John Harrington and his wife, Mildred, run an exclusive Paris fashion salon devoted to wedding apparel for women. John has secretly embarked on a spree of homicides, killing young brides on their wedding nights because, with each murder, his memory comes closer to revealing the traumatic event that branded him a dangerous psychotic. Fed up with his wife (who’s no newlywed), John gets rid of her the only way he can — by presiding over her murder while wearing a wedding veil himself! But Mildred’s ghost has no intention of letting him forget his vow: Til Death Do Us Part!
Mario Bava is considered the godfather of Italian horror, or giallo. Largely influential, Bava has released well over two dozen films in his career, including some that are considered classics – such as ‘La maschera del demonio’ (a.k.a. ‘Black Sunday’), which is akin to the American International Pictures and Hammer Film Productions of the time.
Due to his background in photography and, thus, his penchant for camera tricks and special effects, his films are frequently stylish but insubstantial; Bava tends to eschew solid stories for eye-candy of all kinds. This doesn’t mean that his films are lavish productions, however, as, aside from one medium-budgeted film (‘Danger: Diabolik’) he was always limited to more modest visions.
The same goes for ‘Il rosso segno della follia’ (a.k.a. ‘Hatchet for the Honeymoon’). The film was mostly made in one location: Spain, in one of Franco’s villas. In fact, aside from some exterior shots, the story largely takes place inside, on the lower level – as they were not allowed to shoot upstairs. Still, despite these limitations, Bava managed to put together a film of some interest.
In ‘Hatchet for the Honeymoon’, we peer into the mind of a deranged fashion mogul, who is immediately identified to viewers as the murderer of many of his design house’s departing models. As the body count rises, the local police begin to close in on our lead (played here with some aplomb by Stephen Forsyth), who tries desperately to get to the root cause of his madness – the aftermath of a traumatic childhood event.
The acting is very weak at times – and it’s exacerbated by English overdubs (since many of the actors were Italian). Forsyth is passable, but only because the rest of the cast is pretty bad; he probably wouldn’t hold up in a BBC production of Shakespeare. He does look the part, though, and has proven that he can emote somewhat effectively – it’s just that it’s sometimes pretty over-the-top (which may very well be due to directorial guidance, actually)
In fact, the director’s overall choices can be peculiar at times: he insists on having the actors move in ways that are unnatural, if only to commit certain acts onscreen. For instance, characters will hold objects (such as a note) in ways that no human being typically would – but it’s strictly a way to show the objects in the same frame as the action, without cuts. Some of these things could be done with the use of wider shots or through editing, but I suppose the director was more interested in being spare and/or stylistic. Still, despite some of the cleverness, it’s unsubtle and it feels too theatrical at times.
Having said that, the camera work is very interesting. The director chose to show some actors’ reactions in the reflections of mirrors, dinnerware, .etc. It’s clever in some ways, but one can’t help but wonder if it was done for style or out of necessity (the film couldn’t possibly have had a huge budget – so the less film being used, the better!). In the end, it makes for a visually-interesting film, but also one that is hardly realistic-looking.
Nonetheless, while it’s pockmarked with flaws and it would be reviled by anyone expecting a sleek Hollywood production, the film does set a rather creepy tone and manages to delve into the psychotic murderer’s mind effectively. It also manages to toss enough bait at the viewers to keep them, if not riveted, then at least intrigued – despite the obvious ending, which is clear as day 15 minutes into the proceedings.
‘Hatchet for the Honeymoon’ is hardly a masterpiece but, with the proper expectations, some enjoyment can be gotten out of watching it. And, to Bava aficionados who have yet to see this one, I’d have to say it’s one of his decent efforts – it’s hardly ‘Cani arrabbiati’, but it’s not ‘Roy Colt e Winchester Jack’ either.