Directed by Leonard Kastle, 1970.
(Criterion DVD, 2003)
Some movies were destined to be in black and white. Monochrome becomes them, not just because of the period in which they were realized, but somehow their subject matter would appear cheapened by the gaudiness of color. Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, and Psycho are three prime examples that benefit from the other worldliness of flickering grays. A rather late addition is the 1970 cult curio The Honeymoon Killers.
Stark, scary and sleazy, the movie remains a twisted parable about the extent individuals will go to in the name of loneliness and love. Echoes of Warhol, Waters, and Hitchcock permeate the true twisted tale of Raymond Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco), a handsome charmer with receding locks, who scours Lonely Hearts columns for desperate older women, hoping for romance. He is after their savings, marries them swiftly, and just as quickly departs with his pockets full of their dusty dollars. One of his intended victims, an overweight and needy nurse in her forties, Martha Beck, brilliantly portrayed by the late Shirley Stoler, falls hopelessly and obsessively in love with him. It is a perfect example of the hunter being captured by the game.
Imagine Jack Kerouac being courted by a malevolent Divine and you have love on the road with murder in mind. Having rumbled his technique, she becomes his partner in crime by posing as his sister. A series of dotty, desperate and sometimes awful old women are dispatched, mostly by Beck. But when one of his victims turns out to be younger, prettier and a threat, the plot twists with Shakespearean pathos. Stoler brings a sassy, sexy evilness to her portrayal of the desperately dangerous Beck. The perfect example of a fat lady restoring volcanic sexuality to her girth, she steals the movie. It is easy to see why she is so besotted with Fernandez, who cuts a dashing figure, even in toupee, a love token from one of his elderly victims, that he insists on wearing in order to improve his sugary charm. Beck and Fernandez went to the chair in Sing Sing in 1951. She, happy in knowledge no other woman would every have him. The film has a growing reputation, and deservedly so.
The director Alex Cox, a major admirer, chose it as one of his cult classics for a late night series he presented in Britain. It was to be directed by Martin Scorsese, but after various wrangles it remains the only film made by Leonard Kastle. Mahler, murder and monochrome, the terrible events depicted are scored by his brooding, dramatic music. Ms. Stoler brings her claw hammer down with merciless panache on screaming old ladies who only want to be loved by a shop-soiled Italian stallion. A pompous soundtrack to their pathetic deaths. The better-than-nothing brigade have rarely been dealt such a tragic hand, and unfortunately for them, the lady with the hammer loved him to death.