Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Santiago Moncada, Mario Bava, and Mario Musy
Starring: Stephen Forsyth, Dagmar Lassander, and Laura Betti
Reviewed by: Wes R.
“I want to see you in your wedding dress…as if tonight really belonged to us.”
Hatchet for the Honeymoon was the film that introduced me to the amazing talents of Italian horror master, Mario Bava. As a young boy who had grown up watching horror movies turned into a young man who studied them, I had read about him in countless books and magazine articles. No video store in my area carried any of his films, though…except one. One lone survivor from the mom & pops era of the 80s video business boom did have the original Charter Entertainment release of Hatchet and putting it in the VCR for the first time, I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to experience. Until I watched this movie, the only exposure I had to Italian horror was Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Deep Red. While not the best example of a giallo or Italian horror in general, Hatchet for the Honeymoon has enough twisted charm and style to make it an instant recommend for people looking to broaden their horror horizon to the shores of Italy.
The film opens on a train ride, in which a young honeymoon couple is murdered by someone with a meat cleaver (called a ‘hatchet’ in Italy). We are then introduced to John Harrington, a paranoiac in the wedding apparel business who, in voiceover, admits that he is “a madman” and “a dangerous murderer” and that no one suspects it at all. Most of all, his unhappy but spiteful wife doesn’t know. Perhaps if she did, she would agree to a divorce instead of forcing John to stay in a loveless marriage. Soon, we learn that over the last several months, a number of women have been murdered on their wedding day, and that the killer is still at large. Because John owns a wedding apparel business, he is a natural go-to point for the local police during their questioning…and eventually a suspect.
Through the whole movie, I couldn’t wait until the moment where John finally does in his wife. Though he is clearly crazy and we should by all rights side with the victims, his wife is so snobby and annoying that I anticipated the moment where he would finally shut her up for good. Alas, for most of the movie, John seems to only be able to murder every woman on earth except his wife. Upon meeting a girl he seems to like as more than a pin cushion for his meat cleaver, he does gather the courage to raise the blade against her…all the while, wearing a bride’s veil. John’s state of mind is made much worse when people begin seeing and talking to the ghost of his dead wife in public. Will John be able to silence the taunting of his wife’s restless spirit? Will he finally be able to quiet the voices in his head which drive him to murder? Watch and see!
I almost hesitate to call this film a giallo, because there really isn’t a mystery aspect to it. There are murders and an investigation, but right from the get-go, Harrington tells us that he is the murderer. The film is only a mystery to the snooping detective working on the case, as the audience is in on it the entire time. I would still call the film a mystery, only a different kind of mystery. Instead of "Who killed them?" the audience is left wondering "Will he get caught?" Otherwise, it’s a body count film, not all that different from the modern slasher film. Unlike the slasher, though, John’s murders aren’t spree or mass killings. John is more or less a serial killer, spreading out his murders over a longer period of time than someone escaping the nuthouse and happening on a sorority house over the course of a single evening. The film does have plenty of creepy imagery: gleaming meat cleavers, emotionless mannequins, dark séances, etc. The musical score by Sante Maria Romitelli sounds like your typical late 60s/early 70s giallo score, but it is actually quite effective. It takes turns being both beautiful and chilling (especially the wavy, screeching cues used to portray in sound, the dementia of John's mind). For a non-Morricone giallo score, this one really impressed me.
The film tackles a number of mature and bizarre subjects, including cross-dressing, light undertones of necrophilia, and the occult. It’s not made immediately clear why John is as mad as he is. During moments where he commits the murders, we hear a mysterious monotone female voice calling to him “John…John!” Perhaps he hears voices? Perhaps he’s haunted? If so, whose voice or whose ghost? There are mentions by his wife that John may be fixated on or obsessed with his mother. While not at all a foreign concept to horror characters with a grudge (Friday the 13th), we also have to look at who brought this up in the first place…as wives and girlfriends commonly bring the mother of their spouse/boyfriend into arguments. Of course, it’s not surprising that this particular mystery is itself wrapped up by the time the film’s conclusion rolls around.
Despite the fact that the killer wields a meat cleaver and despite the fact that the film is directed by Mario Bava, don’t go into this one thinking it’ll be a splatterfest with the red stuff, ala Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve. Nearly all of the killings in this film are bloodless. During the moments when the latter day Bava would have shown the cleaver making contact with the victim’s flesh with a sickening, squishy thud followed by a splash of vibrant blood, the early Bava of this film chooses instead to cut away to a close-up shot of a mysterious lady in blue chanting John’s name. The film is also paced pretty well, for a giallo. There aren’t a whole lot of monotonous scenes of dialogue to contend with or sub-plots that don’t really go anywhere. The giallo has produced a number of classic horror films and are immensely enjoyable if you’re in the right mood, however, I can’t lie…some are excruciatingly dull and uninteresting in parts. What I really liked the most about the film was that it reminded me of the type of story you would’ve seen drawn in full, ghastly color in the pages of the original E.C. Tales From the Crypt, Vault of Horror, or Haunt of Fear pulp comics of the 1950s. The murders, the plot, the resolution, the humor…all of it plays like an extended version of a story from an E.C. comic. The film's semi-serious/semi-comedic atmosphere definitely worked to its advantage.
If you want a light and fun early Bava film that gives a good glimpse of his style, look no further than Hatchet for the Honeymoon. Old used VHS copies aren’t that hard to come by, but the film did receive one legit DVD release by Image. This disc is getting harder and harder to come by, so until someone re-releases it (perhaps Anchor Bay will in a third Bava boxset), this disc and it’s sub-par audio and video transfers will have to make due. There is no nudity, very light mentions and innuendos of sex, and the film is pretty dry on the red stuff, but as stated, it’s a light exercise in everything Bava. The lush colors and cinematography, the crash zoom, and most all of what would become the trademarks of this landmark Italian horror director are present and accounted for here. While you’re better off watching Black Sunday for pure atmosphere and dread, or Twitch of the Death Nerve for non-stop blood and gore, I can’t help but recommend Hatchet for the Honeymoon. It may not be one you revisit often, but I think most casual horror fans will dig it for a one-time and maybe even a two-time viewing. Every now and then, I revisit this one and it always suits me fine…leaving me with a grin before moving on to decidedly darker and more grisly fare. Rent it!
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