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Leonard Kastle
Barbara Cason, Marilyn Chris, Dortha Duckworth, Ann Harris
Writing Credits:
Leonard Kastle

Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler) is sullen, overweight, and heartbreakingly alone. Through Aunt Carrie's Friendship Club she strikes up a correspondence with Ray Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco), a suave, charismatic smooth-talker who could be the man of her dreams - or a wicked con artist bound for trouble. Based on a true story and filmed in documentary-style black and white, The Honeymoon Killers is a stark portrayal of the desperate lengths to which a lonely heart will go to find true love, from brutally immoral killings to a passion that transcends all bounds.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Monaural

Runtime: 107 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 7/22/2003

• New Video Interview with Writer/Director Leonard Kastle
• llustrated Essay with Author Scott Christianson
• Cast and Crew Biographies
• Trailer
• Booklet

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The Honeymoon Killers (1969)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 19, 2003)

Personal ads have become more and more mainstream over the years, especially via services like Match.com. Just a few years ago, many people would have been apoplectic at the notion of scouting for mates online have embraced the concept.

1969’s The Honeymoon Killers might remind some of them why they felt negatively toward the concept. After a title card that lets us know we’ll see a true story, we meet Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler), a supervisor of nurses at Mobile City Hospital. Fat and lonely, her neighbor Bunny (Doris Roberts) gets her an application for “Aunt Carrie’s Friendship Club”. This unsolicited form initially cheeses off Martha, but Bunny convinces her to give it a shot.

Soon she begins romantic correspondence with Ray Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco). A serious cad who writes to lots of women but pretends each one is the only one. Martha falls for his spiel and enjoys a torrid visit from him, at the end of which he scams her for some money. When Martha discovers the ruse and he dumps, she plots her way back into his arms. He comes clean, and Martha apparently accepts his wicked ways as long as he stays with her.

Rather than insist that Ray quit his womanizing ways, the pair decide to continue his scams and use those methods to make bucks. Ray will marry other women to get their money and then dump them. From there the film follows their escapades and sees how they grow increasingly nasty in the way they execute their plans.

Based moderately closely on a real case from the Forties, Killers certainly enjoys solid source material. I’d imagine a terrific movie could come from this story. Unfortunately, Killers isn’t that movie.

The flick’s enjoyed a lot of praise over the years and falls into the “cult classic” bin. Frankly, I don’t get it. Nothing about the production seems terribly well executed, and its flaws overwhelm its positives.

Honestly, beyond the intriguing basic story, I can’t find much about Killers to make it stand out in a good way. The production clearly was created on a low budget, and it seems pretty amateurish in general. The actors vary between cartoonishly hammy (Lo Bianco) and wooden and stiff (Stoler). At times it appears the filmmakers wanted to present a documentary feeling, but on other occasions, it seems like they intended the flick to be a parody.

That erratic tone doesn’t work, and the slow pacing doesn’t help matters. Granted, I don’t fault the film for the fact that it takes a long time before our main characters finally live up to the flick’s billing and kill someone; that’s part of the historical record. However, I will criticize the filmmakers for the languid movement to get to that point. The movie never really seems all that interested in any of its topics. It doesn’t much care about Ray and Martha, and it doesn’t take a lot of interest in the development of the fleeced women or what happens to them. The film just plods along as it forced to tell us this tell; there’s not much investment in the plot, situations or participants.

This lack of depth renders the final material fairly inert. Killers fails to offer the character depth necessary to make it a good investigation of serial murderers, and it also never becomes rough or sensationalistic enough to keep us interested from the more lurid side of the coin.

When you get a shocker that fails to shock or even manifest much investment in its characters, you don’t have much of a movie. The Honeymoon Killers feels like a waste of potential. From such intriguing roots we should get a more dramatic and involving film. Unfortunately, this production seems dull and vapid.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio D-/ Bonus C+

The Honeymoon Killers appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite its age and low-budget origins, The Honeymoon Killers offered a somewhat erratic but fairly positive visual presentation.

