HONEYMOON HORROR Sony video poster
HONEYMOON HORROR
(1982, US)
2 stars  
"'Til death do us part."
 
directed by: Harry Preston 
starring: Paul Iwanski, Bob Wagner, Cheryl Black, Philip Thompson, James Caskey, Bill Pecchi, Jerry Meagher, William Clarke, Margi Curry, Mary Lou Wittman, Leslie McKinley, Kathy Johnson, Jane Pardue, Megan Ready, Jillian Raye, Kari Addington, Michael Wyckoff

choice dialogue:

"This place fair gives me the willies!"

- Who will save the only living Cockney in Texas?

slash with panache?

[review by JA Kerswell - updated 2024]

Shot by a director whose father was a laxative tycoon and who had once claimed to have tap danced for the Queen of England, the story of the man behind this Texas-made regional slasher is arguably more interesting than the film itself. Despite its similarities to THE BURNING, HONEYMOON HORROR pre-dates that film’s release and was shot at the tail end of 1980. Honeymooning couples are hunted down at an island retreat by a horribly burnt madman with an axe who has a beef with his wife and her lover. Steeped in early 80s charm, it has its moments but serious pacing issues often derail this demented ode to romance and rampage.

   HONEYMOON HORROR
  Everyone knows that co-eds in tight shorts and psycho killers don't mix!

First, the plot: Elaine (Cheryl Black) has just returned to Lover's Island with her new husband Vic (Bob Wagner) to re-open an isolated holiday complex designed especially for honeymooning couples. A year earlier she had accidentally killed her previous husband Frank (uncredited), after he walked in on her and Vic as they were about to get down to some adulterous bedroom action. In a prologue, we see her smash a bottle of beer over Frank's head in self-defence and, much like that other crispy slasher from 1981, a paraffin lamp gets knocked over and Vic's body is engulfed in an inferno.

Although there was gossip (like, how come the roots on her outrageously grown-out bleach job were still the same length a year later?) she manages to convince the town that Vic's death was a tragic accident. Unable to resist the potential goldmine that was Lover's Island she returns to set up business once again. In this, she is assisted by Joe the elderly Handyman (Michael Wyckoff) who Elaine repeatedly refers to as “… a little retarded”. Also, Emily the ‘English’ maid (Megan Ready), who sports the most unconvincing Cock-e-ney accent since Dick Van Dyke last swept a chimney!

It goes without saying that there's someone else on the island and judging by the blistered hands that constantly pull back branches to get a better look, it also goes without saying who it is. Add to this mix three sorority sisters in tight towelling shorts, who make the trip from the mainland to decorate the rooms of three of their friends and fellow sorority sisters, who are getting married the next day and are all spending their wedding night on Lover's Island. They get busy hanging streamers around the rooms and tacking up banners with things like: "Virgins need no urgin!” And, for some reason, a paper skeleton. Before long they get an unwelcome visit from Elaine's disgruntled and charred ex-husband who makes short work of the merry pranksters with a large machete.

   HONEYMOON HORROR
  Cheryl Black (who plays Elaine) reacts to me emailing her and asking about her time making HONEYMOON HORROR.

Elaine and Vic presume that the girls have left the island - and given Emily a lift to the mainland as well (when in fact she's been offed too before she could even splutter a "Cor blimey Gov!"). So, none of them are missed until Emily fails to return the next evening and by that time the boatload of newly-weds have arrived on the island. Elaine greets Kay (Margi Curry) and Jeff (Paul Iwanski); Linda (Leslie McKinley) and Dwayne (Philip Thomson); and Sue (Jane Pardue) and Gary (James Caskey), and she cheerily tells them how her late departed husband (supposedly) burnt to death only feet away from their romantic cabins.

The film at this point grinds to a halt with soft-core gropings between the couples that favour some very light male nudity. However, if you thought things would perk up in the stalking department then, sadly, you'd be very much mistaken. Frank seems content to go through that well-choreographed routine of running past moonlit cabins and throwing shadows (which was very much in vogue amongst fashionable psychos that year). For the next half an hour, HONEYMOON HORROR descends into sweaty embraces and conversations about baked potatoes… Yes, baked potatoes! Seemingly to pad out the running time and seemingly in real-time, Elaine and Vic take turns to prepare the newlyweds’ evening meal; take it to the three separate cabins and then indulge in idle chit-chat about said baked potato dinner with each of the couples (à la carte it aint!).

