April 22, 2010

Rabid Rewind: The Hatchet Murders

Title: The Hatchet Murders (also titled Deep Red)
Starring: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia
Directed by: Dario Argento
Released: 1975
Genre: Horror

Dario Argento, the "Italian Hitchcock." How's that for high praise? For a man as heralded as he in the horror genre, I never heard tell of him until last year, as Argento is frequently mentioned on horror blogs and podcasts. While I enjoy watching movies, I'm not a cinema buff, so forgive my ignorance.

At any rate, the opportunity arose to view my first Argento film this past month so I decided to see what all the hoopla was about. The Hatchet Murders is a movie that could be perceived as either very dated or very stylized. Frankly, I had a hard time deciding which, as I felt less engaged by the picture than curious about Argento's style of film making.

Set in Italy, a pianist (David Hemmings) witnesses the murder of a young psychic woman only to end up himself a target of the knife-wielding maniac. Despite seeing "Hatchet" in the title, the movie was grainy and had a lot of quick cuts during the murderer's scenes, thus the weapon appeared to be more of a clever than a hatchet. Not that it matters much, since the film relied more on tension and suspense than those few scenes where someone is getting hacked to death.

And if I'm to be honest, the movie didn't do much to hold my attention--it took me two nights to sit through the entire thing. The acting was as tinny as the sound, and caused me to think the movies notoriety comes more from Argento's prowess than those in the cast. The plot came off as a bit of a meandering mess, as Hemmings spends so much time playing detective and traipsing into dark rooms and alleys to learn the killer's identity, it contrasted awkwardly with the scenes where he's scared stupid in the actual vicinity of the killer. A flawed and vulnerable character, yes, but an aggravating one too.

What saves this movie in my opinion is the music. The supremely eery children's lullaby heard moments before each victim is stabbed and bludgeoned to death puts to shame other kids singing in horror flicks. Throw in the frenetic and psychedelic rock music that accentuates the more taut scenes in the movie, and you've got a score that is a standout.

I'm not sure if this movie is Dario Argento's hallmark movie, however--pled ignorance, remember--and after seeing it I hope it isn't, because I was not swayed into thinking of him as the "Italian Hitchcock." I'll leave it to the Argento faithful to recommend a better movie to try and see, so I might better understand why he is so adored.

For horror fans like me, or movie fans in general, looking for something off the beaten path, you may want to consider checking this out. I wouldn't go so far as to say you should make it a priority, but there's definitely worse ways to spend ninety minutes. And tapping into that 70s vibe of cinema is a fun way to waste some time.


  1. Had no idea this was also called The Hatchet Murders. I know it as Deep Red, which at least is the english translation of Profondo Rosso, the original title. So don't get hung up on the silly (US?) title. I love the movie. Euro horror movies of the period often have illogical storylines, but they're dripping with their own special weirdness and expertly mounting tension. Argento was known for some flashy camera work/techniques.
    Now go watch Suspiria! That has some strange bits including a lady falling into a room that appears to be full of barbed wire. Who knew that boarding houses had rooms full of barbed wire, eh?

  2. Yeah, Doc. I think Suspiria might be the Argento film to turn me around, as I've read a couple of reviews on horror blogs that really put it over. Ah well, time will tell.