Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Honeymoon Killers (1970) [R] Directed and Written by Leonard Kastle

Popov Vodka($8.99 750 ML) and Polar Tonic ($ .89 1L) with lemon slices

I picked up a VHS copy of “The Honeymoon Killers” at good old Mystery Train Records in Amherst, where the owners recognized me and even remembered when I had a broken leg! (That’s going back almost 9 years now! Holy shit, I’m old.) I loved Mystery Train so much that I had the Umass Special Transportation van bring me there. Its weird that I look back on a winter I spent on crutches at Umass as one of the best times of my life, but I really had a good thing going there. I couldn’t go anywhere, so people came to me. My room became a salon in the Owl Farm Kitchen sense. People of many backgrounds could stop in and enjoy the site of me controlling everything in the room with a crutch, drinking 40s, peeing in 40s, and more. Man, that’s incredible that was that long ago. Fuck.
Well, what better way to celebrate getting old, the crashing economy and political incompetence at every level than to buy a bottle of Popov and a bottle of tonic and a lemon and settle in to watch an unbelievably dark and disturbing movie? I use run on sentences, but I do it with impunity, because no editor with a lick of sense will publish this goddamn thing, and no one reads it but my friends. So, fuck the Style book, I’m writing my own! Writing my own Style book, that is. Shit, maybe I actually need an editor. Where is my Jann Wenner, or better yet, Larry Flynt? Or Jill Kelly? (She used to be the “Publisher” of “Fox” Magazine. I found this out while spending a winter on crutches at Umass.)
Tonight’s movie and drink pairing was a study in contrasts. The Vodka Tonic is a summery drink. The look and taste of it brings to mind sultry nights and care free days. Or in my case, hung over, sweaty days spent doing hard labor. The kind of sweaty, hung over labor that can raise a man’s thirst, a thirst that can only be slaked with Vodka Tonic. And so the cycle repeats.
The film, on the other hand, is a dark, demented, depressing, disturbing film noir. The look and feel of it is like a winter spent on crutches on Cape Cod, yet somehow even worse. Probably because it all really happened! A ominous blurb at the beginning tells us that the film is based on a True Story. The film is from 1970, but has the look and feel of a 1950s film noir. It was shot in black and white, on somewhat grainy film stock, and the music is by Mahler.
The film is shot very interestingly, making great use of the contrast between black and white. The pacing and editing is excellent, as well. From my viewing notes: “Movie is so weird and atmospheric that its hard for me to take notes. Don’t want to miss anything.”
The story concerns Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez. She is an overweight, lonesome nurse who lives with her mom in Alabama, and he is her New Yorkian romantic pen-pal in a lonely hearts correspondence program. Ah, the days before the internet. Now, I can get hit on by latin men and think they are 18 year old girls the entire time! Or I can start up a hot relationship with a stunning webcam girl because her friend told her about my myspace page. Well, this film shows that true, horrendous evil has always been around, even before this age of computerized lust and lies.
Ray comes to Alabama to visit Martha and she falls head over heels in love with him. They give her mom a sleeping pill and make implied love with her in the room. Gross. He leaves her the next day, and we see him chuckling and counting her money on the train. He is a con man who has multiple relationships with women all over the country through this correspondence program. He beds em, promises to wed em, and takes their money. Martha calls him and says that she will kill herself if she can’t be with him. She comes to New York, and there is an amazing scene where she abandons her aging mother in Alabama. He shows her what he has really been up to and he is pleased to see that she still loves him and would kill herself if she couldn’t be with him. He tells her that he can get money from another woman if he weds her.
He takes Martha along, with her as his “sister”. They rip the new fake wife off. Ray is shown as the weaker of the two, with Martha being the strong arm. The fake wife leaves with her life. Lucky for her.
Their M.O. is in place. Ray seduces a lonely lady, goes to meet her with Martha posing as his sister and they rip her off and flee. The next fake wife poses a real problem, as she really wants to sleep with Ray and Martha is insanely jealous. Ray makes his fake wife sleep with his fake sister. The acting by Shirley Stoler as Martha Beck in this scene is amazing. She just looks so damn ugly, fat, scary and evil looking. They make the fake wife take a bunch of pills. There is an excruciatingly heartbreaking scene where Ray forces her on a bus to Little Rock and takes her money, as she is all fucked up on pills and still wants to be with him. She dies on the bus.
The next victim is a rich lady in Pittsfield, MA, who runs the Tanglewood. She attempts to make out with Ray at a lake and Martha sees it going down. She screams “YOU PROMISED! YOU PROMISED!” then tries to drown herself. This fake wife also gets away, its never explained, but I guess she told them to get lost.
I don’t want to give too much more away, but I will say that they keep repeating their M.O., and it gets worse and worse. You get to see lonely widowers sadistically lied to, mislead, then killed and robbed. Its fucking horrible. And, they start to like it. I have yet to research the actual case, but at the end of the film it says that they were both electrocuted in Sing Sing in 1951. As the credits roll, you will say “wow”. The sign of a great film. Definitely not for everyone, but as a film about a horrific string of real murders, this is well done, non-exploitative fare. One of the best true crime serial killer films I've ever seen.  
Tony Lo Blanco and Shirley Stoler as Ray Fernandez and Martha Beck

{Author's note:  sorry about the tangential start of this post.  I hadn't drank for a couple days and I hadn't written one of these in a while.  I was sort of scared of writing about this movie, as it was disturbing as hell.  I don't mean what I wrote about the Style Book.  I actually own one, and the Grammer Book, too.  I just like to act cool.  I should also mention that Dan Cashman recommended that I buy this film, and that is why I bought it.  Thanks, Dan!}

I couldn't find a trailer for this film on youtube, so here's a video by the band The HoneyMoon Killers:  

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