[23 October 2012]
Arguably, acclaimed director Mario Bava should be considered as the granddaddy of Italian horror films. After all, there’s little doubt that Bava revamped and deconstructed the infamous Italian thriller subgenre best known by horror fans as the giallo. Unfortunately, modern masters of spaghetti nightmares often eclipse Bava’s name. Indeed, the popularity and recognition of Bava are far from being as big as those granted to Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. This is a real shame, as it is indisputable that the visual and narrative structures of Bava’s films deeply influenced Argento and Fulci.
By all means, Hatchet for the Honeymoon (a.k.a Il Rosso Segno della Follia, roughly translated as The Red Sign of Madness) is not the best Bava film. Probably such a distinction should go to Black Sunday (1960) or Planet of the Vampires (1965), but that’s a completely different story. Even so, Hatchet for the Honeymoon is clearly representative of the visuals and storylines that characterize Bava’s directorial oeuvre. But truth be told, there is not much else that remains to be said about Bava and his films after the publication of the gargantuan treatise on the subject: Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark (2007) written by the “video watchdog” himself, Tim Lucas.
Hatchet for the Honeymoon could be best described as a rather bizarre mixture between a giallo and a ghost story. Needless to say, both subgenres were of great interest to Bava, who explored them in further detail in previous and subsequent films. The giallo part refers to the deadly psychopathic behavior of John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth), a wealthy fashion designer who viciously kills women dressed in their wedding gowns. And in case you are wondering, in spite of the film’s title, John’s weapon of choice is not a hatchet, but a shinny meat cleaver.
It’s really surprising to watch Hatchet for the Honeymoon and realize how this humble little Italian film appears to have had a strong influence on American Psycho (2000), the film directed by Mary Harron based on the infamous Bret Easton Ellis’ novel of the same name. Indeed, both films manage to capture the decadence of the affluent class through the cruel endeavors of a charming and handsome, but narcissistic and psychotic, individual. By all means, John Harrington appears to be the precursor of Patrick Bateman (played with bravura by Christian Bale in American Psycho).
Furthermore, Hatchet for the Honeymoon’s supernatural twist sort of resonates with the ambiguous finale of American Psycho. It is not a real spoiler to reveal that in Bava’s film, John eventually kills his overbearing and disgruntled wife Mildred (Laura Betti). Indeed, as Hatchet for the Honeymoon is sort of sympathetic towards John, Mildred’s disdain towards John is her ticket to hell. However, John could never have imagined that Mildred’s ghost would come back from beyond the grave with the fierce determination to haunt him until the end of time.
Noticeably, Hatchet for the Honeymoon portrays a genuine Freudian nightmare. First of all, the patriarchal authority is ruthlessly threatened because Mildred’s contempt towards John feels utterly suffocating. This reading is reinforced when the film reveals that Mildred is the wealthy one, and she has to support John’s unsuccessful business enterprises. In addition, John has a variety of unresolved psychological issues regarding his defunct mother. As we learn, John’s psychosis was triggered when as a kid he witnessed the brutal slaying of her mother during her wedding night.
Because of its strong Freudian subtexts, its display of dream-like images, and its presentation of strong emotional responses to childhood traumas, the narrative structure of Hatchet for the Honeymoon seems right out of a gothic text. Even the setting for John’s home and business, an elegant French villa near Paris, resembles a forbidding castle.
But then again, Bava was well aware of the gothic elements that he masterfully infused in most of his films, most notably in Black Sunday and Planet of the Vampires. However, while Black Sunday is a true gothic horror tale, Hatchet for the Honeymoon bridges the transition to contemporary culture. Indeed, not only Hatchet for the Honeymoon is set in late ‘60s Europe, but also its colorful visual structure recalls the groovy psychedelic sensibilities of the era.
For those eclectic horror fans, Redemption Films has released a nice looking Blu-ray disc presentation of Bava’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon. Unfortunately, the image quality is far from being perfect, as scratches and other imperfections appear here and there throughout the entire film. On the positive side, this Blu-ray offers solid and vibrant colors that do justice to the lively palette that distinguishes Bava’s lush cinematography. The sound is equally uneven, but good enough to appreciate the moody lounge music composed by Sante Maria Romitelli for the movie’s soundtrack. But nevertheless, in spite of its many imperfections, to date this is by far the best home video presentation of this intriguing Italian movie.
An audio commentary by Bava expert Tim Lucas is the only significant extra feature included in this Blu-ray presentation of Hatchet for the Honeymoon. But then again, this disc triumphs on the top-notch quality of the audio commentary. Personally, I believe that this may be one of the most entertaining, comprehensive, and insightful audio commentaries in home video history. Tim Lucas’ comments include bits and pieces on the making of Hatchet for the Honeymoon, as well as insightful analysis of the film and its meanings.
All things considered, Hatchet for the Honeymoon is a decent horror flick that most likely will not disappoint horror fans. While far from being the best work from Bava’s oeuvre, this film shows the assorted strengths of the primordial master of Italian horror cinema. By all means, Hatchet for the Honeymoon is highly recommended to those who are delighted by the morbid elegance of Italian horror films. Any others watching this film will be as out of place as a vegetarian at a barbeque.