Mario Bava's Hatchet For The Honeymoon is an interesting film to try and pin down. The storyline works in elements from Giallo films like the director's own seminal Blood And Black Lace but then twists in some supernatural elements as well, making for a film that's definitely its own beast. At the same time, the director's stamp is all over it, making it simultaneously unusual and familiar to those familiar with the man's output.
The story revolves around a handsome young man named John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth) who inherited a woman's fashion business. We learn fairly early on here that John is a bit off kilter as we see him murder a bride and groom he encounters on a train. John's business dealings keep him in contact with plenty of attractive young women who work as models in the fashion industry - pretty young Helen (Dagmar Lassander) being a particular favorite. His handsome appearance is just intriguing enough to many of them to be able to easily lure them to various locations and encourage them to dress up in bridal gowns - at which point, he tends to kill them. As John goes about his business, both financial and homicidal, his madness starts to escalate to the point where he decides that he's had enough of his wife, Mildred (Laura Betti), at which point he dresses in a bridal gown himself (complete with makeup) and takes her out with a hatchet. As the bodies start to pile up the police, lead by Inspector Russell (Jesus Puente) start to close in - this probably won't end well for John...
On the surface, the film is a highly stylized mix of elements culled from Blood And Black Lace and Hitchcock's Psycho but then, those aforementioned supernatural elements come into play once Mildred has been murdered and her ghost visits John late one night. Is this really happening or is it a figment of John's obviously fractured psyche? Additionally, the film sets itself apart from other Giallo films in that it establishes almost immediately who the murderer is - there's no element of mystery as to the identity of the person doing the killing, we realize it's John from the onset of the first murder in the film. His voiceover narration in key scenes lets us in on the fact that John is very much aware of his insanity, but shows no signs whatsoever of wanting to stop himself from killing again. In fact, Forsyth's droll depiction of the character hints that the only joy he really seems to get from his charmed life is in murdering innocent women. That same narration does confirm that the murder of his parents that took place early in his life is what spurns him to kill, but it hardly justifies his actions. He's nuts and he knows it.
Performances are pretty solid here across the board. Betti is very good as the bitchy wife who won't stop nagging her unstable husband, she steals almost every scene that she is in and the movie really wouldn't be the same without her. The lovely Dagmar Lassander isn't given quite as much to do with her character but she has a charming naivety to her that makes her likeable enough. She's also very attractive and always shot in such a way as to bring out her best physical qualities, as such, she's well cat in this part. Stephen Forsyth as the lead is interesting. He's frequently almost deadpan here, but behind what is seemingly a fairly calm demeanor is a man who dresses up in a bridal gown, smears lipstick on his face and carves up his wife with a hatchet. He's able to handle both sides of his character well and has the right mix of looks and body movements to deliver some solid work in the picture.
In typical Bava fashion, Hatchet For The Honeymoon looks great. There are all manner of wonderfully unique camera angles used throughout the movie and some rather telling zooms used from time to time for emphasis - it works. The use of color in the film is exceptional, particularly once it shifts gears past the half way mark and Mildred's ghost plagues our poor murdering psychopath. The film is also well edited and moves at a pretty solid pace. Bava fans will appreciate a scene in which the police pay a visit to John's abode after one of his victims screams before being murdered. He puts the cops at ease by ensuring them that what they heard were simply the screams of an actress in a horror movie he was watching on television. That movie? Bava's own Black Sabbath.
Hatchet For The Honeymoon looks very good on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Those who have seen the film before on DVD will definitely notice the improvement here, not just in detail and texture as you'd expect but in the darker scenes where shadows have less crush and as such, let more into the picture. The framing looks very good here and close up shots show nice facial detail and very lifelike skin tones, no trace of waxiness here at all. As it has been with all of Kino's recent Redemption and related releases, the elements used for the transfer haven't undergone any sort of massive restorative process but were in pretty nice shape to begin with. No obvious edge enhancement or filtering has been applied here, and we wind up with another film like offering that improves on pretty much all aspects of previous DVD releases. Contrast also appears more natural here, and the picture has some good depth to it.
The only audio option on the disc is an LPCM Mono track in the film's original English language, no alternate language or subtitle options. This isn't a particularly exciting track but for an older Mono mix, it leaves little room for complaint. The levels are nicely balanced, the dialogue is easy enough to understand and whatever hiss does make it into the mix is minimal. The Romitelli score sounds good as well, it's got some nice push and momentum behind it when the movie asks for it during some of the more tense scenes. This isn't a fancy mix but it suits the movie just fine.
The main extra on this disc is an exclusive audio commentary from Bava biographer and Video Watchdog Editor-In-Chief Tim Lucas. There's a lot of information contained in this trailer, as Lucas details everything from the film's unusual production and distribution history to biographical details about its cast, crew and director. He details some interesting trivia about the locations used for the shoot and provides some interesting critical insight into the picture as well, making various observations and comments about how and where it fits alongside so many of Bava's other pictures. Outside of that, we also get a trailer for the feature as well as trailers for Baron Blood, Lisa And The Devil, The House Of Exorcism and Black Sunday. Menus and chapter stops are also provided.
Hatchet For The Honeymoon finally gets the high quality domestic home video release it deserves thanks to the efforts of Kino and Redemption. While Bava would make better movies than this one, the picture is still an entertaining and well made mix of horror and suspense shot with a keen eye for composition and color and loaded with style. The film's Blu-ray debut is a good one, offering it up in very nice quality and with a very welcome commentary to help place it in its proper cultural and historical context. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.