Hatchet For The Honeymoon Review

If you watch Hatchet For The Honeymoon expecting a return to the brilliance of the Giallo form of director Mario Bava’s Blood And Black Lace or Bay of Blood, then you’re almost certain to be disappointed. Although it contains certain classic Giallo elements, Hatchet is not really a typical example of the genre. In fact, it’s almost unclassifiable but that’s one of the things which make it such an interesting film. Made in 1969 under the title Il Rosso Segno Della Follia, it’s turned up under a range of titles – in the UK it was called Blood Brides - and the version on the disc is the 1974 American version which has been dubbed into English.

The first thing which marks it out as an atypical Giallo is that there’s no whodunnit element. In the first scene, we see John Harrington (Forsyth) kill a honeymooning couple (in an orgy of abstract imagery and mad camera angles) on a train and shortly afterwards he confesses to us in voiceover that he’s a ‘paranoiac’ and completely mad. But Harrington isn’t distressed about this, in fact he’s very happy about it and he cheerfully informs us that he’s killed three women – all of them new brides - and is planning on continuing his activities until he stops hearing ‘the footsteps’ in his head. Needless to say, this refers to a childhood trauma – back to classic Giallo territory here – which obsesses him and he believes that the only way to find a solution to the mystery of his parents death is to continue killing until the voices in his head come up with an answer. However, despite this inclusion of a generic element, a key difference is that its the psychotic himself who sets about looking for the truth behind the primal scene in his head. In most Giallos, it’s an onlooker – often an inadvertent witness – or a detective who does the investigating; perhaps the most notable example being David Hemmings in Argento’s Profondo Rosso discovering that the secret to the killer’s identity lies back in the events of his childhood. It does have to be said that the narrative complexity of Argento’s film is not present here and Bava’s ‘twist’ at the end will probably be guessed by most seasoned Giallo fans in the first few minutes.

More interestingly however, is Bava’s decidedly off-beat spin on the material. For one thing, the only halfway likeable character in the film is John Harrington and it’s frequently him to whom our sympathies are extended. Take the brilliant, much imitated scene where John is interrupted by the police shortly after hacking someone to death on the stairs. He calms down, spruces himself up a bit and answers the door. While the discussion is going on, we can see the blood trickling down his victim’s wrist and dripping onto the floor. Classic suspense stuff and done with bravado but it’s made perversely effective by the knowledge that we’re being placed on the side of the psychopath and hoping that he gets away with it. You’ll recall that Hitchcock did exactly this in Strangers On A Train, constantly pitting the fascinating insanity of Robert Walker against the deeply boring virtue of Farley Granger and there’s little doubt in that film where Hitch’s true sympathies lie. Indeed, three years after Hatchet, Hitchcock would make his most Giallo-esque film, the blackly comic Frenzy and do his own variation on the dripping blood trick – this time, setting it in a potato van driving up the A1.

As you’d expect from Bava, by this time a seasoned director who had worked in a variety of genres, the film is visually stunning. The use of zooms is particularly notable because of the way they’re used to acquaint us with aspects of a character or particular parts of the frame. His obsession in this movie with reflections has been much discussed, emphasising both the obsessive vanity of John Harrington and his confrontation with his own past. It also seems appropriate that a film set in a bridal fashion house should use a visual schema so intertwined with looking at one’s mirror image. Sometimes, the reflections are used simply to disorientate us or provide extra frisson to an otherwise static scene. There’s also much emphasis placed on eyes, sometimes the only thing we see and the dead eyes of the dummies in Harrington’s secret back room seem to be pronouncing a mute, unblinking judgement on their owner – one which is soon to be joined by an even more damning one when a key victim decides that she doesn’t want to stay dead. As for the look of the movie, Bava lit the film himself and it has a visual lushness which was to prove one of the most memorable elements of his next film, Bay of Blood. More surprising is the relative restraint of the film. Of the six deaths portrayed, none is done in a particularly gruesome fashion and it's no surprise to see that the BBFC have seen fit to give the film nothing more restrictive than a '15' certificate.

