Tuesday, May 13, 2008

GRITTY. GROTTY. GRIM. GRAND GUIGNOL. GRRRRRRR! THE HONEYMOON KILLERS IS ALL THIS AND MORE. This 1970 cult movie shot in grimy black and white looks like it was literally shot on newspaper instead of celluloid. The opening title card trumpets that these sick and twisted events are based on a true story. The film itself looks occasionally amateurish but mostly it's shot with quite a bit of directorial flair by screenwriter Leonard Kastle. This was Kastle's first and only film and it's surprising since he seems to have done a good job with very little budget. THE HONEYMOON KILLERS was actually supposed to have been directed by Martin Scorsese; but the director would be replaced after a week of shooting by Donald Volkman who would ALSO be replaced finally by Leonard Kastle.
The film has an almost documentary look which lends an air of authenticity to the truly outlandish events. . .true as they may be. One notices the lighting especially; natural lighting is used as well as actual light sources in the frame i.e. table lamps and such. The use of blazing light bulbs creates an abundance of chiaroscuro shadowing which also lends to the films look. Then there's the grainy quality of the film itself. All in all one gets the feeling, by the time the movie is done, that one needs a nice long shower. And this is the strange allure of the film. Events depicted are quite distasteful and disturbing but, like a car wreck, strangely compelling.
The major compulsion for the viewer which keeps their eyes rivetted to the screen are the two unknown leads: Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco. Stoler reminds me of nothing if not sort of a female Divine (!) while Lo Bianco would look at home in any of Scorsese's 70's mob films. Each actor plays their parts with a strange combination of amateur theatrics and compelling gravitas. I'm at a loss to explain how they do this. All I know is that while they are on the screen (and I don't think there is EVER a scene in which one or the other actor IS on screen) you simply HAVE to watch them.
The bare bones scenario is this. Lonely and overweight head nurse Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler) is entered into a "Lonely Hearts Club" agency by her friend Bunny (EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND's Doris Roberts: the only "name" actor in the film). Martha figures what the hey and answers her questionnaire. She is quickly corresponding with Raymond Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco): a con man who bilks lonely (and usually old) ladies out of their money by marrying them. Raymond does the same to Martha but, miracle of miracles, the two actually fall in love. Martha is so attached to Raymond that she dumps her own mother into a home and goes off with him; threatening suicide at every turn should Raymond think of leaving her. Of course, Raymond can't give up his livelihood so he continues to wed lonely ladies with the help of Martha (who mascarades as his sister). Of course, Martha in INSANELY JEALOUS of every woman Raymond marries. Prescription for trouble? You don't know the half of it. Raymond always promises not to "do the deed" with his wives but, of course, Martha eventually finds out he nearly always does. Then the murders start.
The film is actually quite light on violence until we reach the second half. The first half plays more like an offbeat caper film with the larcenous pair sometimes outwitted by their victims. However, by the halfway point of the movie, things get more and more serious. The murders, when they occur, are suitably nasty and violent (even if they ARE in black and white). And the final double murder of the film is particularly (and rightfully) unpleasant. Another word I'd use for the movie is "bleak"; although it doesn't fit my "GR" words at the beginning of this post. However, the film does a REALLY good job at portraying the ugly underside of society not only with the pair of murderers but also with the victims who are just as unpleasant and smarmy. It's actually quite difficult to know whether one should be rooting for the victims or the murderers. But when the murder victims actually DO meet their deaths, it is quite clear that we should feel sorry for them despite their unpleasantness. Since the film is based on real events, it should come as no surprise that the pair is eventually jailed and sent to the electric chair. However, despite all the doublecrossing and betrayal, the two STILL remain deeply in love with each other to the very end. All in all an extremely warped but watchable curiosity.
And yes, here's an extra added treat for THE HONEYMOON KILLERS fans: a scene from the film acted out in LEGOs:


Weaverman said...

HONEYMOON KILLERS is a powerful film, so powerful that I eventually left the cinema - I get very uncomfortable about old ladies being hit over the head with hammers unless it's for a laugh! It hits just the right note of sweaty nastiness. Too strong for me. By the way, according to the Imdb it's already been remade three times!

Cerpts said...

"Sweaty nastiness" is also a perfect description. It's not exactly a movie you rewatch again and again for enjoyment, is it?!?

Cerpts said...

Oh, but you've gotta admit that the version in LEGOs makes it MUCH more palatable!