The early 2000s was a great time for DVD releases. It was also a really hard time to keep up with them all when you’re a fan of nearly every film genre. It was incredibly time consuming and a bummer to have to pick and choose which releases you went without. For me it was a no-brainer… Criterion releases (they were the first company to release Honeymoon Killers on DVD). I could buy three films for the price of one Criterion DVD. It’s a bit appalling considering I am such a huge fan of cult movies that I have only just now seen the Honeymoon Killers but the Cult Classics line is bringing some great films to NZ/Australian Cult film fans and the DVDs are dirt cheap at $10 while Criterion’s edition of Honeymoon Killers is still $25-$30 US excluding shipping.
The Honeymoon Killers follows Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler) and Raymond Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco) as the two embark on a romantic relationship and con lonely women. The couple were known in real life as “The Lonely Hearts Killers” and are believed to have killed 20 women between 1947 and 1949.
Martha is a nurse who lives at home with her senile mother, is overweight, and has a pretty bitter personality. Her friend Bunny signs her up with “The Lonely Hearts Club” and through the club she meets Ray, a charming and confident New Yorker. The two fall in love, but Martha isn’t Ray’s first conquest and after Ray heads back to New York Martha threatens to kill herself thus worming her way into his life where the two con lonely women to fund their lifestyle: Ray the suave Spaniard and Martha his sister.
Although the murders took place in the 1940s the film is set in the 1960s and the hair, the fashions and sets give it a certain “sexiness”. I think it would have been a lot more dreary had they set it in 1940s, despite the lead actress being plump (real Martha was too) she still exudes a John Waters-esque aesthetic and I loved her look (the actors did their own hair and makeup). I swear Divine and Cookie Mueller must have been inspired by Shirley Stoler’s performance, the way those two combine snideness with fabulousness reminded me much of Shirley’s performance. It’s also well documented that John Waters is a fan of the film and he quite often makes his actors watch movies for inspiration.
Even though it is an older film it was still quite a confronting viewing. There’s a grisly scene with a hammer (special effects were a condom filled with red hair dye); slapping of a child and off-screen murder of said child which was pretty gut-wrenching, it kind of turns you against Martha as you realise she’s more Myra Hindley than Bonnie Parker. The cinematography verges on a Cinéma vérité-style and helps to create this realistic, stripped back tone with murky scenes where crimes are committed in the dark haphazardly. Obviously if your metric for “shocking” viewing is video nasties and torture porn this ain’t going to disturb you, but in terms of its simpleness it at times manages to be really forceful. It is very much to do with the way it combines violence and sexuality: the ice cold emotionless Martha who slaps a child and then murders her all so nothing gets in the way of her being with her lover.
The first 15 minutes of the film make it seem like really exaggerated John Waters meets The Room and is completely hilarious but if you give it time it becomes a really great film. Martha’s emotional eating and weight become a source of humour which lends a bit of sympathy to her otherwise sociopathic behaviours.
At only $10 this film is a complete must have along with 99% of Cinema Cult’s releases. I am now off to check out the film loosely based about the case staring James Gandolfini and read every book I can about the case.
There are no extras and the audio is pretty hissy and crackly, but aside from that well worth adding to your collection.
Some random trivia:
- The Honeymoon Killers is Francois Truffaut’s favourite American film.
- Martin Scorsese was hired to direct but was fired for working too slowly and a few of the scenes he directed are in the film.
- The film was banned in Australia in the 1970s
- Shirley Stoler is Mrs Steve in Pee Wee’s Playhouse and was also in Frankenhooker and the Deer Hunter