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Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970)

Il Rosso segno della follia, Un Accetta per la luna di miele, An Axe for the Honeymoon, Blood Brides, Un Hacha para la luna de miel, The Red Mark of Madness, The Red Sign of Madness

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 85 minutes

UK Certificate: 15


In Italy, sensationalist thriller novels were published with yellow (or ‘giallo’) covers, and so films inspired by their lurid subject matter became known as ‘gialli’. Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci may be its best known exponents, but they, like so many American directors, were in thrall to the undisputed father of the giallo, Mario Bava, who established all the subgenre’s groundrules in films like ‘Black Sunday’, ‘Blood and Black Lace’, and ‘Lisa and the Devil’, with his characteristic eye for rich detail and his extraordinary powers of manipulation. ‘Hatchet for the Honeymoon’ represents something of a deviation from the normal conventions of the giallo. Instead of featuring the usual black-gloved killer whose identity is carefully concealed until the end, the cleaver-wielding John Harrington (Steven Forsyth) is seen doing his murderous work right from the opening scene, and his voice-over reveals candidly “I am a madman, a dangerous killer…I have killed five young women, three of whom are buried in the hothouse”.

The dandyish John exploits his ownership of a Parisian wedding salon to kill brides on their wedding night – with each murder bringing him closer to remembering the circumstances of his own mother’s violent death, which he witnessed as a boy. For in the tradition of ‘Peeping Tom’ and Psycho, Bava’s film is not so much a whodunnit as a whydunnit, and while there is a policeman (Jesús Puente) on the trail of the missing women, it is John’s own investigation into the shattered pieces of his mind and his attempts, through the act of murder, to track down a hazy boyhood memory, that form the centrepiece of the detective psychodrama. Yet ‘Hatchet for the Honeymoon’ is also a darkly surreal comedy about the eternal bonds of marital love, with John’s nagging, unsatisfied wife Mildred (Laura Betti) proving to be a haunting presence with a far tighter stranglehold on his mind than his mother ever had.

To anyone steeped in the tropes of psychokiller cinema, ‘Hatchet for the Honeymoon’ has very few surprises – but this is partly due to the film’s great influence on subsequent slashers, so that what in Bava was inventively original has now come to seem like cliché. For its opening train sequence is the source for the beginning of George A. Romero’s Martin, its point-of-view shots ascending a staircase have inspired the famous opening of John Carpenter’s Halloween, while its idea of a killer who surrounds himself with female dummies has clearly informed William Lustig’s ‘Maniac’. Still, when it comes to immaculately controlled sets, claustrophobic camera angles and editing that follows its own macabre logic (e.g. cutting from the smoking chimney of an incinerator in which a corpse is being cremated to a piece of burning toast, or from a woman with her throat slit open to a boiled egg being opened with a teaspoon), Bava’s only real rival (and closest imitator) is Dario Argento, and his ‘Deep Red’ in particular owes a considerable debt, and even its titular colour, to ‘Hatchet for the Honeymoon’ (originally called ‘The Red Mark of Madness’).

Although ‘Hatchet for the Honeymoon’ does not quite deliver at the end on the promise of its first half (and at no point features a hatchet), it is nonetheless a consummate piece of Hitchcockian film-making from one of Italy’s grand masters of psychosexual suspense.

It's Got: Mothers, marriage, madness and murder; paranoia and the paranormal; exquisite sets (including General Francos villa in Barcelona); brilliantly executed cinematography and editing; a very black streak of humour.

It Needs: More of a surprise to its ending.

DVD Extras Scene selection; choice of Dolby 2.0/5.1 surround/dts; Dario Argento - an Eye for Horror (57min) - an excellent featurette on the life and works of Argento narrated by Mark Kermode, and including interviews with Argento, his ex-wife/muse Daria Nicolodi, his daughters/muses Fiore and Asia ("[he] never killed me once but he had me raped a few times") and his brother/producer Claudio, with his biographers Alan Jones and Maitland McDonagh, with his actors Michael Brandon (Four Flies on Grey Velvet), Jessica Harper (Suspiria) and Piper Laurie (Trauma), with his composers Claudio Simonetti and Keith Emerson, with directors John Carpenter, George A. Romero, William Lustig and Luigi Cozzi, with gore wizard Tom Savini, and with überfan Alice Cooper - all very fascinating, even if only tangentially related to Mario Bava (who gets only one passing mention); trailer; bio of Bava; film notes; photo gallery. DVD Extras Rating: 6/10


Perhaps not Bava's best, but this influential psychosexual thriller of matrimonials and madness still runs (wedding) rings around much of the competition.