'The Honeymoon Killers': Grisly murders in cult classic
From the moment we hear Gustave Mahler's highly dramatic music in the opening scene of The Honeymoon Killers, Leonard Kastle's imaginative thriller and its cast of little-known players take off.
Shirley Stoler plays a corpulent hospital nurse who finds love – of a sort – by joining a lonely-hearts correspondence club. Her ad is answered by a Spanish gigolo (Tony Lo Bianco) in the business of marrying lonely women, taking their money, and abandoning them. However, the two miscreant creatures fall in love. Stoler instantly sticks her senile mother in a nursing home so she can accompany her new lover in his business ventures by posing as his sister.
Lo Bianco goes about marrying – or promising to marry – a series of desperate women, while Stoler tags along. She becomes insanely jealous of the attention the women place on Lo Bianco, and takes the crime spree to new heights by murdering the prospective wives.
Director Leonard Kastle gets some remarkable performances out of his actors. Stoler plays her part as a tough-talking, possessive accomplice with sharp understatement, while Lo Bianco's unctuous Lothario struts like a peacock and brags flamboyantly. The delightful Doris Roberts gives a competent turn as the mother's perky caregiver.
The perverse relationship between the two leads is fascinating. Once Stoler insinuates herself as the “sister,” the couple robs their target and makes love while the victim is in another room. It is especially funny that they pretend to be siblings when Lo Bianco has such a thick Hispanic accent, and they smother each other with affection like no brother and sister would do. The film doesn't get truly violent until several grisly murders at the end, when things don't go quite as planned.
Oliver Wood's brilliant black-and-white cinematography perfectly illustrates the opening statement that The Honeymoon Killers is a “true story.” The whole film has a docudrama look, and the dialogue, written by Kastle, sounds totally natural.
As with the (much-criticized) approach found in Bonnie and Clyde three years earlier, Kastle wanted his audience to sympathize with the criminals. We know the outlaws really love each other and we are almost sorry when they finally meet their fate. So what if there was a trail of bodies left in their wake?
Perhaps if she had just stuck to her nursing profession and he got a job as a car mechanic, they could have had a happy ending.
© Danny Fortune
The Honeymoon Killers (1970). Dir. / Scr.: Leonard Kastle. Cast: Shirley Stoler, Tony Lo Bianco, Mary Jane Higby, Doris Roberts.