At the start of 'Hatchet for the Honeymoon,' Stephen Forsyth introduces his character as a paranoiac while calmly shaving with a straight razor in front a large, elaborate mirror. Ignoring the fact that his acknowledgement to his own mental instability raises questions about the statement, the movie doesn't give audiences much time to dwell on it, as it quickly moves into a self-important harangue. The man we're meant to believe is suffering from paranoia doesn't talk or behave crazy, delivering a rather elegant and lyrical speech about his worldview instead. He runs a successful bridal-design shop, admired by the public and the fashion world, lives in a large mansion and has an affinity for birds and breeding roses. There's little reason to suspect he's actually psychotic.
Then again, that's precisely the point in Mario Bava's 1970 underrated giallo. A deluded maniac hides in plain sight, shrouded from suspicion by his success and social status. The plot follows Forsyth in his insanity and cracked desire to murder young brides the night prior to their wedding. The film opens on Forsyth's John Harrington, and it ends on him, creatively generating suspense and mystery on the reasons behind his deranged state. It takes some inspiration from Michael Powell's 'Peeping Tom,' but it also paves the way for future horror thrillers which use the point of view of the killer.
Forsyth is great in the role and sadly, it marks his last acting appearance, retiring after this film because he was dissatisfied with the course of his career. With a rugged handsomeness about him, the Canadian-born actor brings a trusting, genial quality to the character, but he also has the terrific talent of making his face seem as if it's hiding the mind of a demented individual. We're made aware of this in the same opening speech when he stares intently at himself and at the things around with a terrifying murderous rage. When we later see him inside his secret room of mannequins dressed in bridal gowns with those same eyes, the sequence is both eerie and visually beautiful.
As the story progresses, things become quite twisted and disquieting, as we're made to believe that the murders are somehow therapeutic for John in discovering for himself the cause of his illness. In the real world, John feels trapped in a loveless, sexually-repressed marriage to an overbearing and demeaning woman (Laura Betti). Trying to solve the case of the missing and murdered brides-to-be, Inspector Russell (Jesús Puente) grows suspicious of John and his close relationship to all the victims. Taking a cue from Hitchcock's 'Psycho,' Bava brings Dagmar Lassander into the mix, playing the sister to one of those victims and taking a personal interest in John. As the killer feels he's coming closer to solving the mystery of his lunacy, the world around him is also closing in on him, tightening a hold on the last bits of his sanity, urging him to murder again.
Where the story is most effective is in the supernatural element of the second half, mixing the standard giallo structure with a gothic Poe-esque characteristic. Driven to the breaking point, John murders his wife, but she continues to haunt and ridicule him even in the afterlife, appearing to everyone else except him and further instigating his madness. Bava demonstrates his talent behind the camera in these scenes, moving with fluid grace and elegance and creating some welcomed spine-tingling moments. The sequences are also very clever in blurring the line between what's real and what's only in John's head. It all leads to a final twist that's not all that shocking but satisfying nonetheless. The real success in this mostly forgotten Bava classic is in Forsyth's performance and in following his character's deranged delusions as the world around him unravels.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber brings 'Hatchet for the Honeymoon' to Blu-ray under the distributor's "Redemption" label. Housed inside a normal blue keepcase, the Region A locked, BD25 disc goes straight to the main menu with a still photo of the cover art and music playing in the background.
'Hatchet for the Honeymoon' takes a swing at Blu-ray with a pleasing but still only passable 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Framed in a 1.78:1 window, the print used for this transfer has aged decently well, but the color timing seems to be off, pushing more towards a warm, yellow hue. This has a small effect on the overall palette as primaries largely lack vibrancy and boldness. Softer pastels also show little luster but appear accurate nonetheless. Flesh tones have a tan, orange-like quality to them. Though whites are clean, contrast is average, providing good visibility into the background but there's little sense of watching a high-def presentation. Black levels are deep and correct but a bit inconsistent while shadow details are surprisingly excellent. The movie benefits most from better definition and resolution, yet it's not very sharp or distinct, as several scenes and close-ups lack fine details, while others look pretty great.
Overall, the video is a nice jump from previous editions, but only by a small margin.
As for the audio, the movie sadly arrives with a disappointing English uncompressed PCM mono soundtrack. While the ADR work and lip sync are distractingly bad, dialogue reproduction becomes more problematic when voices are not always coming in at the same volume. Some conversations are louder than others. Adding to the issue, background noise, hissing and pops can be very brash and somewhat ear-splitting in several areas. Dynamic range noticeably clips and distorts in the upper levels, and low bass is pretty much nonexistent. The entire soundstage feels flat, uniform and hollow with hardly any life or warmth to it. In the end, the lossless mix is less than impressive and substandard.
While not generally considered one of Mario Bava's finest efforts, 'Hatchet for the Honeymoon' is still an entertaining thriller, with a very amusing supernatural element in the second half. Frankly, it's an underrated piece about a deranged killer trying to solve the mystery and cause of his insanity with an excellent performance by Stephen Forsyth. The Blu-ray arrives with a passable picture quality but a disappointing audio presentation. With only an audio commentary making up the bonus features, the overall package is ultimately for the fans of Mario Bava and the Italian horror cinema.