The Honeymoon Killers, 1970. 7/10.

That’s a catchy title. A sort of drive-in grade, black and white, campy, low budget film, and, pretty much a cult classic. Before we start blaming the ’60s for creating the psycho/slasher craze, realize that this story is based on a true crime serial killer couple from the early ’50s.

At the risk of creating a new oxymoron, this is about psychopathic lovers. They share a unique career goal: fleecing lonely women. First luring them to assignations with Ray (Tony LoBianco), then Martha (Shirley Stoller), posing as his sister, moves the lonely hearts along. In effect, she’s the ‘closer.’ The prize is a one-way love boat ticket to marriage, maybe a honeymoon you never have to return from–because you’re dead.

Needless to say, particularly because this is based on real events, the loose-ends keep their cunning plot unraveling until…well, we’ll see. Just to prime the pump, so to speak, a problem might arise if Ray actually falls for the victim, and/or, if the unlucky one figures out the real deal between Ray and Martha. Actually, there’s so much deception going on, that I couldn’t figure out who was kinda married to Ray and who sorta wasn’t.

Among the victims are Janet, Delphine, Myrtle, and Evelyn (played by Mary Jane Higby, Kip McArdie, Martha Chris, and Barbara Cason, respectively). There’s also Martha’s friend Bunny (Doris Roberts) and Martha’s mom (Dortha Duckworth).

A hospital scene. Geez, Martha is a bit frosty, as she breaks in on young co-workers who’ve been necking “this is a hospital not a motel room!” That evening, she finds a lonely hearts club letter. Actually, Bunny has given her them her name. Anyway, she responds “do I have to tell the truth?” What, of course not! It’s personals ads.

Then we see a guy taking a letter from a desk drawer. It’s Ray, talking to himself about how he’s going to reply to Martha; next we see her opening his letters, and so on. Finally, he travels to see her. Soon, she and Ray are quite chummy. Eventually, he has to go back home, she’s in tears, clearly taken with him. Pretty dapper guy, I suppose.

A special delivery letter from Ray; then he gets a call from Bunny. Martha “can’t live without him” She’s feigning being suicidal and such, while Bunny’s boyfriend fondles her. They’re both playing a double game; masking the fact that they’re both attracted to each other.

Now he invites her to NYC. He quickly (off-screen) comes clean about his m.o. of taking advantage of vulnerable people–she’s in. What’s she’s not down with is her supervisor back at the hospital. He bawls her out for all the lonely hearts letters he’s found; he knows that she’s involved in some scam.

She doesn’t hesitate to counterattack, the Freud-like, German accented doctor gets “I’m not so sure Hitler wasn’t right about you people!” Wow, especially the ‘you people’ deal. The real news is that she says she’s married Ray. Well, that’s a surprise to Ray. Neither of them wants her mom to go (to live) in NYC. They talk vaguely of various ways to dispose of her; a rest home proves the most convenient spot.

But, the strange couple do indeed marry. Their strategy is that, with clients, Martha is presented as Ray’s sister. How a pudgy, freckled woman could be a sibling to a lanky, dark-haired Latino is a puzzle–step-siblings?

Anyway, they take down their first mark. Afterwards, they argue about the details of the theft; the victim was drunk on her ‘wedding night.’ Martha complains about having to clean up after her. They discuss the next client. The keynote here is that these two rarely stop arguing.

“You know, you are much cuter than your picture!” Says the southern lady, Myrtle, when she beholds Ray. For some odd reason, Martha gets cold feet, despite the successful haul from the Myrtle. She seems to be jealous of the woman. That makes sense, because Ray’s role is an elaborate but complete come-on. He’s a gigolo, Martha or no Martha.

Plus, when she wants him, he’s suddenly “tired.” Her job is to “get your hands on her [the mark’s] things.” Well, Martha looks in on a still reluctant Ray, this time with Myrtle trying to cozy up. I can’t figure out why the two women end up sleeping together; they’re certainly not friendly. “You’re the hardest bitch I’ve ever seen!” announces Martha.

A midnight bathroom argument between Ray and Martha; he’s kind of right, she’s interfering with the business end of things. Perhaps because they worry that Myrtle’s gonna expose them, they fill her full of sleeping pills, and put Myrtle on the bus back to Arkansas. She dies.

