“My name is John Harrington. I’m 30 years old. I am a paranoiac.”
So declares John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth) at the start of the 1969’s Hatchet for The Honeymoon. Along with being a paranoiac, John Harrington is also handsome, charming, and apparently quite successful. He owns a bridal dress factory in France, a business that he inherited from his mother after her untimely death. On the outside, everything looks perfect but appearances can often be deceiving.
John’s wife, Mildred (Laura Betti), knows that John is hiding secrets. She regularly taunts John, reminding him that he’s not only impotent but that he’s also has an unhealthy obsession with his memories of his mother. John’s mother died when he was very young. He witnessed her death but he’s repressed the memory of who actually killed her. John is determined to recover those memories.
So, what does John do?
Does he go to a hypnotist? Does he dig through old police files and search for clues? Does he ask someone to analyze his dreams? That’s what you or I might do but John, you must remember, is a paranoiac. Somehow, John has realized that, whenever he commits a murder, he remembers just a little bit more about the night his mother died. So, in order to learn the truth about his mother’s death, John is murdering the models who work at his bridal salon. Apparently, it’s very important that his victims be wearing a wedding dress when they die….
Okay, now you’re probably already thinking that this sounds like a somewhat bizarre movie. Well, believe it or not, things are about to get a lot stranger.
After John meets a new model named Helen (Dagmar Lassander), he decided that he doesn’t need Mildred yelling at him anymore. So, he puts on a wedding veil and murders Mildred. However, even in death, Mildred won’t leave John alone. Mildred’s ghost shows up and announces that everyone will be able to see her but John.
So now, John is having to deal with everyone assuming that his wife is with him, even though he can’t see her. As you might guess, this makes it a bit difficult for John to convince potential victims to come back to the salon with him.
And, from there, it just keeps getting stranger and stranger….
Hatchet For The Honeymoon was written and directed by one of the most important figures in the history of Italian cinema, Mario Bava. A master technician with a wry and occasionally self-mocking sense of humor, Bava worked in every genre, from peplums to spaghetti westerns to poliziotteschis, but he’s best remembered for his work in the horror genre. Bava is often credited with having directed the first giallo film and his often-violent thrillers are still influential to this day.
Hatchet For The Honeymoon is often described as being one of Bava’s lesser films but I don’t agree with that judgment. If nothing else, Hatchet For The Honeymoon is probably one of Bava’s more playful movies. From the increasingly bizarre twists and turns of the film’s plot to John Harrington’s wonderfully overwrought narration, the entire film has an almost improvisational feel to it. One gets the feeling that Bava is poking fun at the conventions of the giallo genre. The usual omnipresent, black glove-wearing killer has been replaced by an impotent wedding dress designer who can’t even escape the ghost of his dead wife.
(Reportedly, Mildred wasn’t originally in the script and was only added because Bava wanted to work with actress Laura Betti. Perhaps that explains why Mildred often seems to be standing outside of the story, mocking not only John but also the mechanics of the thriller plot.)
As one would expect from a Bava film, Hatchet for the Honeymoon is frequently a visual marvel, a pop art-inspired mix of dark shadows and red blood. The wedding dresses are to die for and so is the cinematography. I especially liked the darkly ominous shots of John surrounded by the lifeless mannequins in his salon. Early on, when we get a shot from John’s point of view, the image is slightly blurred and the angle seem just a bit off, a reminder of John’s twisted impression of the world around him. When John walks up stairs to the kill his wife, the sound of his movement seems to echo through his ornate but sterile home.
If Stephen Forsyth sometimes seems to be a bit stiff in the role of John, it’s an appropriate reminder that John is an empty shell and all of his feelings and emotions are manufactured. Laura Betti does a wonderful job nagging him in life and her palpable joy about getting revenge in death is one of the best things about the movie.
Hatchet For The Honeymoon is an exuberantly weird film and definitely one that needs to be seen by anyone seeking to fall in love with Italian horror.