Il rosso segno della follia
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Synopsis for
Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970) More at IMDbPro »Il rosso segno della follia (original title)

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On board a moving express train, an unseen man sneaks into a compartment room where a newlywed couple are. The man kills both of them with a meat cleaver, and looks upon the dead bride, still dressed in her white, blood-splattered bridal dress.

The man is a certain John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth), a handsome, 30-year-old who in a voice-over narration, claims to suffer from Oedipus complex. As if that's not bad enough, John is also impotent, and feels compelled to murder young women wearing bridal gowns to remember details of a traumatic event that twisted his mind as a child. Harrington lives in a spacious villa outside Paris, France where he's the manager of a bridal dress factory which is managed by his older wife Mildred (Laura Betti). Despite the image he puts upon himself, Harrington relies on Mildred for emotional and financial support. On one particular morning, the ill-matched couple engaged in a verbal sparring match at the breakfast table. Harrington brings up talk of divorce. But Mildred will hear none of that. She tells him that he has made a disappointment of her life, so she plans to reciprocate by keeping him under her thumb. After walking away from the argument, Harrington retreats into his office, where he meets Helen Wood (Dagmar Lassander), who has come to apply for the job "vacated" by one of the models who has mysteriously disappeared. Harrington is impressed by her intelligence and beauty, so he hires her on the spot.

Later that night, Harrington lures Alice Norton (Femi Benussi), one of the models at the salon, to his office and takes her to a secret room where he stores wedding dresses. As Alice is planning to leave the salon to be married, he offers her a choice to any of the dresses. She selects one and changes into it as per John's request, after which he hacks her to death with a meat cleaver. Harrington's method for disposing of the dead bodies of women he kills at his office is ingenious: he burns the bodies in the furnace of his greenhouse, using the ashes as a special kind of fertilizer.

The next morning, Inspector Russell (Jesus Puente) arrives to question Harrington about Alice's disappearance for her fiance reported that she never came home last night. Harrington replies that she left at the end of the day, and has not seen her since. With six models having disappeared from his bridal salon, Harrington naturally has become the prime suspect by the police. But with a lack of hard evidence, Inspector Russell leaves without arresting him, so Harrington is able to continue his killing spree with little difficulty.

Over the next few days, Harrington falls in love with Helen after taking her out to dinner and having casual conversations with her, which makes him very confused. Harrington clearly has no desire to kill Helen, but his contemptuous wife, Mildred, is a constant irritation to him. After Mildred confronts Harrington and accuses him of being unfaithful after seeing him with coming home from a dinner outing with Helen, Harrington decides to retaliate by killing her. Though he does not understand why, Harrington needs to have a wedding dress in his immediate vicinity when he kills. Rather than talk Mildred into putting on the dress, he dons the veil himself, completing the transsexual illusion by wearing bright red lipstick. Harrington coldly sets up his wife for the act by pretending to reconcile with her, and promising to consummate their relationship. Despite Mildred putting up a fight, she gets hit with the cleaver, and falls dead.

The act accomplished, Harrington initially buries his wife in the grounds of the greenhouse. But in a surprising twist and much to Harrington's consternation, he begins to see his wife in public. Actually, its EVERYONE who sees Mildred in public, very much alive. But its only Harrington who cannot see or hear her. He only catches glimpses of her in mirrors. Thinking that she is still alive, Harrington checks the grave in his greenhouse. The body is still there, of course. So, Harrington burns Mildred's remains in the furnace. Harrington takes the ashes and keeps them in a handbag for himself to remember her by.

Mildred's ghost continues to haunt her husband, appearing only to other people, and not to himself. At a local Parisian nightclub, Harrington goes there alone (with the handbag containing Mildred's ashes), in which everyone, except him, sees Mildred sitting by his side like an adoring wife. It's only when Harrington is around Helen, Mildred never appears before her. When Harrington attempts to murder another woman, he is foiled from doing so. Harrington finally decides to murder Helen as a substitute. He knows that he is only one more killing away from discovering the truth behind his murderous dependencies. Harrington lures Helen that night to the same concealed room where he murdered Alice and a few other models. After convincing Helen to change into a wedding dress, he sorrowfully tells Helen that he never wanted to hurt her, but he want's to "fit this last piece into place." He then strikes at Helen with the meat cleaver, but she successfully avoids the blow. But the initial surge of dealing the blow finally gives Harrington the information he needs.

In a flashback, Harrington, as a young boy, adorned his mother. When his father died, he became the man of the house and looked after her. However, when his mother remarried, he became miserable. Spying on his mother and stepfather having sex, he became enraged and killed them both with a hatchet (shades of young Norman Bates and his mother from 'Psycho'). The sight of his mother drenched in blood and asking why he did this to her haunted him for years. Young Harrington apparently tricked the police into thinking a homicidal maniac killed his mother and stepfather, in which he also had subconsciously pushed the entire event out of his mind. Now that it has all come back to haunt him, he is reduced to tears.

In another ironic twist, Helen runs from the grieving Harrington and lets Inspector Russell and a team of policemen into the hidden room where they place him under arrest. It turns out that Helen is a uncover policewoman who was hired by Russell to keep an eye on Harrington. Helen is shaken by her brush with death, but recovers enough quickly to help the police get the maniac.

After confessing everything to Russell, Harrington is loaded into a police van, with two detectives escorting him, which drives away. As Harrington settles back in the police van on its way to jail, he finally realizes that now he knows everything, he is finally free. But then Mildred's ghost appears beside him in the van. But this time, it is only Harrington who can see or hear her. She tells him that now they will be together forever, "first in the insane asylum, and then in Hell for all eternity." Harrington goes berserk with terror, and has to be restrained by the two policemen with him. But Harrington calms down when he realizes that there is no way now for him to avoid his fate.
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