I wrote an essay on Mario Bava’s giallo film Hatchet For The Honeymoon (1970) for Mezzanotte, a new website dedicated to cinema, sin and swinging style. Read a little here, enjoy the stills from the film, and then click on through for more…
Hatchet for the Honeymoon is not the kind of film to watch for a kill count or ingenious murders. It is the kind of film to watch for paranormal and sartorial phenomena, ghosts, discotheques, mysterious deaths, horrifying old toys, and the narration of a “paranoiac.” After credits in which piles of red and blue ash drift across photographs, we see John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth, Fury in Marrakesh), wearing a black bloused shirt and tight black pants belted with a chain, in action as a cleaver-wielding murderer. He has followed a woman onto a train leaving Paris. She is Rosie, one of the models at Harrington’s fashion house, on her honeymoon. In the corridor, John sees a young boy reflected in the train window. As the young bride, still in her gown, embraces her groom, she sees John raise his cleaver and screams. But we see no brutality, at most we see the bride fallen on the floor, covered with a splash of blood. And we barely see the groom at all. Instead of the killing blows, we see a kaleidoscopic array of light and color. And hear a woman’s voice calling, “John! John!” When he is finished, John wipes his cleaver off with her veil and hangs a sign on the door handle, “Do Not Disturb / Ne Pas Derangez.” Then we cut to John at home working a train set and then shaving as a woman calls his name. This time it is his wife. John addresses viewers in voiceover narration.
My name is John Harrington. I am thirty years old. I am a paranoiac. Paranoiac—an enchanting word, so civilized, so full of possibility. The fact is that I am completely mad. The realization of which annoyed me at first, but is now amusing to me. Quite amusing. No one suspects that I am a mad man. Not Mildred, my wife. Not the employees of my fashion center. Nor, of course, my customers…. But the fact remains that I have killed five young women—three of whom are buried in the hothouse….There is one problem, I must go on wielding the cleaver, it is most annoying. But when I begin to hear those footsteps, those stealthy footsteps, I know I must kill. And I shall have to continue killing until I find out the whole truth. That’s it—until I find out the whole truth.
The whole truth for John is not in his diagnosis or the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. It’s somewhere else, someplace he can only find within himself when he kills. And so, he says, “I must go on wielding the cleaver.”
With Hatchet for the Honeymoon Mario Bava returns to the deadly world of high fashion he first explored in Blood and Black Lace (1964). But unlike Blood and Black Lace, we start Hatchet for the Honeymoon already knowing who the murderer is. The central mystery is not the killer’s identity. The mystery is what’s happening to John and with the murder he is attempting to solve. In accepting his diagnosis, Harrington believes he has accepted himself, but he is haunted by that fragmentary vision of a woman lying on the floor, her voice calling his name. John Harrington inherited his mother’s Paris fashion business, her designs, and her house; and so he designs bridal gowns and murders young brides. Financially fragile when he takes over, John saves the business and house through marriage to a wealthy widow. While there had been passion before John and Mildred were married, after marriage they become resentful and bitter. Mildred refuses him a divorce, telling him at a particularly unpleasant al fresco breakfast, “We’ll stay married until death do us part.” Mildred (Laura Betti, who debuted in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, worked with Pier Paolo Passolini in Teorema and The Canterbury Tales, and Bernardo Bertolucci in 1900) resents John’s inattentiveness and his “women,” who exist but not in the way Mildred imagines. How could John to explain that he began killing young women after they married and that now he finds comfort only in the arms of the mannequins?
In his creepy sanctuary of mannequins dressed in bridal gowns, John displays a tenderness missing from his relationships with real, living women. After one murder, John is suave as all get out with a mannequin, smoothly laying her down to kiss, but he’s interrupted by a music cue and the sound of footsteps climbing stairs. The siren song of his shiny, shiny cleaver kept in the same room as the mannequins in bridal gowns telling him it is time to kill again. There is the sense that his dalliances were uninterrupted in the past. If John ever resisted his urges, he does so no longer. But lately his motivations have become more complicated. When he kills one of his models, Alice (genre powerhouse Femi Benussi, So Sweet So Dead, The Italian Connection, and the ever tasteful Strip Nude for Your Killer), he invites her to his sanctuary. He tells Alice, “I want to see you in your wedding dress as if tonight really belonged to us.” He offers her a choice of bridal gown as a wedding present, dances among the mannequins with her to Sante Maria Romitelli’s romantic theme for the film, and then, raising his cleaver, says, “A woman should live only until her wedding night, love once and then die. Now you’ll turn into another woman and I’ll learn a little bit more.”
Read a little bit more at Mezzanotte. And maybe stay and read the many fine articles on giallo.
Demko, G. J. “The Mystery in Italy.” Landscapes of Crime. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~gjdemko/italy.htm
Koven, Mikel J. La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema And The Italian Giallo Film. (Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2006)
Lucas, Tim. All The Colors Of The Dark. (Cincinnati: Video Watchdog, 2007).
IMDb entries on Hatchet for the Honeymoon; Palau Reial de Pedralbes; and, Villa Parisi in Frascati, Italy.
Palau Reial de Pedralbes entry at Barcelona.com
TCM.com entry on Ossessione (1942).
Wikipedia entries on Hatchet For The Honeymoon; Palau Reial de Pedralbes; and, Villa Parisi.