Spoilers ahead

Mario Bava shows a particular daring here which deserves some discussion. The first half of the film is a fairly conventional suspense thriller, albeit one in which we tend to side with the madman. But the second half of the film suddenly turns into a wonderfully wry, full-blooded Gothic melodrama. After Harrington has killed his wife, she decides to return to haunt him and the atmosphere of the film becomes decidedly eerie. The bitchy characteristics which define her in the first half remain, along with a disturbing tendency to appear to other people but not to John. His attempts to get rid of her for good once again place us in sympathy with him but it’s perhaps entirely appropriate that his final punishment should be to be trapped with her for all eternity. Here, Bava plays a particularly clever joke upon the inseparable oneness of marriage, suggesting that ‘til death do us part’ might not be the end of it.

End of spoilers

The performances are surprisingly good and don’t have too much of the stiffness which afflicts the acting in Bava’s other English language films. Stephen Forsyth, while he may look ridiculously like an underwear model in a 1968 Freemans' catalogue, portrays Harrington's psychosis very well and resists the temptation to ham up the part for all it's worth. Dagmar Lassando is impressively shrewish as his quite appalling wife and she makes the most of her spiteful dialogue. MOre disappointingly, in the potentially amusing role of a canny police inspector, Jesus Puente (Jess Franco veteran and star of innumerable Spanish westerns) makes no impression whatsoever. Making up for this is a supporting cast of gorgeous ladies in bridal lingerie.

Add to this the tremendously kitsch music score by Sante Maria Romitelli - which suggests what Ennio Morricone might have achieved with access to a Hammond Organ while he was drunk - and you have a marvellously entertaining, effortlessly stylish movie which is intentionally very funny and often genuinely exciting. There are vast gaps in the narrative logic of the film and the appearance of the police at convenient times begins to beggar belief. Nor am I entirely sure that I can swallow John having a personal crematorium in his basement. But this is all part of the fun of the movie and it’s a pleasure to see a film which knows its own silliness and yet still manages to be very effective as a thriller.

The Disc

Anchor Bay have done a pretty good job with their R2 disc of Hatchet For The Honeymoon and I’m delighted to say that the transfer problems that afflicted recent releases such as Venom are not nearly as serious here.

The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and has been anamorphically enhanced. The print which the transfer has been sourced from seems to have been in good nick – possibly restored - and this is a sharp and clear visual experience. Some grain remains on the image but this isn’t a problem and the colours are generally excellent. I did notice a certain , but not excessive, amount of artefacting in the night time exterior scenes. The transfer is pleasingly detailed but not over-enhanced. All in all, this is good stuff from Anchor Bay and it does look as if it represents an improvement over the R1 Image DVD released in 2000 and is on a par with the Koch DVD version released in the USA earlier this year.

There are three English soundtracks on the disc. The original Italian soundtrack isn’t present but given that the film was post-dubbed anyway, I don’t think this matters too much. Certainly, the dubbing is of a far higher quality than I’ve come to expect. The first track is somewhat vaguely described as “Dolby 2.0” and appears to be a mono track pumped through the two front speakers. This is actually fine and represents the original recording of the film reasonably well. No distortion is present and the music comes across very strongly. The Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 Surround remixes, pointless as they seem to me, are noticeably louder but otherwise seem to have simply been created – in Anchor Bay’s usual fashion - by pushing the mono track through the various surround channels. Certainly, there is little obvious separation and the .1 LFE is barely in evidence. However, all three soundtracks are clear and whichever one is to your preference, you shouldn’t be disappointed.

The supplements on the disc are limited to a text based overview of Mario Bava and some brief film notes, the original theatrical trailer (which is a delight), and a photo gallery of scenes from the film. I can’t comment on the advertised “Mario Bava: Master of the Macabre” featurette because it wasn’t on my review copy. I was treated to the hour long “Dario Argento: An Eye For Horror” documentary which has already been released on another disc. I assume this is a check disc error and will be corrected on the retail disc.

No subtitles are included for the film or the extra features. This is shameful and I've taken a mark off the overall score to reflect this.

Hatchet For The Honeymoon is a highly entertaining movie and I certainly recommend it. Bava admirers will relish every minute - and also enjoy a self-referential tribute to his film Black Sabbath. Giallo fans will be pleased to see something slightly unconventional and anyone who likes a blackly comic thriller should find this to their taste. Anchor Bay’s DVD presents the film very well but I can’t comment on the quality of the featurette so if you’re buying it for the extras then you might want to proceed with caution. Oh, and incidentally, fans of antique weaponry may be disappointed to learn that although a machete appears frequently, there is no evidence of a hatchet anywhere in the film...

Hatchet For The Honeymoon is released to buy on the 26th July 2004.

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