‘Killers’ on the Loose’

Posted on October 2, 2015
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Composer and first-time filmmaker Leonard Kastle was tapped by friend and roommate Warren Steibel to write and direct a low-budget film in 1969 about “The Lonely Hearts Killers,” Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, a pair of serial killers who murdered as many as 20 women between 1947 and 1949 … after fleecing them of their money, jewels and other possessions. The resulting low-budget black and white film, “The Honeymoon Killers,” has gained cult status since its release some five decades ago, notably for its documentary style, kinetic, photo for The Honeymoon Killers stylistic camerawork, ghoulish story line, over-the-edge acting by stage actors Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco, an anxiously erotic subtext and a fine-tuned mixture of shocks and laughs. Beck (Stoler) was a sullen, overweight, and lonely nurse who, desperate for affection, joined Aunt Carrie’s Friendship Club and struck up a correspondence with Ray Fernandez (Lo Bianco), a charismatic smooth talker and degenerate con artist. The two fell in love and posed as brother and sister in a series of cons in which Fernandez would answer personal ads posted by lonely women, wine and dine them, then steal their money and possessions — sometimes marrying them and almost always killing them. The Criterion Collection has released a new DVD and Blu-ray of the film, in a new 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. The very interesting extras include a new interview program featuring actors Tony Lo Bianco and Marilyn Chris (who played one of the victims) and editor Stan Warnow; an interview with writer-director Leonard Kastle from 2003; “Dear Martha,” a new video essay by writer Scott Christianson, author of “Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House”; and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Gary Giddins. A must have.

“Black Coal, Thin Ice” (2014 — China) is a pleasant surprise, a stylishly frosty neo-noir detective thriller that forgoes the blood and gore of the genre and focuses on the psychology of its protagonists, here a cynical ex-cop and his bitter ex-partner who have a photo for Black Coal, Thin Ice second chance to redeem themselves five years after an unsolved murder stymied them and changed their lives. Ex-cop Zhang Zili, seriously wounded while working on a gruesome coal-plant murder case in which body parts were scattered across the province, was forced to retire from the police force due to his injuries. Now, the killer strikes again, and Zhang, now a factory security guard — as well as a drunk — is determined to redeem himself and ex-partner and solve the case on his own. After his investigation, he discovers that all of the victims seem to be related to a mysterious woman who works in a dry cleaning shop. Full of dark and off-the-wall set pieces, this visually beautiful mystery offers enough menace and foreboding and twists and tuns to please fans of Chinese actioners as well as American police procedurals. Winner of the Golden Bear for Best Film at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival. On DVD, Blu-ray Disc from Well Go USA.

“Cop Car” (2015), starring Kevin Bacon, James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford, Shea Wigham and Camryn Manheim, is a surprisingly adept indie thriller from young and up-and-coming photo for Cop Car director Jon Watts (who has been tapped to direct the 2017 Untitled Spider-Man Reboot). The innocence of childhood comes unhinged when a pair of 10-year-olds find an abandoned cop car in a field and take it for a joyride — nothing can happen to them because they’re cops, right? But things go haywire when the corrupt small-town sheriff goes looking for his missing car — and the illicit cargo he left in the trunk — and the kids find themselves at the center of a deadly game of cat and mouse they don’t understand … and are ill-equipped to handle. There’s solid performances, a fascinating story line that takes “Stand By Me” into the 21st century, and some wild twists and turns that you just don’t see coming. And then there’s Kevin Bacon whose very nasty, bad cop is worth the price of admission. On DVD and Blu-ray from Universal.


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