Director: Leonard Kestle
Script: Leonard Kestle
Cast: Shirley Stoler, Tony Le Blainco, Mary Jane Higby, Doris Roberts, Kip McArdle, Marilyn Chris, Dortha Duckworth, Barbara Cason
Running time: 108 minutes
Martha (Shirley Stoler), an overweight and rather frumpy nurse, is angry when her aunt Carrie signs her up to a dating site. She relents to giving it a go and soon finds herself corresponding with a charismatic Spaniard, Raymond (Tony Le Bianco). It’s not long before Ray starts to visit her at the house she lives in with her mother. She soon falls for the suave Latino and gets very upset when he leaves. However, she manipulates him into letting her tag along, when he reveals that his ‘occupation’ basically involves fleecing lonely, vulnerable women out of their life savings.
After first dumping her mother in a nursing home, it’s not long before she is masquerading as Ray’s sister so that she can be with him on his dates, and even on his honeymoon in one case! When Ray’s new wife becomes troublesome Martha gives her a load of sleeping pills and puts her on a bus back to where she came from. Unfortunately the new bride is later found dead by the bus driver, after having choked on her own tongue.
A later conquest of Ray’s makes Martha even more jealous since she’s quite an attractive and vivacious woman. Martha’s solution – to try and drown herself in the nearby river in a cry for attention.
Another woman, Janet, becomes the next mark, but she soon becomes suspicious of the pair, especially when Martha accidentally calls Ray by his real name. When she threatens them with the police Martha hits her with a hammer, to knock her out, and then they use a tourniquet on Janet to strangle her.
The final woman Ray hooks up with is a lady called Daphni (Kip McArdle), who has a young daughter who really hates the moody Martha. Daphni wants to get married as soon as possible because she’s pregnant and says that it’s Ray’s child. Martha loses the plot (if she had one in the first place!) and seeks retribution…
The Honeymoon Killers is a fascinating, but very disturbing film, full of tour-de-force performances from the two excellent leads and a great supporting cast. In fact I don’t think there’s a duff performance in this movie.
Shot in moody B & W, with lots of deep focus shots and plenty of warts and all close-ups The Honeymoon Killers is a film that quietly gets under your skin and unsettles the viewer subtly. I was still thinking about the movie days after watching it.
Shirley Stoler reminded me of a young Hattie Jacques in some scenes, while Mary Jane Higby, who plays Janet, kind of reminded me of the wife of sitcom regular Victor Meldrew, from One Foot in the Grave.
I have to admit I wasn’t sure whether I’d like the film or not initially, but after about ten minutes I found myself hooked, and eager to find out what happened next, and I was captivated by Stoler’s magnificent performance. Stoler later went on to star in the likes of The Deer Hunter, Malcolm X and, err, Frankenhooker!
Martha is a wretchedly fascinating character; one who is so obsessed with her dream man that she is happy to ignore the fact that he’s a pretty scummy person, and, in her desperation to keep him, ends up perpetrating much worse deeds than he himself. However, it’s Stoler’s great performance that makes the viewer kind of take pity on Martha too; in anyone else’s hands she might have come across as just a total psychopathic bitch, rather than a layered and pitiful character.
Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez were finally caught by police and were later electrocuted in Sing Sing prison on the 8 March 1951.
Arrow Video are distributing The Honeymoon Killers on DVD and Blu-Ray. As per usual for Arrow Video there are plenty of special features including:
Love Letters (25 mins) - A behind the scenes documentary featuring plenty of short interviews with some of the actors and the editor, where we learn that Martin Scorsese got fired from the production after a week or so, due to creative differences!
Folie á Deux (30 mins) – Filmmaker Todd Robinson investigates the true story behind the film, since he’s the grandson of one of the investigating officers on the actual ‘lonely hearts’ murder case. This is creepily fascinating stuff, especially the bit about electric chair executions smelling like fried chicken!
Body Shaming (6 mins) – Todd Robinson talks about the film in general and about his own screenplay for a film based on the same subject matter, namely Lonely Hearts.
Beyond Morality (9 mins) – Fabrice Du Weiz, the director of Alleluia (2014), discusses the film too; the film that inspired his very own different take on the ‘Lonely Hearts’ murders.
Theatrical Trailer (2 mins)