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'Nightmare Honeymoon' (1973)

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Friday, Feb 14, 2014
Lavish presentation of hackwork.
cover art

Nightmare Honeymoon

Director: Elliot Silverstein
Cast: Dack Rambo, Rebecca Dianna Smith

(USDVD release date: 1 Oct 2013)

David (Dack Rambo) is a Yankee and a Vietnam veteran who marries Southern belle Jill (Rebecca Dianna Smith) in the opening sequence of Nightmare Honeymoon, based on Lawrence Block’s novel Deadly Honeymoon. They run away from the wedding party because of some crazy tradition that feels made up to get the story started, but which foreshadows the chasing that will characterize the whole film. They witness a murder by a psycho hitman (loud, leering John Beck) and his nervous dumpy chum. After David is knocked unconscious for what seems like a commercial break, Jill eventually reveals that she traded their lives for being raped. The rest of the movie studies their clash of traumas as they try to hold together while arguing about what to do and conducting their own investigation into the New Orleans bad guys.
  
Now available on demand from Warner Archive, this early ‘70s obscurity isn’t good, but it’s interesting in a desultory, sometimes unintentional way. First, the package announces that the film was originally released to theatres in a PG version. That version isn’t here. Instead we get two “alternate” versions without any original to alternate them with. One is an “alternate theatrical version” (filling up the 16:9 screen) and the other is a standard-ratio TV version, which is actually a few minutes longer. Since the film can be loosely described as a “rape/revenge” movie, you’d think the unrated theatrical cut would be full of rough material that the TV version had to omit. Not so. There’s no nudity or blood in the theatrical version; even the rape is skipped over and must only be imagined. This in itself makes the film uniquely thwarting in its presumed genre, as does a protracted, often clumsily staged resolution that’s essentially unsatisfying (not always for the right reasons).David (Dack Rambo) is a Yankee and a Vietnam veteran who marries Southern belle Jill (Rebecca Dianna Smith) in the opening sequence of Nightmare Honeymoon, based on Lawrence Block’s novel Deadly Honeymoon. They run away from the wedding party because of some crazy tradition that feels made up to get the story started, but which foreshadows the chasing that will characterize the whole film. They witness a murder by a psycho hitman (loud, leering John Beck) and his nervous dumpy chum. After David is knocked unconscious for what seems like a commercial break, Jill eventually reveals that she traded their lives for being raped. The rest of the movie studies their clash of traumas as they try to hold together while arguing about what to do and conducting their own investigation into the New Orleans bad guys.


Now available on demand from Warner Archive, this early ‘70s obscurity isn’t good, but it’s interesting in a desultory, sometimes unintentional way. First, the package announces that the film was originally released to theatres in a PG version. That version isn’t here. Instead we get two “alternate” versions without any original to alternate them with. One is an “alternate theatrical version” (filling up the 16:9 screen) and the other is a standard-ratio TV version, which is actually a few minutes longer. Since the film can be loosely described as a “rape/revenge” movie, you’d think the unrated theatrical cut would be full of rough material that the TV version had to omit. Not so. There’s no nudity or blood in the theatrical version; even the rape is skipped over and must only be imagined. This in itself makes the film uniquely thwarting in its presumed genre, as does a protracted, often clumsily staged resolution that’s essentially unsatisfying (not always for the right reasons).


The TV version drops the mild profanities and blasphemies and shortens the villain’s climactic speech (boy, does he talk too much) in which he relishes the details of the rape, but the most significant cut is a short dialogue indicating that the couple have already had sex before the marriage. This puts a slightly different complexion on the husband’s rage, in that without that information, the TV version implies that he’s especially incensed by the fact that someone else deflowered his bride. What the TV version adds is a longer speech for Pat Hingle as the bride’s melancholy good-old-boy daddy, and Hingle comes back for a final scene that tries to be more (unconvincingly) upbeat and “let’s put it all behind us”. It also lengthens the hamburger scene, which finds tension in the mundane.


The entire thing looks like a TV movie and seems more natural in the TV ratio, although both cuts are much too long: the wedding, the anguished hotel dialogues, and the tense finale are all dragged out well beyond what the pace requires. What it’s got is a clammy, muggy, rainy, overheated atmosphere of corruption and immanent violence, implying more than once that this is how life is. If it’s true, as reported in various online sources, that Nicolas Roeg was the original director before Elliot Silverstein (A Man Called Horse) replaced him, that effectively quashes the notion that this could ever have been intended for TV, no matter how ready it seems for the gritty, downbeat TV movies of that era.


Also curious are the trailer and the poster (reproduced on the cover) which employ the repetition of “Thank Heavens it’s only a movie” in seeming invocation of the rape/revenge film Last House on the Left, and also the nearly hilarious injunction: “Please don’t see it with someone you love.”


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