I recently watched Hatchet For the Honeymoon for the first time. This was something I had been putting off because it’s streaming on Netflix, which these days means that it will probably be a disappointment. How wrong I was about that. I freaking LOVED it, so much that I watched it again the next day. I rarely am disappointed when it comes to Mario Bava’s movies, even though I never seem to write about them. His work seems to come as close to true cinematic art as any horror film can, and yet it’s visual artistry rather than thematic, which makes it difficult for me to tackle because I have no background in critiquing visual art. Still, I need to make an effort to document some of my thoughts on his work, even though it’s difficult for me to discuss good films, since I’ve been stubborn enough to keep this blog going for over five years. Gotta keep that content rolling along.
Anyway, let’s talk Hatchet For the Honeymoon. This film sometimes gets lumped under giallo, which it really isn’t due to the fact that we know who the killer is from the very beginning of the film, so there’s no breathing into the phone while wearing black gloves. What it is is a fascinating character study into an insane killer’s mind. The killer in this case is the main character, John. John’s mother was murdered when he was about ten years old, and now he owns the bridal dress shop she founded. He also likes to kill brides right after their weddings, as well as models from his shop.
John is a classic unreliable narrator. When we first meet him, he has followed a young couple onto their honeymoon on a train in order to kill them, but while in the act of killing, he flashes back to his mother’s death; he also sees hallucinations of his younger self at the age he was when his mother died. John has a rationalization for why he has to keep killing: he cannot remember who killed his mother, and every time he kills, he thinks he gets closer to solving the mystery. If you’ve ever seen a movie before it might be obvious who killed John’s mother, but I found myself compelled to keep watching because of the surrealism involved in seeing the action through the perspective of an insane person. I will admit there is something giallo-like about watching John try to solve the mystery, seeing as how he is not a detective and the amateur sleuth is a giallo trope.
The other element which kept me riveted was the character of John’s long-suffering wife, Mildred. At first I could not stand her, both because she was so angry, and because she was not very much fun to look at. She hated John for being emotionally distant from her, yet did not realize what he was really up to, which made her seem stupid. But then she made John come to a seance with her, and it turned out that she was actually the medium! Being the type of person who is obsessed with the paranormal, I started to warm towards her character because of that scene. Of course, I’m not sure whether that scene was meant to be taken literally, because Bava cut directly from John in one of the killing sanctuary rooms in his mansion, to the seance, but even if it wasn’t “really” happening, it was super cool and creepy to see because Mildred actually channeled John’s dead mother. John’s mother’s spirit was said to feel pity and compassion for John, which is an important contrast to Mildred who feels nothing for him but disappointment and spite. Later, when John kills Mildred, she haunts him as a ghost for the rest of the film. At the moment he does kill her, I had begun to feel pity for her, which is a testament to how complex the characters in this film are. I started out hating her, but she eventually evoked real emotion.
But the best part of Hatchet For the Honeymoon is Bava’s role as director of photography. Yes, he not only directed the film, he also was his own director of photography. I already mentioned John’s little hiding place, which was a room in the shop filled with mannequins in classic bridal gowns, where he kept his shiny hatchet (really a cleaver) and did most of his killings. But he had two more special places. One was a hothouse with exotic flowers and a crematorium. He played it off to everyone that it was for burning leaves, but it was a fucking crematorium for his victims, complete with a huge smoke stack! First of all, it’s pretty absurd to imagine anyone getting away with having a crematorium at their house, even if they live in a mansion, but then there was this beautiful and surreal transition shot that I loved: John was burning a victim at twilight, the camera moved to the smoke above the stack, and then suddenly it was morning and the smoke was from a toaster where John was eating breakfast outside in his garden! The third place where John would hide was his old playroom from when he was a child, where the toys and everything were kept just as they had been twenty years before. Seeing the juxtaposition of all those lovely classic windup toys and trains shot from weird angles with sinister lighting really appeals to my morbid little heart.
Best of all was the way that Bava chose to spookify Mildred. Rather than the typical of the time, but often clumsy, use of stop motion to have a ghost enter and exit the frame, he would bring her into and out of focus. I’m sure, just by sheer probability, that technique has been used in one of the countless ghost horror films that exist, but I’ve never seen it before, and I was mightily impressed.
I have spoiled some of the film, but there is still to consider the question of who will catch John, if indeed he is caught, and how much he will remember by using his mad method of killing to bring back the past. Lead actor Stephen Forsyth was quite a pleasure to watch, and it is a shame he quit acting after Hatchet For the Honeymoon, because he had the classic Euro horror look. (Fortunately, you can still see some clips of Stephen because he had a music career after he quit acting.) Also fun to watch is a young Dagmar Lassander, who plays a model in John’s shop. She is a nice foil for John because she also has a secret, and she interestingly becomes the one woman who he respects and does not want to kill. This is quite a contrast from the role for which I am most familiar with Lassander, that of the foolish real estate agent in House By the Cemetery! So if you haven’t see Hatchet For the Honeymoon, and you are as disappointed with Netflix’s horror offerings of late as I am, remember that you still have at least one classic Euro horror choice on the site. And as a bonus, Bava’s Bay of Blood and Lisa and the Devil are also available.