The Honeymoon Killers (1969)

Genres - Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Drama, Docudrama  |   Release Date - Feb 4, 1970 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 108 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Mark Deming

Leonard Kastle's sole directorial credit, The Honeymoon Killers, is a stark but compelling thriller that aims a good bit higher than most horror films of its day (not many filmmakers would use Gustav Mahler to score a true-life crime story, let alone make it work), and generates a cold and darkly disturbing tone that's all its own. While The Honeymoon Killers is (purposefully) rough around the edges, Kastle uses the deep shadows of his high-contrast black-and-white camerawork and ratty low-budget art direction to conjure up a strange and troubling world where the surroundings are as flat and empty as the consciences of its protagonists. (Part of the film's look and feel might be attributed to a young Martin Scorsese, who was the film's original director, but was fired after a few days for taking too long with his set-ups.) The underappreciated Tony Lo Bianco is a fascinating mixture of greasy charm, bravado, and cowardice as serial bigamist Raymond Fernandez; Shirley Stoler is superb as Martha Beck, who seems to have been waiting all her life for Ray to come along and unleash her appetite for both sex and bloodshed; and the parade of sadly ordinary women who portray their victims look just real enough to give this a semi-documentary feel that makes the proceedings all the more uncomfortable. While far from perfect (the pacing is a bit uncertain and the dialogue sometimes clunky), The Honeymoon Killers' virtues far outweigh its flaws, and one has to wonder what else Kastle may have had to say if he'd ever had the chance to make another film.