Eventually Frank gets it together to start his bloody reign of terror (pre-empted by POV and exaggerated heavy breathing), which, if you're still awake, will provide a whole cavalcade of dime-store hysterics, cheap gore gags and inept slasher low-jinks. It's a killing spree that shows that even if you had a ring on your finger the old 'have-sex-and-die' adage still applied.

   HONEYMOON HORROR
  Crispy killers were all the rage in the early 1980s and HONEYMOON HORROR was no exception.

Unfortunately, despite its vintage charms, HONEYMOON HORROR pretty much fails to excite on nearly any level. Obviously modelling itself on the shenanigans over at Crystal Lake, it doesn't have half the pizazz of those calendar date hackings. You wouldn't think they could go too far wrong with a scenario that pits a busload of sorority sisters against a horribly disfigured nut with a machete, but go wrong they do. The elements are there - the sorority girls and the newlyweds are all wearing appropriately colour disco-ordinated early 80's threads; there is the requisite fat stupid sheriff (who in this case can eat a burger whilst still puffing on a cigar); a drawling shopkeeper called Marlo (who would make Edith Massey sound refined); a soundtrack seemingly flinched and mixed from some 70's John Holmes epic and THE DUKES OF HAZZARD. Plus some head-slappingly bad dialogue: Elaine to one of the girls: "Something grabbed my foot!""Are you sure? Maybe it was a bridge." (Pardon?) … Paradoxically, despite - or more accurately because of - this there is a modicum of fun to be had for fans of bad slashers (and, hey, I count myself among them). But its cheesiness is seriously undermined by some faltering and woefully lacklustre pacing - enough about those damned baked potatoes already!

As I said, the behind-the-scenes detail is almost certainly more entertaining than the film itself. HONEYMOON HORROR was set to begin shooting in December of 1980 over two weeks at the Austin Patio Dude Ranch in Grapevine, Texas. Although, according to the Texas Film Commission its production is listed as late 1981 (although this probably refers to additional footage that was added at a later date). Reportedly, the location was near an airport and the sound of planes taking off and landing regularly interrupted shooting. An air of mystery surrounds its production and release, as it has largely not been documented. The cast was mainly made up of one-and-done actors, many of whom came from the local theatre scene - something that was common with many lower-budgeted slashers of this period. Cheryl Black, who plays the bitchy Elaine, was probably the best-known of the players from her theatre work in Texas - and whose stagey delivery in the film rather gives away her day job.

   HONEYMOON HORROR
  HONEYMOON HORROR was released first to video in the UK - where it got embroiled in the 'video nasty' debacle.

Director Harry Preston is also something of an enigma. Very much an out gay man - which perhaps explains the film's penchant for favouring coy male nudity over female nudity and some very tight polyester pants. He was originally from South Africa, where he ran away to join the circus at 19 years old before moving to the US in 1948. According to his own account of his life, he had lived in Los Angeles, befriended actress Dorothy Malone and worked as a scriptwriter for MGM, before moving to Texas to try and set up a movie industry there (and escape the earthquakes he was deathly afraid of). In addition to his film ambitions, he was also a noted landscape gardener and had written a teenage sex manual (that sold over 100,000 copies) and a book on Vitamin B6. Plus a series of romance novels under the pen name Vanessa Cartwright (which he described as "200 pages of erotic stimulation for frustrated women") and a series of gay novels under his own name. In an article from The Mesquite News in 1985, Preston claimed that he had written and directed over 500 films, including documentaries, educational and industrial films and features. Although IMDB lists HONEYMOON HORROR as his lone credit, he had reportedly also completed an unreleased horror film called BLOOD OF THE WOLF GIRL in 1989 about a “pudgy stripper who transforms into a werewolf.”

