Mario Bava made a number of films, some quite good, some only fair. Hatchet for the Honeymoon is perhaps in the middle of the pack. It's not brilliant, but is quite interesting. It's a lower budget film for him, but he proves that he has the cinematic chops, even when he doesn't have a lot of money.
One thing that is unique about Hatchet among giallo films is that the audience knows right away who the killer is: fashion designer John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth) admits up front in narration that he is a serial killer, talking over footage of him actually killing a young couple on a train. So, this isn't a mystery film per se. We already know the culprit. The interesting thing is why he is doing it. Every young girl he kills (always newlyweds, or girls wearing wedding dresses) reveals a bit more to John of the blurred memories of his mother's death.
His psychological state is not helped any by his shrewish older wife Mildred (Laura Betti), who constantly nags him, and reminds him that he is stuck with her since she will never grant a divorce. A number of young women connected to John in some way have gone missing. Several girls who worked for him as models have gone missing, in fact. This attracts the attention of stolid Inspector Russell (Jesus Puente), and also attractive young redhead Helen (Dagmar Lassander), who claims to be the friend of one of the missing girls.
Every time he kills, a young boy observes John. Perhaps it is a projection of his younger self? As the net grows tighter around him, John becomes more and more frantic to recover his lost memories and discover who it was that murdered his mother. Each murder reveals a tiny bit more, but it's not enough. And Mildred's nagging is incessant. Matters can only get uglier.
The story is a bit odd and forced, and narratively not Bava's best effort, but he as always exhibits a visual flair. The half remembered dream sequences are quite nicely impressionistic, with odd angles, and melting effects. Because we know who the killer up front, much of the dramatic heavy lifting that would ordinarily be done by the mystery story (trying to figure out the culprit) is absent, so that burden shifts to John's internal struggle. He seems to view the murders not with delight, but rather as an unpleasant duty to be performed grudgingly. He certainly doesn't display any remorse or guilt over killing all of these innocent women. It's just that he sees his final purpose as more important than their lives. This puts the protagonist in an awkward position vis-à-vis the viewer. Ordinarily, the audience is expected to identify and sympathize with the main character, at least to an extent. In Hatchet for the Honeymoon that main character is repugnant, and yet we still feel a discomfiting urge to identify with him. This discomfort is probably intended by Bava, as a commentary on voyeurism in film if nothing else. But it does leave the narrative somewhat empty and unsatisfying.
Nevertheless, this is a fascinating film, and quite beautifully shot. The performances are all quite good for gialli of this era as well, even the voiceovers, which in many films can be ludicrously bad. There is a lot to like here, even for non Bava fans. For those dedicated to his work, it's a must see. Recommended.
Feature Length Commentary by Tim Lucas, Author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark