Judge Gordon Sullivan is now planning on staying awake through his entire honeymoon.
Thank heavens, it's only a movie!
It's often a bit much to expect originality from exploitation fare. We get spoiled by the random accidents that find talented directors making amazing films under terrible circumstances early in their career. Films like Night of the Living Dead and The Last House on the Left are amazing, but they're the exception, not the rule. Instead, most exploitation fare is produced by the factory method, with each product looking as close to the last one as possible to allow for economies of scale and lots of recycling to push overly taxed budgets. However, sometimes a film comes along that's so mediocre that it beggars belief. Nightmare Honeymoon is one such film. From its tagline ("Thank Heavens It's Only a Movie!") to its rape-revenge plot everything about this is borrowed or inept.
Adapted from a novel by Lawrence Block (Deadly Honeymoon), Nightmare Honeymoon follows David Webb (Dack Rambo, Dallas) and his new bride Jill (Rebecca Diana Smith) have just been married. Her father is trying to keep the lucky couple from consummating their marriage through a prank, sending the wedding party after the would-be lovers on their honeymoon trip to New Orleans. The couple is so eager to have a little fun that they detour into the Louisiana swamps. There, they witness a murder by Lee (John Beck, Dallas), who also sexually assaults Jill. David can't let their encounter go, so he drags Jill on a trip for revenge.
Looking back on the early '70s, apparently masculinity was in crisis. Film after film showed us dudes not sure how to be dudes any more. This problem produced some really interesting films (like Straw Dogs and Deliverance) that took a look at changes standards of masculinity. It also produced films like Nightmare Honeymoon, which wants us to believe that seeing his wife get assaulted turns the boring David into a revenge-bent killer. I, for one, was not convinced.
The main problem is that nothing about the film makes any sense. If Lee's a killer, it makes no sense that he'd leave David and Jill alive after they witnessed his crimes. Then, David's transformation from boring husband into avenging-angel is more silly than credible. Jill herself might as well not be a character, since she exists to either spur on David or Lee, having little of her own to do.
Then, of course, there's the low-budget execution. I doubt more than a handful of days were dedicated to this feature; everything has a fly-by-night feel to it that exploitation fans know well. The script—beyond the goofy plot—is also terrible, with dialogue wooden enough to build a house from. The actors don't help, either. Webb is a nonentity as David, Smith can do little more than look scared for most of the picture, and Beck is intimidating but relies a bit too much on Southern stereotypes to craft his killer.
This DVD from the Warner Archive release program does the film justice. We get two distinct version of the film, an unrated theatrical cut and the film's TV version. The prints from which these are taken are in surprisingly good shape for the 1.78:1 anamorphic and 1.37:1 full-frame transfer, respectively. Both look good for their age. Colors have an appropriately early-'70s vibe, detail is decent, and black levels are consistent. For an archival release of a long (and justifiably) forgotten film this is a great presentation. The mono audio tracks are similarly fine, with clear dialogue and well-balanced musical cues. There are no extras.
Two things save Nightmare Honeymoon from total failure. The first is the fact that it's a Southern exploitation film. Perhaps not quite a distinct genre on its own, the Southern-fried exploitation film usually includes lots of rednecks and bad behavior. Nightmare Honeymoon is no exception, but it gets a few points for including some decent footage of the swampland. I don't know if it was actually filmed in Louisiana, but the film does a fine job of evoking the gator-infested waters.
The second thing that saves the film is the inclusion of the TV version. The world of film financing is fascinating on its own, and it's wonderful to see how films are marketed and shown in different versions. Most of us are familiar with films shown on TV in cut versions, with scenes excised and profanity bleeped or dubbed over. Sometimes, however, alternate scenes were shot for TV, and Nightmare Honeymoon is an interesting case where the unrated theatrical version is almost 10 minutes shorter than the TV version. It's not enough to recommend the film, but it is an historical curiosity for those who are interested in film history.
Unless you have a fetish for actors who appeared on Dallas or love Southern-fried exploitation films enough to overlook a bad script and worse performances, there's very little about Nightmare Honeymoon to recommend.
Thank goodness it's only a movie, but it's a guilty one.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• TV Version
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