Sharpness mostly looked good. Some wider shots came across as a bit fuzzy, but those instances popped up infrequently. The majority of the flick seemed pretty crisp and detailed. I saw no issues connected to jagged edges or moiré effects, and I also noticed no concerns from edge enhancement.

Print flaws were minor for a movie of this age and budget. Specks appeared periodically, and I also saw occasional examples of marks, scratches, spots and light debris, but these elements stayed fairly modest and didn’t create overwhelming concerns. The film seemed reasonably clean overall. Black levels remained deep and tight, and contrast generally appeared positive. Low-light shots were fairly concise and well defined, as they only occasionally demonstrated slightly excessive denseness. I wouldn’t use The Honeymoon Killers to show off my system, but it presented a good image overall.

Low budget or not, I found it tough to take the poor quality monaural soundtrack of The Honeymoon Killers. Distortion ruled the mix. Dialogue suffered the worst from this problem, mainly since speech dominated the film. Only the quietest lines showed no edginess. Otherwise the dialogue became terribly rough and often turned impossible to understand. I needed to keep the English subtitles on during the whole movie since I could comprehend so little of the material. Even the lines I could understand sounded flat and lifeless. This movie offered possibly the worst recorded dialogue I’ve heard, at least in a movie made within my lifetime.

Effects seemed lackluster but at least they didn’t demonstrate much distortion. That largely occurred because they played a fairly minor role in the proceedings. Those elements were dull and muddy in general. Music showed up sporadically and came across as terribly shrill. The score was even more distorted than the speech and sounded terrible. The audio just narrowly avoided an “F”, as it narrowly squeaked past with a “D-“. I didn’t fault the transfer, as I’m sure the folks at Criterion did what they could with the source material. But that didn’t keep it from sounding atrocious.

The Honeymoon Killers comes with only a smattering of supplements. The main one provides a new interview with writer/director Leonard Kastle. Shot in the spring of 2003, this piece runs 29 minutes and 35 seconds. Kastle covers many topics related to the movie. He gets into its genesis and his involvement in it, the hiring – and quick firing – of Martin Scorsese as director, research, historical fact vs. movie fiction, production stories, reactions to the flick, his disdain for its title, and many other issues. Kastle comes across as rather full of himself and overly enamored with his movie, but he gets into lots of useful information. Those with an affinity for the movie will learn a lot about it here.

After the movie’s theatrical trailer, we get some text features. ”Dear Martha” provides an excellent historical essay by author Scott Christianson. He details the real life inspiration for the film. We learn biographical details about Ray and Martha and find out the details of their crimes. We also get to see lots of photos and documents related to them in this solid piece.

The Biographies area includes listings for actors Shirley Stoler, Tony Lo Bianco, Mary Jane Higby, and Doris Roberts, writer/director Leonard Kastle, producer Warren Steibel, cinematographer Oliver Wood, editor Stanley Warnow, and composer Gustav Mahler. (For the record, Mahler didn’t come back from the dead to write the flick’s score; they just used pre-existing works for it.) These entries offer basic information about the participants and don’t seem particularly deep. The “Biographies” domain also tosses in clippings from the film’s original press book.

Finally, the DVD’s booklet features one additional essay. We get a quick piece from film critic Gary Giddings. He gives us some information about the state of the era’s cinema and those behind Honeymoon as well as production notes. Giddings also tries hard to convince us this is a great movie.

I wish I could feel that way, and I usually like this kind of flick. Unfortunately, The Honeymoon Killers doesn’t do much for me. Too superficial and slow moving to really explore its subjects, I give it credit for general historical accuracy, but it doesn’t provide a rich examination of the material. The DVD presents pretty decent picture quality but suffers from abysmal audio. The collection of extras seems modest but the components add some decent information about the flick. For folks who like The Honeymoon Killers, the release seems worthwhile. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend the flick to anyone without a pre-existing passion for the material.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.2666 Stars Number of Votes: 15
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