The Honeymoon Killers

The Honeymoon Killers

The Honeymoon Killers is the second movie that I’ve seen about the “Lonely Hearts Killers” or “Honeymoon Killers” of the 1940s, Ray Fernandez and Martha Beck. The first was the Mexican movie Deep Crimson, which I wrote about recently. The Honeymoon Killers is a much older American movie, from 1969.

The Honeymoon Killers presents itself as a true story, and has a more serious feel to it. Deep Crimson allowed itself to stray into black comedy occasionally. Deep Crimson also altered the story in at least two major ways—setting it in Mexico, and completely changing how the couple was ultimately apprehended.

So on the surface The Honeymoon Killers is the more historically accurate account, but in fact, based on my reading about the case, they may be fictionalized to roughly the same degree. For one thing, the ending of The Honeymoon Killers too differs quite a bit from real life, though not as drastically as Deep Crimson.

The Honeymoon Killers has the feel of an even older movie than it is, perhaps from about the 1940s, when the events depicted occurred. It is black and white, neither the visuals nor the audio is very crisp, it is shot in kind of an amateurish way with a sometimes shaky handheld camera, and it is consistently melodramatic in tone.

The old fashion style and its being black and white doesn’t make it unwatchable, but for me it detracts from the experience. I’d just as soon they had not gotten cute with the style and just made a standard, fully professional movie of this material.

I suppose that factor roughly equals having to deal with subtitles in Deep Crimson.

And really a big part of my experience of this movie was my constantly comparing it in my mind to Deep Crimson as I watched. I’m curious how I would have responded to this movie had I never seen that other version, and not then looked up information about the case online.

In the end I liked Deep Crimson a bit more. Would I say that if I had seen them in the other order? I don’t know.

I just found Deep Crimson more psychologically intriguing and creepy. Here the protagonists seem more evil than crazy. They’re crazy in the sense of being psychopathic in this movie, but the degree to which they’re “off” in other ways seems much less here than in Deep Crimson.

The woman especially is nutty as a fruitcake in Deep Crimson, in a way that’s quite riveting, as you want to see what she’s going to do next, and try to figure her out. In The Honeymoon Killers she’s somewhat messed up, but mostly just evil.

There also is more of a difference in dating market value between the man and the woman in this version. Here the man is more convincing as a playboy. In Deep Crimson, he has that going a bit, but he’s played to have more buffoonish qualities and to be almost as much of a loser as the woman.

In Deep Crimson I had more of a sense of why their dysfunctions would match up, why they’d feel so strongly for each other. Here it’s more puzzling, especially why he’d want to be with her.

I don’t think The Honeymoon Killers has the same intensity overall. It’s fairly slow much of the way. The couple sticks to purely economic crimes for quite a while, and they’re not all that fascinating cons.

When the first killing does come it’s ambiguous. The woman gives the victim a fairly small quantity of pills to take, and she gets sick and later, after they’re gone, dies. Probably that’s what the woman intended, but it’s not entirely clear she knew she was killing her, and even less clear the man knew that. One or both of them may have been under the impression they were just putting her out of commission temporarily.

There isn’t a more clear cut murder until we’re well over an hour into the film. From that point to the end the movie is noticeably more intense and more interesting to follow, but it takes awfully long to get there.

The murders themselves are well-handled, harrowing. Though even here I’d give Deep Crimson a slight nod for being even a little more disturbing.

I felt like I understood the couple in Deep Crimson a little better, or at least cared more about trying to figure them out. Here they don’t come alive to quite that degree, don’t achieve the same level of creepy fascination.

The Honeymoon Killers is certainly not bad for a true crime movie. I’d put it around the middle or maybe slightly below of the movies I’ve written about so far. I’d just put Deep Crimson a notch or two above that.

But both are disturbing enough to stick with you for a while after you see them.

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