Saturday, April 27, 2013

THE HONEYMOON KILLERS (1969)

Nothing can beat IMDB's summary of this movie:

"An obese, embittered nurse doesn't mind if her toupee-wearing boyfriend romances and fleeces other women, as long as he takes her along on his con jobs."

A Criterion Collection film!



Originally set to be directed by Martin Scorsese(!!!), HONEYMOON KILLERS begins when Alabama's most embittered nurse, Martha, gets enrolled in the OKCupid of the 1960s, Aunt Carrie's Friendship Club.


Aunt Carrie hooks her up with the not-yet-toupeed Ray Fernandez, a Spaniard who specializes in bilking lonely women out of their fortunes.  Martha falls hard for him and joins him in his schemes, mostly appearing as his not-European sister.  They mostly target old crones with awful hats.


Ray, who had previously had no problems with his career, starts running into all kinds of issues now that Martha is along for the ride.  Her unprofessional jealousy and lack of social skills wreck the operation on several occasions.  It all ends as it usually does, with crime not paying (after it has paid, pretty well, for a good long while).


Lots have already pointed to HONEYMOON KILLERS as a film that must have inspired John Waters and, certainly, at least the first portion of it is very campy in a Waters way.  Martha snarls at a Jewish doctor, "I'm not so sure Hitler wasn't right about you people!"  And "Not only are you pregnant, you're disgusting!" definitely deserves a place in the Movie Quote Hall of Fame.  But the very cool thing about HONEYMOON KILLERS is its slow shift in tone.  It's all fun and games and silly rich old ladies at the outset, but by the time this ends, you are going to be jarred at how grim and violent things have gotten.  Martha & Ray feed on each other's weaknesses and the evil just escalates and spirals out of control.  Like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, the sudden metamorphosis from comedy into horror works in the film's favor.


Credit for the film's force should go to lead actors Shirley (FRANKENHOOKER) Stoler and Tony (GOD TOLD ME TO) Lo Bianco.  What could have been just fun matinee trash gets elevated by their energetic performances.  Given that KILLERS is super-sparse, with practically no shots that weren't shot in the corner of a room, there weren't going to be any beautiful outdoor Cinemascope shots to save it.  It was going to succeed or fail on the basis on the acting and Stoler & Lo Bianco triumph hard.  Give a medal to director Leonard Kastle, too.  He utilizes the constraints of low-budget filmmaking and turns them into strengths—almost all of this is shot very close and tight, until the very end, when we get a widescreen zoom that means much more at that point.  


This would have been a far different film if Scorsese had made it.  Not bad, necessarily, just probably more showy and full of Technique.  Kastle lets the story, consistent style, and crisp editing do its work and we as a species are better for it.  It's too bad that this was his only film, but, then again, when you get it this right, maybe it's better to stop (cf. John Carpenter).  


Hilarious, trashy, seedy, transgressive, great!!  Don't let the Criterion label fool you, this is our kind of film.  If you need proof, check the aghast IMDB reviews—"all the characters are unpleasant; people scream rather than talk to each other", "Comparisons to 'Psycho' and 'In Cold Blood' have been alluded to by reviewers here, but this has none of the artfulness of those superb canvases".  I like to imagine that old bags in hideous hats have written those reviews and helpfully died from exposure to HONEYMOON KILLERS soon after.  Get off the Internet and watch this, now!

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