The Honeymoon Killers Screen 11 articles

The Honeymoon Killers


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  • Leonard Kastle, a composer who turned filmmaker for this single feature (1970), brings a spare dignity and genuine depth of characterization to his exploitation subject—the series of murders committed by Ray Fernandez and Martha Beck in the late 40s.

  • The film willfully and precisely traces the senseless destruction of certain working class lives. It does so straight on and remarkably without parody. It shows without condescension the numbing and claustrophobic world of single, middle-aged women, forgotten and trapped, who eke out their survival in Anytown, USA. That is not typical material for a cinema generally obsessed with its own trend-grasping images of youth and glamour.

  • Shot in cruel black and white, the movie's a claustrophobic triumph of ambience, all high-watt lightbulbs, vinyl seat covers, polyester prints, canned sound, abrupt explosions of Mahler, and overall clamminess.

  • The anti–Bonnie and Clyde true crime tabloid shocker. Here you will find no glitz, sex appeal, fiddle music, or Aesopian moral about the dehumanization of violence. Instead you will be treated to a display of irate humor and voyeuristic mischief as two sociopaths and their deluded victims live and die by the axiom “He (or she) who cons last cons best.”

  • ...While we’re on the subject of Criterion, two major recent efforts on their part have got to be their multifaceted editions of Alain Resnais and Marguerite Duras’s Hiroshima, mon amour (1959) and Leonard Kastle’s singular The Honeymoon Killers (1969), both of which add appreciably to our knowledge and understanding of these highly dissimilar masterpieces.

  • The Honeymoon Killers was famously the movie from which Martin Scorsese was sacked shortly after production started. It's most unlikely, however, that Scorsese – then, now, or at any stage in his career – could have done a better job that Kastle, a shadowy figure who hasn't made another movie since. That's not through want of trying, however, and it's a pretty savage indictment of cinema that a practitioner as talented as this should have been allowed to fall through the cracks.

  • Kastle is a born filmmaker with an uncanny feeling for the startling close-up and the excruciating long-take, Edgar G. Ulmer would have applauded his mise en scène of light bulbs and cellar burials. Stoler’s fleshy fury and Lo Bianco’s Ricky Ricardoisms provide the "ammonia and chlorine" fuel, shabby and heightened and superbly attuned to Mahler’s vertigos.

  • A rare film in which genuine romantic love does not excuse the central couple's amoral behaviour, this could almost be the anti-Bonnie and Clyde as it deglamorises thrill-killing for petty profit after decades of movies that have made outlawry glamorous. Stoler’s truly monstrous Martha, who looks like a humourlessly malevolent Roseanne Barr, may not be sympathetic, but she is at least understandable.

  • Kastle pulls the viewer into the film's sleazy, hopeless milieu with startling confidence. Like the similarly anarchic Night of the Living Dead, The Honeymoon Killers shrewdly benefits from the grit and rawness of its aesthetic, suggesting that we're watching a grimy documentary torn from an ancient newsreel playing forever on a loop in our true-crime-fed nightmares.

  • Had always imagined this as clumsy and amateurish (which wouldn't necessarily preclude greatness)—after all, Kastle took on the job only after firing Scorsese, and then never directed another film. Instead, it's formally precise and masterfully acted, which makes its squalid nature that much more upsetting.

  • The movie wouldn’t be of much interest if it offered nothing but undiluted misanthropy, which is never scarce either overtly, in fringe film, or in a disguised form, in mainstream movies. But Kastle doesn’t show disdain, pity, or hero-worship toward Fernandez and Beck. He instead offers a complex, multifaceted portrayal that makes for a rather more pungent and lingering piece of work, a stain that won’t rub out.

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