Leonard Kastle, writer-director of 1969 film “The Honeymoon Killers,” which became a cult classic, died May 18 in Westerlo, NY. He was 82.
“The Honeymoon Killers” starred Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco in the true story of notorious “lonely hearts killers” Martha Beck and Ray Hernandez, who lured a series of lovelorn women, robbed them and murdered them in the late 1940s.
Though critically praised — Francois Truffaut called it “his favorite American film” — the disturbing but funny “Honeymoon Killers” did not succeed at the box office. It continues to be held in high esteem, however. The Criterion Collection released a restored version of the film on DVD, and the American Film Institute nominated it for its 100 Years 100 Thrills list of movies.
“Honeymoon Killers” was the only film Kastle ever made.
Born in New York and educated at Columbia U. and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Kastle also an opera composer, librettist and director.
Kastle spent his early professional career as a music director on Broadway for revivals of Menotti’s “The Medium” (1950) and “The Telephone” (1950) and for Weill’s “Lady in the Dark” (1951). He was assistant musical director and conductor for “NBC Television Opera Theatre,” from 1955-59, directing one of his own operas, “The Swing” (televised in 1954), as well as works of other composers.
Among his other operas were “Deseret,” which he directed for a 1961 episode of “NBC Television Opera Theatre.”
After the rediscovery of “Honeymoon Killers,” Kastle occasionally attended festivals and other film events. He served as a judge in 2007 at the Ed Wood Film Festival.
In the past decade, Leonard was part of Upstate Independents Inc., a network of filmmakers in upstate New York, seeking a way to shoot a religious thriller, “Wedding at Cana.” The movie had been in development on and off for 30 years.
A gathering of friends will be held at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Colonie, N.Y., on Sunday, May 22 at 11 a.m. Kastle played the organ in the church. A memorial service will follow at noon.