Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970)
Director: Mario Bava
Cast: Stephen Forsyth, Dagmar Lassander, Laura Betti
Synopsis: A bridal design shop owner kills various young brides-to-be in an attempt to unlock a repressed childhood trauma that’s causing him to commit murder.
Although I like horror movies, the Italian giallo sub-genre has always struck me as over-rated – although they do come up with some truly outstanding titles. Giallo directors’ pursuit of a style (which has subsequently become outdated) too often seems to preclude them from developing a coherent or logical plot which leaves the audience with a few memorable scenes surrounded by a plethora of overly-affected and often impenetrable storylines. Mario Bava’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon does at least strive to deliver a reasonably straightforward plot, even though it loses its focus about two-thirds of the way through, becoming unsure of whether it is a serial killer slasher flick, a vengeful ghost movie or a study of one man’s descent into madness.
Impossibly handsome Canadian actor Stephen Forsyth, who forsook his acting career after Hatchet for the Honeymoon to become a music composer, plays John Harrington, a successful young couturier who, as he candidly confesses early in the picture, is a paranoiac. ‘I am completely mad,’ he states shortly after we’ve seen him hack a young bride to death. ’The realisation annoyed me at first, but is now amusing to me.’ Trapped in a loveless marriage to an older woman (Laura Betti, giving an astonishingly poor performance), Harrington feels compelled to murder new or potential brides in order to learn who it was that murdered his mother when he was a child. It’s the kind of logic that makes sense to a madman, I suppose, but let’s face it – if the police were incapable of catching the killer at the time, Harrington’s methods seem strangely appropriate. Anyway, police inspector Russell is hot on Harrington’s trail, even though he has no evidence to suggest he is the killer, and proves ineffectual for most of the story – until making a sudden and unexplained appearance to catch Harrington in the act late in the film.
Hatchet for the Honeymoon’s plot bears very little resemblance to reality, but at least has the distinction of telling the story from a mad man’s viewpoint, something of a rarity for 1970. Of course, it could therefore be argued that any inconsistencies or flaws in the plot can be excused as the unreliable recollections of our narrator, but you never get the feeling that this was Bava’s intention, even when the ghost story, a clever twist in which Harrington is the only person who can’t actually see the ghost, kicks in. It’s at this point in the story that the film loses its shape and things begin to drag, which could possibly be due to the fact that Bava re-wrote the original script to include a role for Laura Betti.
Hatchet for a Honeymoon isn’t typical of the giallo genre – there’s very little violence, with most of the murders taking place off-screen – but neither is it a straightforward thriller or horror. It’s a shame that Bava didn’t make a better job of the script, because the basic idea is an intriguing one. As such, then, it has to stand as an interesting failure.
(Reviewed 26th May 2012)