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Hatchet For The Honeymoon (1970)

by on 2010/10/25

First things first. Strictly in the service of accuracy, the slashing implement in question in this 1970 Spanish-Italian psychological thriller isn’t a hatchet, it is a great, gleaming butcher’s cleaver. As well, there’s absolutely no mystery surrounding the person who wields the cleaver, like the popular Showtime series Dexter, we follow the hunter rather than the hunted.

Originally released under the Italian title Il rosso segno della follia, this creepy, affecting slasher pic features the performance of Stephen Forsyth playing John Harrington – successful entrepreneur and psychopathic murderer. Harrington is the married, wealthy owner of a bridal fashion business who in his spare time, kills brides-to-be.

When he isn’t killing women on their honeymoon, he mixes it up by killing some of his bridal fashion models, incinerating them and scattering their ashes on his flower garden.

Like Dexter without the Hawaiian shirt, Harrington knows he’s completely mad, he admits as much to the audience in the first few moments of the film. However, there’s an orderly and disciplined method to his madness. He kills to remember the night his mother was murdered by a mysterious stranger. His mother was clad in a wedding dress on the night she died and Harrington ensures his victims are similarly attired before he hacks at them with a cleaver.

Each and every killing recovers a critical fragment of his childhood memory, bringing him closer to his mother’s murderer. Everything is going smoothly for Harrington as he works to unravel this mystery — save two snags.

One snag comes in the form of his thin-lipped, harpy wife Mildred (Laura Betti). The other snag is Inspector Russell (Jesús Puente). Inspector Russell has a nasty habit of showing up at awkward times and in the best Columbo-like fashion, dogs Harrington with “just one more question.”

For some reason, law enforcement always suspects the guy with his own incinerator.

Harrington quickly dispatches the first problem by serving his nagging wife a midnight snack of cleaver on a silver platter. Unfortunately for Harrington, Mildred doesn’t stay dead. A ghostly Mildred reappears constantly to taunt Harrington – despite burying her, then burning her, then throwing her ashes off a bridge, then finally scattering Mildred’s ashes around his palatial estate. The wife came back, the very next day.

Capably directed by Mario Bava, this textured, slasher-film-with-a-brain keeps you hooked for all 88 minutes of runtime. Forsyth manages to weave a layered and even sympathetic character from this horrific anti-hero. While can be uncomfortable for audiences to follow the villain for the duration of a film or series, the cancellation of ahead-of-its-time cult series Profit proved that, Hatchet manages to make you actually care about the killer despite your better judgement.

This movie reminded me of several other films. Another outstanding exploration of the anti-hero, George Romero’s Martin (1977), the complex film about a would-be vampire, closely mirrors some critical moments in Hatchet. The idea of slashing brides-to-be was later picked up on by the lesser flick He Knows When You’re Alone (1980) , a very, very silly slasher film which is now only notable because it was Tom Hanks’ inauspicious film debut.

And so I say, light a silver candelabra this Halloween and grab hold of  Hatchet For the Honeymoon.

* * *

Unrated

88 minutes

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