FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE...beware yon spoilers!

Jun 21, 2007

Pow, zoom...to the moon!

Mario Bava's Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970) is one of those films that has been floating around in my subconscious for about as long as I can remember. Back in the days before Blockbuster, back when videos were still a rarity and they came in those giant boxes (you know the ones, they had that flimsy plastic tray inside), Hatchet was one of those titles that simply leapt off the shelf, insinuating- to me, anyway- that the film would be downright despicable. Surely the film would blow my mind with acts of gruesome depravity, madness...and murder! I'd look at the box each time I went to the video store, but I was always too freaked out to actually rent the damn thing. Mind you, I had no idea if the movie actually was gruesome, and I was clueless as to the plot; all the horrors my mind whipped up were based on the title and the title alone. Before you call me...well, retarded, let me remind you of a little film called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre- surely that's a prime example of a film whose title alone is enough to induce terror.

But let's get to the nitty-gritty: was Hatchet for the Honeymoon worth the 20+ year wait? Did it rip my mind asunder with its sadomasochistic violent imagery? Did all the grodiness and eeeevil send me spiralling down into the depths of madness, depths from which I may never return? Yes, of course I have a ninja-like coping skills and a constitution of steel- after all, I made it through BloodRayne and Spice World with my sanity somewhat intact (eh, who am I trying to fool...I fucking love Spice World)- but would merely mortal viewers succumb to the depravity that is Hatchet for the Honeymoon?

Well, they might...if Hatchet for the Honeymoon was at all depraved.

Or gruesome.

Or horrifying.

In other words, this movie was nothing like what I was expecting. More a Roman Polanski film than a Sean Cunningham film, Hatchet for the Honeymoon is a sometimes terrible, sometimes compelling psychodrama.

Hatchet opens on a train as we watch a young man enter a sleeper compartment where a couple of nude honeymooners are making out. The young man raises his cleaver and kills the couple offscreen- see what I mean? Restraint! This early on, I was shocked by the distinct lack of explicit violence.

After the murders, the young man returns to his palatial Parisian estate. As he shaves and gazes lovingly at himself in the mirror, he helpfully tells us a bit about himself in a voiceover:
My name is John Harrington. I'm 30 years old. I am a paranoiac. An enchanting one...so civilized and full of possibilities. The fact is, I am completely mad- the realization of which annoyed me at first, but is now amusing to me...quite amusing. Nobody suspects that I am a madman, a dangerous murderer: not Mildred, my wife...not the employees of my fashion company...nor, of course, my customers.
A handsome, narcissistic, self-aware serial killer of women? You don't say! Hmm...I wonder how may times Bret Easton Ellis saw this film before he wrote American Psycho.

John is plagued by hazy memories of his mother's death as well as a horrible shrew of a wife. When Mildred (of course a shrew-y wife has to have an awful name like "Mildred"...it just wouldn't be the same if her name was Grace, now would it?) (no offense if your name is Mildred- I'm sure you're lovely) cackles over breakfast that she'll never grant John a divorce and that they'll always be together no matter what, no matter how much they hate each other, we can't help but sympathize with the poor guy just a bit. I mean, what's a guy in that situation to do besides butcher young brides on their wedding nights, you know?

John is the proprietor of Harrington & Company, a business that provides with those very same young brides with everything they'll need for their weddings, from the gown to the flowers. After a particularly tense morning with Mildred, John sneaks into his storeroom and starts cuddling and making out with mannequins- if it wasn't obvious before, we now know that John has a distinct case of "woman issues". When he begins to lovingly caress his cleaver, we can also assume that John has a distinct case of "kitchen utensil issues".

A woman should only live until her wedding night...love once...then die - John's philosophy

Every young bride John murders triggers another piece of his fractured memory, so John has no choice but to kill kill kill! He convinces one of his soon-to-be-wed models to meet him after work, where he gives her a gown as a wedding present. He further convinces her to try the gown on and join him in a creepy creepy dance of madness! They twirl for a while amongst the mannequins, then John gets his chop-chop on.

John returns home to his bitch of a wife, who kindly reminds him of their wedding night when l'il John apparently decided not to join in the fun, if you get my meaning.

I mean, John apparently also has "impotency issues". Every man and woman has a breaking point, and Mildred has finally triggered John's. He presents her with a shiny cleaver on a platter, then proceeds to hack her up with it and bury her corpse in the yard.

After the death of Mildred, Hatchet for the Honeymoon surprisingly jumps the rails and moves from He Knows You're Alone territory to EC Comics territory as it becomes a supernatural story of nagging from beyond the grave. In a fantastic, superbly shot sequence, Mildred's ghost slowly ascends the stairs and walks toward John, who cowers in fear. She lets him know that she wasn't fucking around with all that "We'll always be together no matter what" business- she's going to remain by his side, even in death, though John will be the only person who can't see her. Everyone will think they're just a happy couple, always spending time together, when the reality is she's just a big spectral ball and chain.

Quoth the Biz Markie, "Oh snap!"

From there on out, John maintains a hectic schedule as he tries to ditch Mildred's ghost, continue killing young brides, elude the pesky police inspector, figure out his own tragic past, and run a business. Will the Italian Psycho maintain the status quo, or will it all come crumbling down around him?

There are times when, in typical Gialli fashion, Hatchet for the Honeymoon feels as if it's going nowhere, as if it's just a series of random sequences edited together with little regard to plot. This being a Bava film, and again, in typical Gialli fashion, there are enough stylish sequences and wonderfully framed shots to make up for the occasional aimlessness. As the film was born in the late '60s/early '70s, the pacing is at times pretty slow- it's a matter of personal preference whether or not that will put a damper on your enjoyment.

In all honesty, I probably would have liked this film a lot more if I hadn't made up and built up its reputation for myself- which isn't to say that I didn't like it. Had I been expecting a slower, quieter supernatural psychodrama peppered with black comedy instead of an outrageous, notorious slasher flick, however, I might very well laud the film to no end. I always judge books by their covers and movies by their titles, however, and this time I was way off base. While it's certainly not Bava's best, Hatchet for the Honeymoon is a solid effort, regardless whether or not you have "kitchen utensil issues" yourself.

5 comments:

Theron said...

"Hatchet for the Honeymoon"

I love the titles of these Italian horror/giallo flicks!

Josh DeSlasher said...

I have this on VHS. Funny, I watched this, like, a week ago. I agree, I was expecting more blood, and terror, but it was a very good Bava film. I'd give t...er..uh....7/10. :) My favorite scene is the blood dripping. It was wicked to see Black Sabbath and Black Sunday playing on the tv. Good giallo flick,

Bill Walsh said...

Take away, take away, take away this ball and chain
'Cause I'm sick and I'm tired, and I can't take any more pain
Take away, take—
— Oh, sorry. Just got a song stuck in my head.

So ya think it would have affected your viewing if you'd known it by the Italian title, Il Rosso Segno della follia, or The Red Sign of Madness?

I mean, Hatchet for the Honeymoon is a fantastic drive-in title, but it doesn't really have that sicko giallo thingo, no?

Ross Horsley said...

Wow! I knew it was only a matter of time before you reviewed a full-on giallo like Hatchet For The Honeymoon, and I now feel compelled to send you a link to my Giallo Trading Card Game, so that you can celebrate with hours (or at least half an hour... maybe) of frantic, card-grabbing fun. I don't yet have a card for Hatchet - oh, the irony - but I think I feel my creative juices flowing. Either that or it's just gas. Anyway, thanks for another enjoyable review!

Sad man said...

SPICE WORLD is one of my favorite movies, and I'm not kidding. "And Victoria...meeoowwww!" That's priceless.