Mario Bava, best known for his Giallo-instigating film Blood and Black Lace, is perhaps one of the most influential, original directors of the 20th century. The horror genre is still working with, and trying to deviate from, a blueprint he crafted half a Century ago.
Whilst Hatchet for the Honeymoon is by no means Bava’s finest film, it flaunts the casual genius that made him an icon. His attention to the visual element, control over cinematographically storytelling, and innate sense of personal style, make each of his films fundamentally “Bava” and Hatchet is no exception.
Stephen Forsyth stars as John Harrington, the handsome successful head of a respected fashion house. To the outside world, he’s got it all, but internally he’s plagued by murderous impulses and a fractured psyche. Each time he butchers a young bride-to-be, he regains a little of a traumatic childhood memory, but his desperation to unlock the memory makes him increasingly erratic.
Unlike most Giallo films, Hatchet for the Honeymoon reveals its killer in the opening scenes. It’s a surprising move; switching the film’s expected tracks from whodunnit to how-will-he-get-away-with-it. Bava, like Hitchcock, gleefully sides us with a violent paranoid schizophrenic and has us on the edge of our seat whenever he might be about to get caught. One tense sequence sees Harrington trying to quickly placate and eject police officers from his home before a recently butchered body on the stairs overhead drips blood on them. Its classic high tension and feels as tightly wound as the “sweat drop” scene from Mission Impossible.
The arrogance and self-awareness of its lead, feels like a precursor a hundred other films which find shock in gluing the audience to a sheer psychopath. An early scene sees Harrington looking jn a mirror admitting ‘the fact is…I’m completely mad’, predating Patrick Bateman’s similar mirror confession in Mary Haddon’s American Psycho. There’s a pragmatism to his crimes too: he’s not a sexual deviant, he’s killing to reclaim memories. The eventual reveal is a disappointment though, a feeble twist the audience could see from square one.
There’s a phantasmagorical element too. Harrington’s wife has an interest in seances and the supernatural. After she dies by his hand, she begins to haunt him but, in a stroke of sadistic malevolence, her spectre is invisible to him, yet visible to everyone else. It’s a neat idea but feels left-field in a film so initially “real”. Bava has one foot set in a savvy contemporary thriller, and the other planted firmly in old-school supernatural.
The fact is the whole film feels both ahead of its time and a little behind. It’s not as visceral as the Gialli Bava paved the way for. Bava is a steady hand when it comes to ghostly apparitions or filming the many gorgeous interiors and exteriors of the high-powered fashion lifestyle, but his murders are a little soft, his story a little flat. Still, for sheer style, Hatchet for the Honeymoon is a worthy watch.
Dir. Mario Bava
Stars. Stephen Forsyth, Dagmar Lassander, Laura Betti, Jesus Puente,