The Honeymoon Killers, and a few more movies


The Honeymoon Killers

Martha (Shirley Stoler) is a plump and surly nurse who lives with her mother and needs a man in her life. Or so her friend (Doris Roberts) tells her, after placing a lonely-hearts ad on Martha's behalf. Martha is angry about the ad, but decides to see what happens, and she gets a response from a man named Raymond (Tony Lo Bianco). True but twisted love blossoms.

Raymond is a serial lothario who targets, romances, and swindles women, and Martha's OK with that. Soon they're working together, with Martha pretending to be Raymond's sister as he gets his hands on numerous women and, more importantly, the women's cash. Once they have the ladies' money, Martha begins killing them, and Raymond's OK with that.

The murders, and especially the build-ups to each murder, are tremendously effective, with some genuine masterpiece moments of cinema.

With a small budget, plain lighting, grainy film, great script and performances, and scrumptious cinematography, all with no studio to dull thing and dumb the proceeding, this film is frightening, horrific, tense, ghoulish — is 'delightful' the wrong word? Yeah, it's delightful.

The story takes place in the 1940s, so ratchet back your modern sexual liberation. Premarital sex is a serious no-no, so when Raymond's lovers spend the night, he's in one room, while the lady sleeps in Martha's room. She chaperons Raymond with each of his several fiancées, even accompanies them on their honeymoons, which only heightens the movie's uncomfortable ickiness.

Lo Bianco became a B-level movie star after this, while his co-star Stoler ran the concentration camp in Lina Wertmuler's Seven Beauties, and played Mrs Steve on Pee-wee's Playhouse

A little-known moviemaker named Martin Scorsese directed the first few days of shooting, but the producers thought his work was too 'arty' — he's said to have spent hours framing and filming a single shot of a beer can discarded in the bushes. Scorsese was discarded instead, and the writer, Leonard Kastle, took over as director.

This is the only movie Kastle wrote or directed. For most of his life, he taught composition at State University of New York in Albany, and wrote operas, a few of which appeared on NBC Television Opera Theatre. Yes, believe it or not, commercial TV had a prime time show dedicated to opera.

The Honeymoon Killers is reminiscent of James Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity, perhaps not as polished but much more visceral. It takes you into the lives and minds of fascinating people you'd prefer not to meet, but unlike Cain's fiction, this is a true story, or as true as movies get. 

Verdict: BIG YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Animal House (1978)
a/k/a National Lampoon's Animal House

Never heard so much laughter in one place, as the first time I saw Animal House. It was a sneak preview, a few weeks before the film opened, at Seattle's Coliseum Theater — an old, huge, and usually almost empty theater downtown, but that night it was packed to the second balcony with 2,000 people having a grand time.

45 years later, the theater is shuttered but still standing, and the movie is not quite as non-stop hilarious as I remembered, but it's still a couple of thousand laughs, and a sure cure any time you're blue.

OK, so there's this fraternity at Faber College, full of drunk college boys. They have lousy grades, always get in trouble, and the college dean wants to expel them all, and close down the fraternity. That's the movie.

John Belushi makes his big-screen debut holding a beer in one hand and his schlong in the other, peeing on the lawn in front of the Delta House frat. He gets top billing because he was famous from Saturday Night Live, but he has surprisingly little dialogue, yet he owns every scene he's in, and the movie is his, too.

John Vernon plays the cold-hearted dean, Verna Bloom his hot-blooded wife, and Donald Sutherland plays the "with it" English lit professor. The kids were mostly unknowns, and several went on to become names or faces you know — Karen Allen, Kevin Bacon, Stephen Furst, Tom Hulce, Tim Matheson, Bruce McGill, Mark Metcalf, Peter Riegert, and Mary Louise Weller. 

Written by Harold Ramis, Doug Kenney (who plays the frat-boy 'Stork'), and Chris Miller ('Hardbar'). Directed by John Landis, fresh from Kentucky Fried Movie.

Animal House is the definitive raunchy college comedy, lowbrow and loud and the punchline is "Food fight!" or Belushi shouting "Holy shit!" three times in a row. It's occasionally offensive, often gross, consistently rude, and just a hell of a lot of fun.

There might even be a moral to the story: "They're gonna nail us no matter what we do, so we might as well have a good time."

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Labirynt (1963)
a/k/a Labyrinth

This is an animated short from Poland, but without subtitles, since it's entirely free of dialogue. 

I don't know what this style of animation is called, where old-style still photographs are manipulated to sorta mimic movement. Monty Python did it a little, mostly between skits. Whatever it's called, I've always found it charming and fun to watch, and that's what this is — charming, and fun to watch.

In both black-and-white and vibrant color, Labirynt is all very surreal and weird. Closest I can come to synopsisizing the story is, an 1890s man in a suit and tall hat makes himself some wings, flies to a different city, but he doesn't have a passport so they're, shall we say, not terribly welcoming. 