Despite this apparent lack of commercial success, Preston held regular screenwriting classes in his adopted hometown of Garland (where he moved because of his love for Judy Garland). An article from 1996 in The Dallas Observer describes him as: “author, screenwriter, literary agent, mentor, and raconteur extraordinaire”. Further describing him as: “... a cross between horror-movie impresario Ed Wood and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.” He told the reporter: “Just call me the Dorothy Parker of Garland, dear.” He railed about having 32 unproduced scripts and, for some reason, told the reporter: “God, I hate people who masturbate in public.” In the article he also claimed to have once been a butler for film star Omar Shariff - who he said had a very small penis. At the time he was punting a scandalous biography of the Egyptian actor called ‘Loved my Cheesecake’ - named because Shariff apparently asked Preston to always have a cheesecake in the fridge.

   HONEYMOON HORROR
  HONEYMOON HORROR's director Harry Preston had a life story much more interesting than the film itself.

So, how did this flamboyant eccentric end up directing HONEYMOON HORROR? The details are sketchy to say the least. Obviously inspired by the booming horror genre of the early 80s it seems that the production was mired in problems. In the same Dallas Observer article, it says Preston: “… describes the experience of making the film as its own horror story.” He also says that he was frustrated with how it turned out: “I just feel it could have been so much better.” He said part of the problem was that the producers ran out of money two months into editing the film. He also said that he lost control of the movie and that “… the producers "diddled" around with it for four years, recut a lot of it, and changed the ending.” In fact, all the scenes with the Butterball sheriff (William F. Pecchi) - including the one where he spends what feels like five minutes massaging his feet - were added in after principal photography had finished by Malcolm Whitman (listed in the credits as M.H. Wittman). It seems obvious that these extra - and largely pointless - scenes were added to bump the running time to something more approaching feature-length and to make it more attractive for video release. Whilst it was never going to be any kind of classic, the original cut - without the scenes with the Sheriff - reportedly runs better and has a more claustrophobic and serious tone.

Another mystery is the sometimes mooted US release date for the movie as June 15 1982. It is possible that the film had a limited cinema release regionally - although there are no listings for any showings. Probably the best-known ‘fact’ about HONEYMOON HORROR is that it was picked up by Sony for home video release in the USA - and supposedly generated over $22 million for the company. I’ve put the word fact in inverted commas because I’ve never seen this figure verified anywhere and it seems likely to have been vastly over-inflated. Actually, it turns out that the Sony video release dates to 1987 - long after home video was well established in the United States. The video poster accompanying its release features painted artwork showing a woman with a hairstyle popular in the mid-to-late 1980s. This would put pay to the claims that its success came from being one of the first direct-to-video horrors released to the market, putting further doubt on the profit running into the millions. Although, reportedly, the rights were sold to Sony for just $50,000. So it seems very likely it was profitable for them.

HONEYMOON HORROR did get an earlier video release to the AVI label in the UK in 1983. Despite not being overly gory, the film attracted the wrong kind of interest during the so-called ‘video nasty’ debacle possibly because of its tagline: “Why kill all the women?”. The title was categorised under Section 3 - which meant that although it could not be prosecuted for obscenity it could still be liable to seizure and confiscation under a "less obscene" charge.

In one last twist, Preston loosely fictionalised the making of HONEYMOON HORROR in his 2003 novel ‘Shot in Dallas’ - which details a series of murders plaguing a movie set and takes aim at double-crossing producers. One review called it: “… a smart, cynical, bitchy story about the emerging feature film industry in Dallas in the 1980’s.”

HONEYMOON HORROR is currently MIA and has seen no further release since its initial video debut in the 1980s. I’m sure Harry Preston would have done a wonderfully entertaining commentary for a digital release, but he sadly passed away in 2009 and took his tall tales with him - and no one else associated with the film has accepted requests to talk about it. So, it’s likely that Lover’s Island still holds some secrets.

 

A special thanks to my friends Amanda Reyes and Bill Ackerman for their help with research.

For archival purposes, you can read the original review of the film here.


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BODYCOUNT  9    bodycount!   female: 7 / male: 2

         1) Female found slashed to death
       2) Female killed (method unseen)
       3) Female killed (method unseen)
       4) Female dismembered with machete
       5) Female hacked to death with axe
       6) Female hacked to death with axe
       7) Female gets hammer to the head
       8) Male shot in the stomach
       9) Male has knife thrown into his back
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