Sunday, January 3, 2010

Victim pays back killer from beyond grave

Hatchet for the Honeymoon
(aka "Blood Brides" and "The Red Mark of Madness")(1969)

Starring: Stephen Forsyth, Laura Betti, Jesus Puente and Dagmar Lasssander
Director: Mario Bava
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A serial killer and designer of bridal gowns (Forsyth) commits his murders in an attempt to unlock a traumatic event from his childhood that he has blocked from memory. But when he murders his wife (Betti), he experiences some of the horror he has been visiting on his victims as she makes good on her promise to "never leave him."

"Hatchet for the Honeymoon" is a stylish little horror/ghost movie that fans of the TV show "Dexter" may enjoy. The protagonist is cut from the same kind of cloth--he's a serial killer who knows exactly how twisted he is and who functions as a perfectly normal and successful human being. Well, in the case of John Harrington, the murderer in this film, he functions normally until he kills one victim too many. (It should be noted that John is not quite a likeable as Dexter and that his victims don't fall into the category of "deserving it". But, like in "Dexter", this movie turns the traditional murder mystery on its head, and we watch it unfold from the side of the killer.

Aside from being one of the few films where I didn't feel like Mario Bava's trademark stylish flourishes were all about calling attention to his clever camerawork--here the odd shots of reflections in pools of liquid or strange angles and lighting choices worked to underscore the mood of the film instead of just being there for the sake of being there--the film is populated with a host of characters who come across as real due to little touches presented through actions rather than dialogue.

This is a film where strong performances from talented actors and skillfull direction combine to create a world that draws the viewers in, whether we want to be or not. We never sympathize with John Harrington, but he and his victims come across as fully realized enough that we care about what happens.

Another impressive aspect of "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" is that Bava manages to present a brutal murder with showing very little gore. The murder of Harrington's wife and his confrontation with the police immediately afterwards are among some of the best thriller moments ever put on screen... and it's the sort of sequence that justifies those comparisons to Hitchcock that some Bava fans like to make.

It's also impressive that the movie doesn't fall apart or lose momentum when it starts morphing from a psychological thriller into a ghost movie. (And it really leaves very little room for doubt; the ghost that haunts Harrington in the second half of the movie is eventually shown to not be a figment of his diseased imagination.)

From the movie's prologue and its chilling opening scene--where John tells us about who and what he is--to its final moment, "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" is a great blend of horror and drama. Although I rarely see the film mentioned on lists of Mario Bava's greatest work, it's another one that makes me understand why some consider him a genius on the level of Hitchcock.

"Hatchet for the Honeymoon" can be ordered from I highly recommend adding it to your collection.

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