Do you need to love, trust and care about the hero of the movie? Mario Bava is here with Hatchet for the Honeymoon in an attempt to craft a story where the hero is the absolute worst person in the entire film.
Meet John Harrington. He’s 30, runs a bridal dress factory, lives in a gorgeous villa near Paris and kills young women to overcome his impotence and Oedipus complex. His wife, Mildred, refuses to divorce him. And he’s instantly smitten with Helen (Dagmar Lassander, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, The House by the Cemetery), a young model who has come to replace a missing girl.
Why is she missing? She was one of the models at the salon who John took a liking to, giving her one of his dresses for her wedding. The moment she tried it on, he hacked her up with a meat cleaver, burned her corpse and used it to fertilize the plants in his greenhouse.
Inspector Russell knows that something isn’t quite right. After all, how can six models disappear from the same dress company? If only there was some evidence…
John, however, is falling in love with Helen. And he finally decides to do something about his wife. That something entails him putting on a wedding dress and killing her. But there’s one problem. Here’s where Bava twists the film from giallo into supernatural territory: she won’t stay dead.
While John can’t see or hear his wife, everyone else can. Even after burning her remains and placing them in a handbag, she keeps coming back. He takes the handbag with him to a club, where an attempt to bring another woman home fails when she sees his wife. Beaten by a bouncer and ejected, he cannot even use his charms to win over women. He throws his wife’s ashes into the night, but she remains with him
If John can’t be happy, at least he can murder Helen. He convinces her to wear a wedding dress and tells her that he never wanted to hurt her. She avoids the final blow of his cleaver, which unlocks a flashback where we learned the truth: John loved his mother and that love grew as he became the man of the house after his father’s death. But when she remarried — and started having sex again — he couldn’t take it and murdered her and her new husband. His mind erased the evidence until now.
Helen was an undercover cop all along, leading Inspector Russell and his men back to arrest John. While being transported to prison, he’s happy knowing that his many trials are over. Then, to his horror, he sees the handbag and notices his wife sitting next to him. Now, he’s the only person who can see her. She promised to be with him forever, even in Hell. He goes insane before accepting his fate.
Hatchet for the Honeymoon predates the slasher, yet many of its conventions can be found here and in other early Bava works. This film is a masterwork of both style and substance, with gorgeous fashion, sets and camerawork creating a gorgeous tableau. I love the scene where John uses Bava’s Black Sunday, playing on the TV, as an excuse for the screams that come from his apartment. And as his wife’s blood drips down onto the ground floor, it’s almost as if Bava dares you to empathize with a hero who is completely contemptible. What a predicament to be in!