Judge Daryl Loomis just brought scotch to his honeymoon.
Paranoiac. An enchanting word, so civilized, so full of possibilities.
Although, as personal taste goes, I prefer the gaudy excess of his protégé, Dario Argento, there is no doubt that Mario Bava (Lisa and the Devil) is the first and greatest master of Italian horror. His brilliant work isn't as well-represented in the DVD department, but I'm surprised to realize that this marks the first review of his work that I've done for the site (I guess all those poor snap-case Image releases came out before I started). Lucky for me, Image Entertainment has begun releasing their collection onto Blu-ray, starting for me with Hatchet for the Honeymoon.
Facts of the Case
Fashion photographer John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth, Fury in Marrakesh) seems to have it all; a thriving business teeming with gorgeous models, a huge and beautiful mansion, everything a swarthy seventies man could desire. There's only one problem: he's a psychotic murderer with a taste for the blood of new brides. He's taken plenty of lives, but when he finally dispatches his angry, neurotic wife Mildred (Laura Betti, Teorema), things start to go downhill. The cops seem onto him and he has a new model (Dagmar Lassander, The House by the Cemetery) who knows too much for her own good. It looks like it's time to bring out the hatchet, but can he get it done before he is caught?
In 1970, when Bava returned to the giallo, a genre he almost single-handedly created, he came with a twist. Minus the mystery aspects common in these features, everything starts the way one would expect. A black-gloved hand reaches out to a train door, when the perspective turns down the corridor to zoom in onto a little boy. Then, he opens the door and, slashes a pair of newlyweds to death. The only real difference from here on is that the killer immediately admits his crimes to the audience. He's led by his psychosis to kill so he can figure out who killed his mother when he was a little boy.
It follows the template pretty tightly until Harrington kills his wife (in a bridal gown, no less) and things turn weird. Keeping most of the giallo elements intact, Bava adds in the supernatural when his wife comes back from the dead. Oddly, in a ghost twist I'm not sure I've seen outside this movie, everybody can see and talk to her but him. Instead, she's depicted from his perspective, in one of his funniest visual puns, as an old handbag. When she finally does appear to him, her unseen presence has driven him completely over the edge and as he comes closer to the answer to his mother's killer, it becomes a race with the police to stop him before he kills again.
There's more than a little Psycho in Hatchet for the Honeymoon, but Bava injects his movie with his trademark style. While it moves a little slowly at times, it's consistently fun to look at. Whether it's the bright red blood, the garishly outfitted costumes and sets, or the surreal waltz scenes, there are always things to keep viewers eyes on the screen. The director knew his strengths and shows them off as well as he ever did here. This is all complimented by the excellent score by Sante Maria Romitelli (Shoot, Gringo…Shoot!), which accents the onscreen events quite well and is, incidentally, my favorite score to play when I hate the score on silent film discs.
Like much of his later work, the performances are the weakest part of Hatchet for the Honeymoon, though not the worst you'll find. Laura Betti is effective as the shrewish wife, no surprise given her Italian art film pedigree, but it goes downhill from there. Stephen Forsyth is mighty stiff, but it fits the character pretty well, and most everyone else just sort of walks through the role. Like the struggles with the plot, these deficiencies are outweighed greatly by the visual presentation which, again, is stunning.
While I feel like Mario Bava's work deserves more complete restorations than is presented on Image Entertainment's Blu-ray release of Hatchet for the Honeymoon, I can confirm that here the film does, indeed, fare better than it ever has. The 1.78:1/1080p transfer has a realistic grain structure, great, well-defined colors, and deep black levels, with solid detail throughout the frame. There is some damage still present on the image, mostly in the form of specks and blemishes. It's not that bad, but there could have been more work done. The sound is a little below where it should be, as well. While the dialog and musical score are pretty clear in the 2.0 Mono PCM mix, there is plenty of background hiss to distract viewers, which is a shame. Aside from the trailer, the only extra is an audio commentary by Bava expert Tim Lucas, who is as detailed in this commentary as always.
It isn't the most coherent or dynamic film in Mario Bava's body of work, but Hatchet for the Honeymoon is one of his strangest and most interestingly filmed. Colorful, surreal, and expressionistic, Bava made a work of violent beauty, a supernatural giallo that goes down as one of the better examples of the genre. Plus, the Blu-ray is easily good enough to recommend an upgrade, so I walk away very happy.
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