The Honeymoon Killers (1970)
By: Paul Ryan on October 20, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DV1 (Australia). Region4, PAL. 1.66:1 (Non-anamorphic). English DD 2.0 Mono. 103 minutes
The Movie
Director: Leonard Kastle
Starring: Stoler, Tony Lo Bianco, Mary Jane Highby, Doris Roberts
Screenplay: Leonard Kastle
Country: USA
Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez were notorious as the "Lonely Hearts Killers", preying on single women whom they robbed and murdered in the late 1940's. In Leonard Kastle's The Honeymoon Killers, this ugly real life tale becomes an equally sordid, but impressively unsettling film. Beck (Shirley Stoler, The Deer Hunter), a glum, overweight nurse, is resigned to a lonely life of work and care for her elderly mother. Her friend Bunny (Doris Roberts, yes the same one from Everybody Loves Raymond) sends her details to a matchmaker service, resulting in her introduction to Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco, The French Connection), a charming con man and scam artist.

Initially rejected by Ray, Martha pleads for a second chance, prompting him to reveal to her his scam of meeting wealthy widows and spinsters and fleecing them. Desperate to keep Ray's attentions, she becomes involved in his schemes as they move from victim to victim. It isn't long before Ray's wooing of the targeted women stirs a violent jealousy within Martha. Eventually, the first of many murders ensues…

The tale of Beck and Fernandez has been retold in subsequent films Deep Crimson (1996) and the recent Lonely Hearts (2006, with Jared Leto as Fernandez and Salma Hayek as Beck!!!), but this is still the definitive film account of the Lonely Hearts Murders. Shot in inky monochrome, there is a rough, almost verité feeling to the proceedings as the camera calmly observes the events. It's lurid, to be sure, but intelligent as well. Writer-director Kastle (who completed the film after both Martin Scorsese and then Donald Volkman were dismissed from the film) punctuates scenes with brief selections from the work of 19th century classical composer Gustav Mahler which gives the film a unique atmosphere.

Stoler and Lo Bianco are both menacing and tender, not to mention completely believable in their chemistry. The rest of the cast are variable, and occasionally amateurish, but this only adds to the weird atmosphere of the film. Regrettably, this is Kastle's only film credit. Given the acclaim this film eventually received from the likes of Francois Truffaut and John Waters, it is disappointing that Kastle – better known as an opera composer - was unable to get financing for any of his other projects.

On another note, this film was banned by Australia's lily-livered censors on its initial release. Seventeen years later, it was finally given the all-clear by the OFLC. Today, it's on DVD with an M15+ rating and sells for less than ten bucks. Now that's what I call progress.
Though the rear cover states a 4x3 full screen transfer, what we get is actually is a letterboxed transfer, though a tad cropped on the sides from the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Taken from an old release print (reel change marks and all) it's clear enough, though rough in places.
Mono, glorious mono. The audio is pretty rough (like the picture quality) and could have done with some restoration (again, like the picture), but arguably this roughness adds to the film's lurid atmosphere.
Extra Features
Trailer (4x3 lb, 2.26mins): An amusingly sordid trailer that makes the film look lurid than it really is. Especially funny is the ominous narration, exhorting you to "see The Honeymoon Killers – then try just to forget!!!" Oddly, the trailer also seems to be in the correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio, while the film itself isn't.

The Lonely Hearts Murders: A text recounting of the real-life killings, this is an interesting addition to the DVD and provides a counterpoint to the occasional dramatic licence used in the film. It is divided into four sections: Ray Fernandez (2 pages); Martha Beck (2 pages); The Murders (3 pages) and The Punishment (3 pages).

Biographies: Text biographies of Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco.
The Verdict
Lurid, disturbing and still compelling after all these years, The Honeymoon Killers is an essential watch for enthusiasts of cult cinema. Compared to Criterion's Region 1 version (with a restored anamorphic transfer, director interview and extensive text features) this DV1 release is somewhat anaemic, but serviceable on its own terms. Highly recommended.
Movie Score
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