How in the world Shirley Stoler was never in a John Waters picture, I cannot comprehend. She has a glare that could cleave you in two, she wields her size like a weapon of femininity, and was, hands down, the highlight of this feature film. Without her, I doubt I could have enjoyed The Honeymoon Killers at all, in fact.
The director, Leonard Kastle, has one imdb directing credit to his name…a real noggin scratcher. Frankly, this movie was sort of terrible, but it has just the right charm to have merited the man another shot at filmmaking. I have to wonder if he died or just didn’t have any more ideas. The Honeymoon Killers follows lovers Martha and Ray, who run a professional reverse black widow scheme in which Ray seduces lonely spinsters, only to take their valuables and leave them for dead. It’s a truly bizarre romance as Martha is along for the ride even though she was nearly one of Ray’s victims herself. This film is based on the true story of a murderous couple by the same names, who were eventually put to death in Sing Sing for their crimes.
I said this movie was bad, and it is…but, some of the problems with it are just a product of the time it was made. Most notably, the sound quality is kind of a disaster. The vocal levels that are all over the place, and they’re poorly synced. So, sometimes Martha yells gibberish at ear shattering decibels, before her mouth even begins to move. It can be hard to overlook. Other problems are less forgivable. High on the list is the fact that the pacing is not great. We see far more victim wives than necessary and the build up to Martha and Ray’s first actual murder seems to take forever.
But…when the murder finally happens, it does come on pretty strong. The big scene itself is tense and feels almost like watching a snuff film. Ray’s latest wife begs for her life, and Martha finds that you can’t drop someone by hitting them just once with a hammer. Once the deed is done, the lovers disperse to process the act they’ve commited, almost instantly. Again, the acting here felt incredibly real. On top of this, sometimes when Kastle gets the cinematography right, he REALLY gets it right. The lighting on the face of a nervous Ray, as he peeks out the window; the odd angle from the staircase of the couple kissing in the basement; Martha framed by pillows and wood paneling as she snacks from a box of chocolates. Dare I whip out that high falutin’ film snob term? Mise en scène.
I can totally see why The Criterion Collection picked up this film. At the same time, I could easily picture picking it up in a one dollar DVD bin at the Dollar Store.
Challenge Fulfilled: Based on a True Story