A rape/revenge thriller released by a major studio (in this case, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), NIGHTMARE HONEYMOON was hyped as a horror movie in the “Last House” vein (the ads repeatedly screamed, “THANK HEAVENS, IT’S ONLY A MOVIE”). Never before available on home video in an format, the Warner Archive Collection now lets the tragic after-wedding party commence on its MOD DVD series, in two different versions no less.
After an elaborate wedding on a plantation estate, newlyweds David Webb (Dack Rambo) and his 21-year-old bride, southern bell Jill (Rebecca Dianna Smith, SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK), run off for their secret honeymoon excursion, despite the wishes of her daddy Mr. Binghamton (Pat Hingle, BLOODY MAMA) who wants the festivities to continue with family members. Managing to elude papa and his gang, on route to the a New Orleans hotel, the couple stay at a sleazy inn off the road. During a night-time swim, their consummation of their marriage is interrupted when they secretly witness the murder of a local (David Huddleston, BLAZING SADDLES) by two savage hitmen; Lee (David Beck, ROLLERBALL) and his older sidekick Sandy (Roy Jenson, SOYLENT GREEN). The couple is soon discovered, held at gunpoint, and threatened by the obviously psychotic Lee. Later, David wakes up after being knocked unconscious, with Jill by his side, seemingly unharmed. When they tell the sheriff what happened, he offers no help, assuring them that the culprits will be impossible to track down. Then when David plays for Jill's affections, she starts to cry and runs from him, revealing that she was raped while he was out cold, and is now too ashamed to tell anyone. This of course turns their relationship for a major loop, with David (a Vietnam vet trained to kill “50 different ways”) wanting revenge in a big way, discovering why the hit happened in the first place and pursuing the murdering rapists, leading to what turns out to be a cat and mouse confrontation.
Based on a book Lawrence Block, NIGHTMARE HONEYMOON was given a PG rating in spite of its subject matter and a very exploitive ad campaign which aped what Hallmark was doing at the time with most of their releases, especially LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT. In actuality, the (offscreen) rape is treated as a dramatic tragedy which must be dealt with and redeemed somehow, and the film only gets violent in spots, giving off more 1970s made-for-TV vibe then trash akin to the grindhouse. The plot feels like much of it is derived from other movies (the heroine's shouting of "It's not enough" over her assailant's body echoes the climax of Michael Reeves' WITCHFINDER GENERAL), so there’s nothing too original here, but a good cast of familiar character actors makes it quite watchable and director Elliot Silverstein (THE CAR) does a decent job with the hammy dramatics, occasional outbursts of violence and the picturesque Louisiana setting (reportedly, Nicolas Roeg was the original director, but bailed out after a few days and was replaced by Silverstein, but it’s hard to imagine even the celebrated Roeg doing anything artistic and inventive with the material at hand). The score by Elmer Bernstein is totally off base, adding to the TV-movie feel and making even the film’s grimmer proceedings feel light and uplifting.
Appearing mostly on episodic TV for years and known for primarily for 1960s westerns and 1980s soaps, Rambo (whose battle with AIDS was well publicized in the media before his life was cut short from the disease in 1994) and Smith (who didn’t have much of a career and only did one other feature) are fairly memorable as the anguished lovebirds, and Beck (known more for his moustached good guy roles) is appropriately over the top as the baddie who has made their lives miserable. The beloved veteran character actor Hingle is pretty much wasted in a supporting role as the rich southern widower saddened by his “perfect” daughter leaving the homestead to marry a yankee, but his character is given more screen time in the television version (see below). Jay Robinson (THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER) is seen briefly as the New Orleans crime lord (who gets his ass whooped by David), and it seems like a warm-up for his more maniacal villain in THREE THE HARD WAY, released about a year after this. Other familiar faces in the colorful cast include Dennis Patrick (HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS), Jim Boles (DR. DEATH: SEEKER OF SOULS), husky Dennis Burkley (BUMMER and the short-lived "Sanford" TV spin-off), geezer actor Pat Cranshaw (MARS NEEDS WOMEN), “drunk” actor Jack Perkins (INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS) and old-time cowboy actor Bob Steele in his final feature.
Never before available on home video, NIGHTMARE HONEYMOON was a TV staple for years (playing on New York’s WOR Channel 9 late-night “Fright Night” program) and it recently aired on TCM Underground. The theatrical version (1:28:40) is presented 1.78:1 widescreen anamorphic, looking as good as you would expect a Warner Archive title to look that had little or no restoration work done. Colors are mostly vivid, with blacks not looking too well defined in the outdoor scenes, and the image is mostly sharp with a few soft spots (namely the opening credit sequence) and occasional grain. The mono audio is absolutely fine with no noticeable defects. The alternate and longer TV version (1:35) doesn’t have much sensational content removed (a few swear words), proving how tame the feature actually is. Lengthening the running time of the feature by extending several scenes, it includes an alternate ending involving Hingle’s father character on horseback with his posse around him, offering words of hope as they circle around the embracing couple, existing harmoniously after their ordeal. The TV version is from a full frame video source and naturally looks inferior to the theatrical version, with lots of awkward headroom. An original full frame theatrical trailer is also included (“Please do not see it with someone you love”). The packaging now lists the film as “Not Rated” instead of PG, likely to do with the inclusion of the TV version. (George R. Reis)
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