Serial Killer as anti-hero has been a popular motif in slasher films for as long as there have been slasher films. From the seminal Peeping Tom through the influential Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer to the over-the-top American Psycho, cold blooded murderers have always made a fun and different type of protagonist, one that can be rooted for as well as against. In 1970, legendary Italian giallo director Mario Bava (Twitch of the Death Nerve, Black Sunday) introduced the world to his own psycho killer John Harrington in an under-the-radar film called Hatchet for the Honeymoon.
In Hatchet for the Honeymoon, John Harrington (Steven Forsyth from No Killing Without Dollars) is the sexually impotent manager of a bridal gown manufacturer who is trapped in an unhappy marriage with a shrew of a woman named Mildred (Sweets from a Stranger’s Laura Betti) who will not grant him a divorce because she wants to make his life as miserable as hers. Due to a traumatic childhood memory, Harrington is also a psychopath who murders women while they are wearing wedding dresses. Because of this, his shop’s models obviously keep disappearing, a fact that brings him under the suspicion of Inspector Russell (You’re the One’s Jesús Puente), a local policeman. Nevertheless, he still sweet talks, seduces and murders his models with great success. After Mildred catches him with one of his models, a beautiful woman named Helen Wood (Dagmar Lassander from The House by the Cemetery), the two get into an argument and Harrington kills his wife with a cleaver. This is only the beginning of his problems, however, as not only does Mildred’s screams alert Inspector Russell, but Mildred’s ghost begins to torment Harrington everywhere he goes. Between Mildred’s haunting and Inspector Russell’s investigation, John Harrington has his insane hands full.
Hatchet for the Honeymoon has always been viewed as one of Mario Bava’s more underrated films. Written by Bava and Santiago Moncada (Rest in Pieces), the picture is a clever combination of psycho-killer mystery and supernatural ghost tale that is strangely ahead of its time. The films that influenced Hatchet for the Honeymoon are as easily apparent as the ones that have been influenced by it. Bava freely borrows from the big two original slasher films, taking the transvestite killer motif from Psycho as well as using the sympathetic anti-hero theme from Peeping Tom. With that pedigree, it’s no wonder that Hatchet for the Honeymoon’s influence is still being felt today.
The most obvious offspring of Hatchet for the Honeymoon is American Psycho. John Harrington is the prototype for the bloodthirsty Patrick Bateman. From the beginning of the film, Harrington tells the audience in voiceover that he is a psychotic murderer, a monologue that is very similar to one that Bateman gives at the onset of American Psycho. While Hatchet for the Honeymoon lacks much of the intentional humor of American Psycho, both films share a surrealism and dreamlike quality, making them simultaneously campy and terrifying. Harrington’s kill scenes have influenced Bateman, as well; in one scene he dances seductively with one of his models before leading her over to his cleaver, and in Mildred’s murder scene he leaves her on the stairs bleeding while Inspector Russell interrogates him about a scream that has been reported. John Harrington’s influence on Patrick Bateman is strong, and Hatchet for the Honeymoon is American Psycho thirty years earlier.
Mario Bava not only wrote and directed Hatchet for the Honeymoon, but he did the cinematography as well. The photography in the film is extremely distinct and very surreal, with every shot having some type of camera motion. Bava uses motivated zooms, dolly tracking shots and conversational panning and tilting to keep the camera focused on the important elements in the scene while emphasizing emotion and energy in the characters. The camera motion adds to both the campiness and the creepiness, making Hatchet for the Honeymoon the kind of film that gets both uncomfortable laughs and spine-tingling scares.
Hatchet for the Honeymoon also boasts a fascinating and versatile musical score, compliments of Sante Maria Romitelli (The Red Headed Corpse). Romitelli’s soundtrack features lush orchestral pieces that play to the matrimonial aspects of the film as well as harsh, obnoxious noise that illustrates the violence of Harrington’s personality. From soft flutes to fuzzy guitars, Romitelli’s score for Hatchet for the Honeymoon works well with every element of the visuals of the film.
Although often thought of as one of Mario Bava’s lesser works, Hatchet for the Honeymoon is the missing link between early slasher films like Peeping Tom and modern day splatter flicks such as American Psycho. Helping to further the trend of protagonist serial killers, the influence of the movie has been widespread and vast in the horror world.