The Devil’s Honey (Lucio Fulci, 1986)
Next up on the double feature night of fiendishly-titled Severin releases (with the deliciously atmospheric and sensationalistic pleasures of the 70’s Satan-worshipping The Devil’s Rain, one of the greats of its kind, having been served up first) offered a chance to finally catch up with another hard to see (until now) effort by that late great Italian genre maestro Lucio Fulci. Before this bluray transfer, jam-packed with delicious extras (no surprise, it’s Severin), the closest I’d ever gotten to it was occasionally studying the French VHS release box (Il Miele del Diavolo) that sat for a long-time on the shelves of the now closed Montreal video store, Boite Noire (they were one of those cool boutiques that still defiantly kept a bunch of their VHS for rental… next to the massively expanding Bluray and DVD releases, of course)… and considering all I’d read about the go-for-broke perverse naughty eroticism in Honey (subject matter that you just knew there was no way that the lapsed Catholic rebel Fulci was not gonna make at least interesting… and probably hot, in his particular unapologetically leering way), it was one of the rare Fulci films (along with his mature-sounding brutal historical epic Beatrice Cenci, whose more sensationalistic alternate titled, Conspiracy of Torture, sounded a bit more Fulci-like) that I’ve been eager to see for years.
The first half of the film seemingly randomly follows (though you just know they’re gonna come together) the kinky exploits of two disparate, culturally distant people — the young sensual hottie Jessica (Blanca Marsillach), who is busy obsessively playing out a destructive sado-masochistic obsessive love affair with her narcissistic bi-sexual musician lover, and the upscale, emotionally cold Dr Simpson (Brett Halsey), who, unable to find passion with his aging trophy wife, has turned to encounters with prostitutes to play out his self-loathing shame, and is filled with some extraordinary jaw-dropping moments.
I read in Stephen Thrower’s massively informative and — true to his wonderfully accessible writing style – immensely entertaining coffee table-size book on Fulci, Beyond Terror, that he felt “Honey”’s sexually provocative attempts were a bit tame for today (or something along those lines), but… I don’t know. With scenes such as boyfriend Johnny masturbating Jessica with the vibrations of his sax as he plays it between her legs (I’m still trying to figure out the exact logistics of that), or the immensely sexy (it’s gotta be Fulci’s most classily-shot crass scene, if that makes any sense) moment of him introducing the resisting, yet too-turned-on-to-really-want-to-fight Jessica into anal sex, or the good doctor getting turned on by watching one of his call girls smear creamy red lipstick on her pantyhose over her vagina, it remains at least amusingly provocative stuff, even for today. Even the slighter sexual scenes, such as Johnny forcing the protesting, terrified Jessica’s hand down his pants to masturbate him as he drives his swerving motorcycle, are inspired.
Fulci does a remarkable job capturing brief glimpses that capture the erotically charged push and pull of desire that defines the relationship; when Jessica demands the eternally lecherous Johnny zip up his pants as she is angry at him for the way he treats her, only to reveal a quick close up of her disappointment at realizing he’s actually complying, the moment might not work for that contingent of today’s uptight thought-policing do-gooder kiddies, it does work brilliantly in providing insight into the complex mixture of shame and underlying sexual desire that defines Jessica’s relationship.
The second half of the film brings the two together, with a tragedy causing the grief-stricken Jessica to kidnap the upstanding misogynist doctor (who she blames for his surgical negligence that isn’t ever actually clear), bind him up naked at her beach retreat and start playing out all sorts of sadistic Sadean games with him, allowing her to find the control she was unable to achieve with her sadistic boyfriend, as well as to accept, through some nicely presented flashback imagery, what a destructive man he actually was (which all ultimately leads to a surprisingly hopeful – if a bit camp, which a lot of the movie, with its overwrought melodrama and fevered passion, often touches upon — conclusion for our two main players; surprising in that who would have thought Fulci still had some sunshine left in him after having carved out such a nihilistic and misanthropic vision by this point).
The Devil’s Honey may not have anything to do with Old Scratch himself (the “honey” in the film is meant as a cautionary poetic metaphor on the inevitably destructive nature of desirable women for men… or some such misogynistic gobbledegook the chained-to-the-wall naked doc finds the time to solemnly recite as part of a poem a few times), but the absence of the Lord of the Darkness isn’t a problem at all, as those particularly leeringly perverse pleasures that only Fulci in his prime could muster up (well, he’s actually a decade or so past his prime, but he managed to find a fountain of youth for this one) were well worth the years of anticipation.
Marsillach is certainly a drool-worthy physical specimen (who thankfully is entirely naked – full frontal – through much of the film’s running time) and well worth the visit just for that… but there is also something intriguingly crazy-eyed and emotionally off about her that seems to go beyond odd performance (in a hilariously astounding moment, Halsey, in a video extra interview, describes, in an entirely matter of fact tone, how “she had no discipline or talent, other than that she was okay”). The long-time character actor Halsey is also good (as is the entire remaining cast). It’s a really nicely edited film, with Fulci’s familiar jarring (to the point of self-reflexive) sudden zooms used to accent emotional moments working great for the film.
Having caught up with Beatrice Cenci at the Anthology Film Archives two years back (on 35mm no less, as part of the dear-to-my-heart annual Malastrana Italian genre film series that is now sadly defunct) and now The Devil’s Honey, projected in all its pristine bluray transfer glory, I can lay down my sword in confidence that I’ve fought the good fight and managed to see at least all of the important Fulci works. There may be a ton of the early curio films of his that I haven’t seen, but I’m not as driven to catch up to them, as they were done as mostly works for hire, before he had cultivated his particular morbidly gory and leeringly sexual filmic identity (saying that, I did see the early, almost impossible to see otherwise Uno Strano Tipo, a 60’s rock & roll Italian comedy, as part of the Malastrano series, and it was definitely worthwhile, proving Fulci’s competence at even directing light comedy). I’ll re-post in the coming days on the Buck a Review page my thoughts on the Fulci films I saw at the Anthology series.
I did receive Severin’s recent bluray of the Fulci-involved financially-troubled Zombie 3 (he eventually left during production) in the mail the other day. I say it’s never a bad time to head back to the well for some more nourishment.