On to the next victim, a nice-looking blonde in Massachusetts, Evelyn. Down at a lakeside picnic, when Evelyn’s busy, it’s non-stop arguing between the Ray and Martha. That argument only ends when Martha swims out to drown herself; that gets Ray’s attention. Next thing we know, they’re driving back to New York. “I think we better get you that home in the suburbs.” Leaving Evelyn high-and-dry, I suppose.

Well, I guess they do just the white-picket-fence deal, because mom actually gets a nice (full of b.s.) letter from them. In their new bungalow, they discuss the next client. Their arguing is unrelenting. Anyway, the new mark, Janet, is in Michigan. Once here, they strategize; for once they’re not arguing. He comes back from his tryst early; Janet is much older. Boy, is she.

They divine that she has money; but the cafeteria meal and other details point in a less expensive direction. Meanwhile, Ray and Janet continue to talk finances. Then wedding invitations; then a Miami honeymoon, honey. Ray fakes being locked in the basement so he can grab some time with Martha.

Later, in the guest bedroom with Janet, the older woman can’t sleep; c’mon, she’s worried about her money? She’s suspicious because the checks she endorsed are hidden from her. Martha tries pushing sleeping pills on her, and then tries to stop her from phoning. Martha more or less gives in, telling Ray that Janet wants the checks back.

By now she knows something horrible is going on, and just wants to get out. Oh, man, Martha dispatches her with a hammer. This is as bad as it sounds. Ray, at least, is disgusted “for God’s sake, Martha, turn off the lights!” Well, now what guys?

That’s simple: make love; then clean up the mess. Followed by a deceptive letter to Janet’s people. Ok, onto the next, and final victim, Delphine. So after three weeks with Delphine, and her daughter, Rainelle (Mary Breen), Martha and Ray are already bored. One problem is that Delphine is savvy about money. The bigger problem is her pregnancy.

If they kill Delphine, they’d be killing the baby too (it’s Ray’s); more immediately, since Delphine wants to marry right away, the financial shenanigans may get complicated. Delphine blabs too much to Martha about how she’s been sleeping with Ray at every opportunity.

Things quickly spiral down this vortex of terror. Martha plies Delphine with ‘allergy’ pills to abort the baby. She’s basically catatonic; they find Delphine’s gun and shoot her. Now they ‘have to take care of’ Rainelle. We don’t see that murder, but hear it well enough.

Martha can’t deal with the situation any more: she calls the police. She’ll once again “take care of everything.” In prison, she gets a letter from Ray. He professes his love for her his “only love.” The credits inform us that she was executed in 1951.

The pacing is rather sluggish until we get to Janet. That’s too bad because the last part of the movie (concerning Janet and Delpine) is the best. For all the lead up to Ray and Martha’s partnership, we really no next to nothing about either of them. Given the focus on the action (i.e., horror), it might’ve been best to just start at that point.

Better would’ve been an In Cold Blood-like series of revelatory flashbacks; as the action goes forward in that story (both in Capote’s book and the 1965 film adaptation), the psychological background gives adds interest to the characters and coherence to the plot.

Because Ray and Martha are absolutely unsympathetic; the lack of background doesn’t help (as though suggesting that psychopaths just materialized from wayward vending machines). This is not exactly a documentary, but the droll, reality-show presentation has that impersonal feel. Lacking a narrator, though, there’s no central perspective.

This is more or less Martha’s story; but with the notable exceptions of her physical threats and attacks, she’s oddly passive, and often views herself as a victim. In a sense, she’s literally the other half of Ray’s personality.

This is the film equivalent of the person ‘falling between two stools’ because he/she can’t decide where to sit at the bar. True crime, Dragnet-style. Who are these two killers? We’re not in their heads, nor the heads of their victims’ (Janet’s head is used a little too crudely to let us have a look at her thoughts).

Given all of those questions and reservations, Honeymoon Killers is quite something. It makes one want to know more about the story–always a sign of an interesting non-fictional movie. Kind of rudderless, but also ambitious in its attempt to show horror unemotionally. Ray and Martha only get excited when they argue, crime is simply a business they clock-in to.

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