Tag Archives: Raymond Fernandez

The Honeymoon Killers

honeymoonkillers 2
The Honeymoon Killers

Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 9 November 2015

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Leonard Kastle

Writer: Leonard Kastle

Cast: Shirley Stoler, Tony Lo Bianco, Mary Jane Higby, Doris Roberts

USA 1969

108 mins

Leonard Kastle’s brutal, gritty take on the ‘Lonely Hearts Killers’ is a masterwork of ugly desperation.

A lonely and bitter nurse, Martha (Shirley Stoler) lives alone with her unstable mother in Mobile, Alabama. She is friendless, apart from her conspiratorial neighbour, Bunny (Doris Roberts), who makes less-than-subtle comments about her weight, especially as Martha gorges on a bag of pretzels after a tortuous day at the hospital. So Bunny mischievously signs her up to a lonely hearts club, and sets in motion a chain of events, described in The Honeymoon Killers’s title card, as ‘…incredibly shocking… perhaps the most bizarre episode in the annals of American crime’. Based on the true story of the ‘Lonely Hearts Killers’, Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez, the only film ever made by Leonard Kastle (who was actually a composer) is a gripping, original crime drama, a low-budget cult classic.

When Martha receives her first letter from Ray (Tony Lo Bianco), the audience is given a glimpse at his game – he writes her from a desk full of framed photographs of other women. Ray is a con man who seduces then fleeces desperate women, going so far as marriage (one woman pays Ray to marry her to disguise a pregnancy – the myth that sex before marriage is clearly a sin with severe consequences runs through the film like a joke). Martha, at first, is no different than his other marks – but somehow she clings on to him, becoming a part of his scheme, masquerading as a sister who never leaves his side, even when they travel to meet his various women. Although Martha wants in on the cash, she’s far from a willing accomplice. She’s jealous, possessive and insistent that Frank never touch the others, even going so far as to sleep in the same bedroom as the other lonely hearts; it’s his violation of Martha’s rules that eventually leads to murder.

Shot in stark black and white – often gleamingly bright, in contrast to the usual noir aesthetic linked to such torrid stories – it’s a documentary-style film, but laced through with dark, erotically charged undertones, captured by the cinematographer Oliver Wood in some terrific moments. In a scene when Ray first comes to visit Martha, celebrated with a sad little party, the camera films him from behind as he dances in front of her, his hips at her eye level, as he sways suggestively to the sounds of tropical music – for Martha, he’s irresistible. Though the film is rarely explicit, sex is at its beating heart; after the first, explicit killing, Ray strips off all his clothes, the camera again following him from behind as he enters Martha’s bedroom, linking the pleasures of violence with sex.

Shirley Stoler perfectly captures Martha’s unhappiness and desperation. She’s an ugly person, shrill, irrational and brutal. Lo Bianco’s Ray is the perfect (if stereotypical) Latin lover; his is perhaps the more nuanced performance of the two. In fact, the film is peopled with unpleasant characters, hinting at an ugly world full of sad, pathetic people (this cynicism is compounded when the killers bury two religious icons alongside one of their victims). It’s only Ray’s final lonely heart who is kind, attractive and caring – and too much for Martha, who’d rather she and Frank were in jail than see him sleep with another woman – which is, of course, the final outcome of their killing spree. Martha and Ray were executed in Sing Sing in 1951.

Sarah Cronin

Watch the Arrow Video Story for The Honeymoon Killers:


Alleluia 1

Format: DVD

Release date: 22 December 2014

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: Fabrice du Welz

Writers: Fabrice du Welz, Romain Protat, Vincent Tavier

Cast: Lola Dueñas, Laurent Lucas, Héléna Noguerra

Belgium, France 2014

93 mins

One of the most talked-about films on the horror and fantasy film festival circuit had its UK premiere at Film4 FrightFest in August. Fabrice du Welz’s Alleluia is based on the real-life story of the ‘Lonely Hearts Killers’: in 1940s America, Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck would find their victims through ‘lonely-hearts’ ads and murder them after Raymond married the victim. The case has been the subject of films before: the wonderful and underrated The Honeymoon Killers, directed by Leonard Kastle in 1969, and the magnificent, color-sated Deep Crimson, made in Mexico in 1996.

It’s no surprise that the case has fascinated filmmakers for so long. The story of two very odd and clearly unhinged personalities who carve a murderous path across America contains everything that frightens and attracts us all: love, money, sex, lust, anger. And in du Welz’s film they all meld together to create an explosive mélange of emotions that will leave no one indifferent.

Lola Dueñas is Gloria, a lonely woman working in a morgue and living a life uncomplicated by men after leaving her husband. At the insistence of her friend she signs up for a dating site and in her first encounter meets Michel (a brilliant, heart-stopping Laurent Lucas), who claims to be a shoe salesman.

It’s lust at first sight as Gloria falls head-over-heels in love with Michel, not knowing that he is, in fact, a small-time crook who makes a living by seducing and conning lonely women such as Gloria out of their money. When she discovers Michel’s true nature, Gloria finds herself unable to walk away: the two hatch a plan whereby Gloria will help Michel with his schemes, posing as his sister. But the plan goes badly wrong when in a frenzied fit of anger Gloria attacks Michel’s prey.

Powered by incredible performances from the entire cast, Alleluia is a force of nature: it’s a thunderstorm that will stun the audience again and again, a tempest that sweeps in the viewer and won’t let go. Violent, funny, unexpected and unexpectedly touching, the story of Michel and Gloria is told in episodic encounters, each of which furthers our understanding of their true nature. Shot in glorious 16mm, the frame is as alive as the players occupying it, and each scene is staged carefully to create a sense of heightened reality, which is both captivating and unnerving.

Not only one of the best film of 2014 but also a bona fide all-time gem, Alleluia is a shocking, bold film from one of today’s most exciting filmmakers. A must-see.

This review is part of our Film4 FrightFest 2014 coverage.

Evrim Ersoy

Watch the trailer: