Director: Mario Bava
Kino Lorber/Redemption

Kino Lorber and Redemption have graced us with another Blu-ray edition of a classic Mario Bava title, and this time it’s his underappreciated 1970 opus HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON. The film is a moody yet surprisingly un-graphic PG-rated character study of a nut who slaughters white-veiled young brides with a shiny cleaver, sparked by a traumatic childhood experience (shown in periodic flashbacks). Rather than opting for a trendy giallo of “who done it?” proportions, the film reveals its lead performer as the killer in the first few minutes, as he narrates his ordeal: “My name is John Harrington. I'm 30 years old. I am a paranoiac”.

John Harrington (Canadian-born actor Stephen Forsyth, BLACK JESUS), a pretty boy type with an inherited women's fashion empire (a fashion house ala BLOOD AND BLACK LACE), is introduced as a deranged and apparently impotent young man who hacks a young bride (and her unfortunate husband) on a train, and he has already confessed to the viewer of his past track record of similar killings. He stays on this course by becoming obsessed with some of his pretty models, killing them while they're garbed in wedding dresses. His madness culminates at the hands of his nagging wife Mildred (Laura Betti, TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE), as she refuses to give him the divorce he so badly wants. One night, not expecting to see her back from a trip so early, he delivers a hatchet to her while donned in a white veil and rosy red lipstick! He is able to delude the police (who suspect him from the start), but before long, the evidence piles up against him. Jesús Puente (COUNT DRACULA) is the Columbo-molded inspector who won’t leave John alone, and Dagmar Lassander (THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETARY) is a beautiful model who infiltrates her way into John’s life yet manages to stay out of harm’s way.

With obvious (but perhaps unintentional) nods to films like PSYCHO, HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON's John Harrington has one foot in reality. After he kills his wife, she makes a Scroogesque visit to his bedroom to inform him that her presence will be with him always, but only everyone else will be able to see her. The audience never knows if there really is a supernatural aspect to the events or if this is just the illusions of a depraved mind. Stephen Forsyth's deadpan, blue-eyed “Ken Doll” Oedipal killer is a well-conceived character and quite creepy, but it's Betti's performance as the tormenting ghost that really makes the film.

Shot in 1968 but not given a theatrical release anywhere until 1970, this was the project Bava delved into immediately after his larger-budgeted, stylish comic book adaptation, DANGER: DIABOLIK, and he shot it in France, Spain and the more familiar grounds of Rome. Although this may not be his best work, as the story tends to be predicable, the film on a whole has a lot to offer visually, and Laura Betti’s unrelenting hooded apparition is one of the most unsettling personas to ever show up in a Bava film. Although Bava seems to have one foot in the satirical mode here, he handles the murders with suggestive gusto, resorting to his usual nifty cinematography, complete with perfectly timed reflection shots and quick flashbacks, and his affection for the zoom lens is also in check. With the subdued hints of black humor present, Bava has Forsyth watching the Karloff/Wurdulak segment (in black & white) of his BLACK SABBATH on TV, trying to convince the police that the murderous screams they heard came from the boob tube and not from his bedroom!

HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON’s arrival on Blu-ray is a most rewarding one, since the last time it was officially visited on home video in the States was with a non-anamorphic DVD released by Image Entertainment over a decade ago. This Blu-ray comes as a long-awaited facelift for anyone clinging to the Image disc for all these years, as the film has now been mastered in HD from the original 35mm negative. The 1080p resolution transfer offers HATCHET in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio, with colors looking dazzling and the detail is smooth and razor-sharp throughout. There are only some scattered specs on the source print, and grain is never a problem. The 2.0 mono English audio is also exceptional, with the post-synced dialog being clear and Sante Maria Romitelli's Morricone-like score coming through nicely despite some occasional crackling due to the age of the source print.

A new audio commentary with Video Watchdog editor and author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, Tim Lucas, has been commissioned exclusively for this release. Lucas’ observations made me appreciate the film even more, and whether he’s defending Forsyth’s post-dubbed performance, sharing personal quotes he obtained from several of the cast members or just pointing out lesser-known details about the production and its personnel, it’s a very interesting listen from start to finish. The original trailer is included (its onscreen titles contuses actresses Betti and Lassander), as are trailers for the Bava films BLACK SUNDAY, LISA AND THE DEVIL, BARON BLOOD and HOUSE OF EXORCISM. (George R. Reis)