blue eyes. The DVD features a visually-superb print, virtually no flecking or other damages from age; it looks the way Bava undoubtedly intended. But the soundtrack leaves much to be desired; first, it's dubbed rather than subtitled, and although the dubbing is very good (and Forsyth is clearly speaking English), it's still distracting. The mono sound is muddled, and often the music sounds tinny. But for a European film from 1969, this is in good condition.
These "Eurohorror" thrillers, increasingly popular on DVD, vary widely in quality and approach; those from the 60s and 70s are generally better than those made since, and few are better than the films of Mario Bava. "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" is not Bava's best film, but it's a good one, and well worth seeking out.