The Honeymoon Killers is a 1970 film written and directed by Leonard Kastle.
It is based on the true story of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, the notorious "Lonely Hearts" killers. Beck (Shirley Stoler) is an overweight, unattractive nurse living with her mother in Mobile, Alabama. Martha's friend Bunny (played by Doris Roberts 27 years before Everybody Loves Raymond) signs her up for a "lonely hearts club", and soon she is exchanging passionate letters with Ray Fernandez, a handsome Spaniard (Tony Lo Bianco).
Ray hits Martha up for a loan, and unsurprisingly soon afterwards writes her a Dear Jane letter. Not content to simply be dumped, Martha makes contact with Ray. She discovers that Ray is a con artist who specializes in contacting lonely women via lonely hearts clubs, romancing them, and then absconding with her money. Martha, who is desperately lonely and has just lost her nursing job, joins Ray in his schemes, posing as his sister. Soon, the two graduate to murder.
The Honeymoon Killers was made by American International Pictures, though they disowned the picture after seeing the final cut and recoiling at the bleak, nhillistic tone of the film. They sold the film to Cinerama Releasing Corporation, who released it to mixed reviews. The film would have been forgotten if not for the Criterion Collect, who released the film in 2003 on DVD. Though the initial release quickly fell out of print, it's 2015 reissue saw the film receive TV airings on Turner Classic Movies; from there the film gained a new audience.
The film is notable for being a textbook example of neo-noir, with it's bleak low budget production giving it a realistic edge to it. Furthermore, it's notable in that a young go-getter named Martin Scorsese was originally hired to direct but was fired from the project over creative differences (urban legend being that Scorsese wanted a more artsy look for the film), leading Kastle to direct his own script, for his only film credit.
- Based on a True Story: Verging on Very Loosely Based on a True Story, despite the "this is a true story" title card at the beginning of the film. The real Beck was a divorcee who abandoned two children to run off with Fernandez; the movie substitutes an elderly mother instead. The real murder spree took place 1947-49; the film has a vague time setting but seems like it's contemporary to the late 1960s. And the real Martha Beck did not turn herself and Fernandez in; they were arrested after suspicious neighbors called the cops.
- Bathtub Scene: Doris is shown bathing in a tub and singing as Ray and Martha plot and have sex in an adjoining room.
- Bleak Abyss Retirement Home: At Ray's demand Martha chucks her mother into one of these. Martha's mom is not happy about it.
- Chiaroscuro: The awful scene where Martha and Ray murder Janet Fay is lit by only a single desk lamp.
- Con Man: Raymond Fernandez, tricking women into marriage, stealing their money. After he meets Martha they start murdering.
- Dating Service Disaster: They don't come much worse than this.
- "Dear John" Letter: Ray sends Martha one of these; before graduating to murder this was apparently how Ray ended his scams.
- Death Glare: Martha's inability to fake being nice often manifests itself in her shooting death glares at anyone who gets too cuddly with Ray.
- Death of a Child: After murdering Delphine, Ray and Martha murder her little daughter Rainelle.
- Deliberately Monochrome: Due to having No Budget, but serving to reinforce the gritty, dark mood of the film.
- Dies Wide Open: Myrtle is found this way after Ray dumps her on a bus while she's dying of a drug overdose.
- Exploitation Film: Marketed this way, with posters advertising Shirley Stoler in her underwear (something we don't actually see in the movie), and made this way, with the Deliberately Monochrome No Budget look as well as the over-the-top Mahler score. Has been more seriously evaluated by critics in the years after its release.
- Finish Him!: "Finish her!", cries Martha after two whacks from the hammer leave Janet crumpled on the floor but still alive. Together they strangle her.
- Gory Discretion Shot: We are spared the sight of Martha murdering little Rainelle, only hearing one scream.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Martha does not like it at all when Ray starts getting physical with the women he seduces. This often ruins Ray's scams or leads to them killing the victim.
- Hot Guy, Ugly Wife: He's completely enamored with her anyway.
- Interplay of Sex and Violence: In a particularly gross, Fan Disservice kind of way. Raymond and Martha are so turned on after killing Janet, they almost immediately have sex.
- Lady Drunk: In one scene Ray has to stop Martha from taking a drink at 10 am.
- The Load: Martha is violently jealous of any woman who gets too close to Ray, and also is overtly mean and nasty, unable to fake the easy charm that Ray uses in his schemes. This makes her a less than useful companion. She ruins one scam by freaking out with jealousy in the presence of one mark, and escalates Janet's nervousness into an argument that forces them to murder her. Another of Martha's freakouts leads to the murder of Delphine and her daughter.
- Oh, Crap!: The horrifying death of Janet Fay. Janet, a 66-year-old woman lured by a promise of marriage to handsome "Charles", gradually starts to get more nervous as she goes to bed in the home rented by Fernandez and Beck. She realizes that something is wrong around the time that Martha slaps her, but the true Oh, Crap! moment of terror comes when Martha addresses "Charles" as "Ray". Janet clearly realizes what is happening, but too late.
- Delphine has this too after Martha tries to smother her. It gets even worse when she realizes that Raymond is in on it and that they're going to kill Rainelle too.
- Outlaw Couple: Fernandez and Beck, con artists and murderers. This film has been called something of an antithesis to Bonnie and Clyde, being a movie that instead of glamorizing crime, portrayed it as sordid and ugly.
- Scare Chord: Several deliberately cheesy uses of dramatic scare chords as something bad is about to happen, like the melodramatic chord that sounds when Delphine reveals to Martha that Ray impregnated her.
- Serial Killer: Although it's debatable how much they actually qualify as serial killers. Doris and Delphine both die when Martha gives them drug overdoses in a fit of jealous rage, and Janet dies because Martha's brusqueness blows up Janet's anxieties into a confrontation. The real-life Beck and Fernandez are thought to have murdered as many as 20 women.
- Society Marches On: Martha is fired from her nursing job after her supervisor learns she went away for a romantic weekend with Ray. Nowadays not only would no one bat an eye at that, it would be a moot debate as a person's personal life isn't their boss' business.
- Spotting the Thread: Janet has already figured out that something is wrong but the true terror of her situation is brought home when Martha slips and addresses "Charles" as "Ray".