Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Honeymoon Killers: An Explotative Serial Killer Classic

        A classic low budget film from the 1970s that has since accrued cult status. And while the main actors are good at their roles, many of the extras were brought onboard for dubious reasons- perhaps just because they were willing to work for free- and the acting shows this. While much of the acting may be tough to get through, I am under the impression that it translates well into the romance languages, as it was much more popular outside of the United States. In fact influential director Fran├žois Truffaut called it his favorite American film.
        It was banned for seemingly trivial reasons in various countries. The Australian censorship boards banned it due to obscenity. An attempt was made again in 1972, after the introduction of Australia's R 18 rating, but it was banned for "violence and indecency". A very odd decision as there is only one real scene of violence in the entire film.

Raymond Fernandez's mugshot
        The film is loosely based on the Lonely Hearts Killers case from the 1940s. A rare serial killer couple Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck killed up to 20 women between 1947 and 1949. They earned their moniker by their method of selecting victims, ie via the lonely hearts ads in big city newspapers. Fernandez, a former British intelligence agent, suffered a head wound which damaged his frontal lobe leading to his to aberrant sexual behavior. While in prison for theft, his cellmate taught him voodoo and black magic. He later claimed black magic gave him irresistible power and charm over women.
Martha Beck mugshot
         Beck was a nurse, sexually abused by her brother, with significant weight problems. She was also a hopeless romantic, devouring junk romance novels and films. She met Fernandez using the same lonely hearts ads that she lured other women in. She became absolutely devoted to Fernandez, even sending her own children away to be raised by the Salvation Army so she could further assist his criminal enterprises. She often posed as Fernandez's sister, to lend him a much needed air of respectability. Their victims, feeling more secure knowing there was another woman in the house, often agreed to stay with the pair. Beck also convinced some victims that she lived alone and that her "brother" was only a guest. Beck was violently jealous and would go to great lengths to make sure Fernandez and his victim never had sex. But when it did happen, she subjected both to her vicious temper.
          Their end came in Grand Rapids, Michigan where they met and stayed with Delphine Downing, a young widow with a two-year-old daughter. Eventually the pair ended up drugging and shooting the mother, then later drowning the child when she wouldn’t stop crying. They buried the bodies in the basement, then inexplicably stayed at the house several more days. Suspicious neighbors reported the Downings' disappearances, leading to Beck and Fernandez’s arrests.
          It was, of course, a sensationalized story. Apart from the three murders that could be positively attributed to them, the state of New York (where they were eventually extradited to) slapped another 17 murders on them, all of which the pair denied. Whether they were guilty or not, the solved crime statistics went up in New York City that year. The pair’s last words before execution were of their undying love for each other. Beck stating, “"My story is a love story. But only those tortured by love can know what I mean. I am not unfeeling, stupid or moronic. I am a woman who had a great love and always will have it. Imprisonment in the Death House has only strengthened my feeling for Raymond." And Fernandez going out with the shorter, "I wanna shout it out; I love Martha! What do the public know about love?"
          The film plays fast and loose with many of the events and characters from the real life story, despite what the opening credits claim. Some of that was for dramatic effect, others due to a lack of budget. Most notably would be beck’s contrition at the end, the historical Beck had absolutely no remorse. But a viewer can still get the general gist of the case from this sleeper.
          One additional note, apparently the initial director of the film was supposed to be Martin Scorsese, but was fired a week into shooting. This was because Scorsese was filming every scene in master shots and not shooting close-ups or other coverage, making the film impossible to edit.
          The entire film is below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.