The artwork and animation is by Jan Lenica, and looks great. There's appropriately eerie music by Włodzimierz Kotoński. Neither name means anything to me, but they're both famous enough to have Wikipedia pages, and this short won awards, so I'm not the only schmoe who liked it.

Labirynt is neither funny nor intended to be, but from the look and its era, I'll wager the Python gang saw this and came away inspired.

It runs about 14 minutes, and it's good, and here it is.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦    

• Coming attractions •

Barbarians at the Gate (1993) 

Brain Donors (1992)

Edge of Fury (1978)

Go West (1925)

Go West (1940)

The Thing from Another World (1951)

    • And then •

American Revolution 2 (1969)

Caged Men: Tales from Chicago's SRO Hotels (2017) 

The Dark Crystal (1982)

Delicatessen (1991)

The Devil and Miss Jones (1941)

District 9 (2009)

Eight Characters in Search of a Sitcom (2003)

The Flipside of Dominick Hide (1980)

Following (1998) 

Freaked (1993)

High-Rise (2016)

Hit! (1973)

Inherent Vice (2014) 

The Invisible Man (1933)

Jurassic Punk (2022)

Last Tango in Paris (1972)

Merrily We Go to Hell (1932)

My Life in Monsters (2015) 

Naked (1993)

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (first season, 2022)

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988)

Tunnel Vision (2023) 

12:01 (1993) 

Upstream Color (2013) 

White Lotus (first season, 2021) 

Who Killed Captain Alex (2010)   


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

CultCinema Classics
Films for Action
Internet Archive
Kino Lorber
Korean Classic Film
Christopher R Mihm
National Film Board of Canada
New Yorker Screening Room
Damon Packard
Mark Pirro
Public Domain Movies
Scarecrow Video
Timeless Classic Movies
or your local library.

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —
Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff.

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  1. I'll set the scene. It's 6:00 PM (I'd rather call it 1800, but you'll confuse me with a police officer or a military guy). I'm making my simple multi-course dinner of a little melon, a chickenburger and an apple, and my wife is making hers. We ask the question people who have been married for over three decades ask: What d'ya wanta watch?

    I'm usually up for some Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett, of course) or an old Seinfeld (there aren't any new ones) but my wife descends to the dungeon and returns with Local Hero. Actually, it's been a few years since we saw it, and it was always one of my faves, so that should go well with chickenburger.

    And then it happens. This film from my 10 favorites list shatters in front of me. After all these years, I almost know the dialog, but I didn't used to look for cinematography: the RAF fighter/bombers stand out in dazzling contrast and let me know we've already lost the innocence of the place. And I'd never noticed how flat Peter Riegert is throughout the whole fucking movie. I'll assume that's how he was directed, but how did I miss it the first 20 times? The African minister is still a nice touch and the screwing innkeepers are OK for a while. The Russian guy steals more scenes than I'd remembered and Burt is as out of place as ever (it could be worse: we could be watching The Swimmer).

    It's a different movie than I thought it was, but not so bad. If I liked it for all the wrong reasons, it's still as it was as a VHS, then a DVD in my basement. I've grown old in the interim, and see things very differently. I guess I've finally slowed down to its pace.


    1. Captain HampocketsJuly 27, 2023 at 11:09 AM

      >(I'd rather call it 1800, but you'll confuse me with a police officer or a military guy).

      Nah, just a posh upperclass Ingerlish twit.

    2. johnthebasket

    3. Well, I fucked that entry up pretty good. What I was trying to say is: If I were going for faux class, I'd just refer to it as six o'clock post meridian.

      I rarely get confused because I rarely see six o'clock anti meridian, but sometimes I do stay up that late.


    4. > And then it happens. This film from my 10 favorites list shatters in front of me.

      You too, huh? That happens to me sometimes — a movie (sometimes a TV show or book) I loved just ain't doing it for me.

      And sometimes it happens in reverse — something that bored me silly is suddenly profound.

      Gotta conclude that a lot of what we call 'art' depends on the mood we bring to it.

      Do you say "eighteen o'clock"? That kinda makes sense, but I gently shake my head no when I hear "18 hundred hours," not because it's military but because hours have sixty minutes, not a hundred, so 6:00 PM is not 1,800, ir's 1,080. Just for clarity.

  2. Fair enough, Cap, but I have a reasonable excuse. I worked in data centers from 1971 to 2006, much of that time for a company with offices around the world. I didn't have a fancy, high-paying job, but everybody used the 24-hour time designation because computers never sleep and our customers in London and Sydney expected us to have their funds data available 7/24. So if we were performing maintenance from 2-3 in the morning it was 0200 to 0300. Thirty-five years of that builds a 24 hour clock in your head.


  3. I have not seen Honeymoon Killers and it sounds like I simply must.

    I have seen Labyrinth and liked it, only because you included the link. Is it possible you could do that for other very obscure films you review?

    1. https://youtu.be/YkOv8Jir6SA

      It's a masterpiece

    2. Thanks, Claude.

      Jordan, many or most of the movies I watch are owned by corporations, available only for paid viewing. I shall try, though, to remember to add links for films in the public domain.


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