Saturday, September 25, 2010

HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (Il rosso segno della follia, 1970)

Mario Bava's black comedy has what the literary critics call an unreliable narrator. How unreliable is John Harrington? "Nobody suspects that I am completely mad," is one of his first utterances while introducing himself to us. But when you go in with that attitude, you're probably not as unsuspected as you think. At least the local police inspector seems to think that Harrington, the proprietor of a bridal fashion shop inherited from his beloved mother, has something to do with the numerous disappearances of bridal models. It's a good guess: John, unhappily married to Mildred, a shrew with an occult obsession, seduces models, puts them through a sort of mock wedding in a room full of bridal mannequins, and kills them. They "disappear" beneath his greenhouse or via his incinerator, depending on circumstances. "A woman should live only until her wedding night, love once, then die," he believes.

Combine a murder spree in the world of fashion and a mother-obsessed murderer and you have a movie somewhere between Bava's own classic Blood and Black Lace and Hitchcock's Psycho. The Psycho side comes to the fore the more we learn about the death of John's Mom, though the closes he comes to full-blown Oedipal transvestism is when he dons a bridal veil to finally bump off Mildred. Interestingly, the long-suffering hubby only decides to do in wifey when they belatedly achieve something like emotional intimacy. She was okay as long as he didn't love her. But once that certain something stirred inside him, she was done for.

Here comes the bride, there goes the bride. Stephen Forsyth decides to find out how the other half lives.

Sort of. Mildred's dead, you see, but she's not done. There was something to those books she read and those seances she attended, apparently, because she commences to haunt her husband. She goes about it in a really annoying way. John'll be out in some public place, and someone will start talking to Mildred. It's only then that he notices that she's somehow hanging around. Maybe he should have burned instead of buried her. He corrects his error, but people still see Mildred, or if they don't they wonder why the hell John is talking to, buying drinks for and often taunting that handbag he's started carrying around....

Laura Betti dominates the last acts of Hatchet...from beyond the grave!

Il rosso segno della follia ("the red sign of madness") most resembles in tone Bava's other black comedy from the period, Five Dolls for an August Moon, though Hatchet (a nicely alliterative English title) initially seems intended as more straightforward horror than Dolls. It's hard to tell how intentional the humor is in the first half, given what I take to be unintentionally funny dubbed dialogue. Once Mildred's ghost takes over the story, Bava's comedic intentions are obvious enough. But while the second half is entertaining enough, it leaves the whole slightly unsatisfactory simply because the whole ghost angle seems to come from nowhere. Nothing in the first half leads you to expect a supernatural intervention in the second half. Hatchet feels like two different movies smashed together, but because it's Bava it's a gorgeous mess with a Swinging Gothic atmosphere appropriate to the period. In the leads, Stephen Forsyth and Laura Betti are game, though they shouldn't be held responsible for the English dialogue put in their mouths, and there are plenty of pretty faces besides theirs. It looks as good as you'd expect from Bava and sounds as good as you'd expect from Italian cinema in general from this time. Il rosso segno is relatively minor Bava but as lighthearted horror it's like cinematic candy and even if you're not spooked you should be entertained.

Dig this wordless trailer, uploaded to YouTube by giantfish2, featuring the music of Sante Maria Romitelli.

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