The Devil’s Honey Blu-ray Review (originally published 2017)
Following a torrid, dangerous affair, a young woman named Jessica (Blanca Marsillach) is driven to madness when her lover, Johnny (Stefano Madia), dies in a motorcycle accident. She focuses her ire directly at Wendell Simpson (Brett Halsey), the surgeon who failed to save Johnny on the operating table, and subjects the doctor to a painful game of sexual humiliation.
It seems like just about every time I write about a post-1981 Lucio Fulci movie, I have the tendency to designate it the director’s “last good film.” Previously, I’d re-drawn that line at The House by the Cemetery (Italian: Quella villa accanto al cimitero, 1981), while also making an argument for the hyper-nihilistic The New York Ripper (Italian: Lo squartatore di New York, 1982). But then I rewatched Manhattan Baby (Italian: L'occhio del male, 1982) and decided to move the needle. What other gems had I forgotten? Well, the easily overlooked The Devil's Honey (Italian: Il miele del diavolo; aka: Dangerous Obsession, 1986) is certainly a contender or, at the very least, a reminder that Fulci still had some creative gas in the tank as the Italian film industry and his own health crumbled around him.
Stephen Thrower’s Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci (FAB Press, 1999), alleges that The Devil's Honey actually began life as a sequel to The Beyond (Italian: ...E tu vivrai nel terrore! L'aldilà, 1981), which is among the silliest facts I’ve ever read (I suppose that German shepherds play considerable roles in both movies?), but it is easy to see common threads extending from the director’s gialli, as well as callbacks to the visuals of his gothic horror films. That said (and despite the way I’ve categorized it on the site), The Devil's Honey is not a horror film, a murder mystery, or a pseudo-slasher movie – all genres that he continued trudging through until his death in 1996. It isn’t really a softcore porno either. Yes, it does feature relatively graphic sex scenes and loads of full-frontal female nudity, but sex itself is serves the film’s strange sense of heightened melodrama, instead of becoming the essential function of the entire story. Not to imply that plenty of the audience’s carnal appetites won’t be fed – just that provocation isn’t the movie’s only purpose.
Despite his reputation for misogynistic violence, the central theme of sexual awakening via sexual assault and the film’s constant exploitation of Blanca Marsillach’s nude body, Fucli (who co-wrote the screenplay with producer Vincenzo Salviani, Jaime Jesús Balcázar, Sergio Partou, and Ludovica Marineo) sides with his female lead. Throughout the film, often via flashbacks, her mental breakdown is portrayed not as a natural predilection of her gender (irrationally angry/crazy women are a very common trope in Italian fiction), but the direct result of systematic emotional/physical abuse, a painful miscarriage, and an unnamed, relationship-changing event (one that plays out as unnecessarily homophobic through modern eyes). Some may argue that the film tries to do the same for Brett Halsey’s character – the woeful, possibly impotent subject of the heroine’s fury who takes up almost half of the narrative point-of-view – especially after he tries to make amends with his estranged wife, but I’d argue that Fulci presents his banal innocence as pathetic, rather than tragic. We’re still ultimately left rooting for Marsillach and her violence even ‘cures’ his sexual ailments. It’s also not entirely out of the director’s wheelhouse to identify with a woman – many of his straight-line gialli are firmly centered on a woman’s point-of-view and British actress Catriona MacColl played his muse throughout three of his most celebrated gothic chillers.
In interviews, Fulci was fond of comparing The Devil's Honey to Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct (1991). Unfortunately, he neglects to mention that he was most certainly hired to cash-in on the worldwide success of Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat (1981), Adrian Lyne’s 9 ½ Weeks (1986), and their many STV/STC imitators. These films helped redefine the noir and femme fatale traditions for the excesses of the Reagan era and paved the way for what we now call ‘erotic thrillers,’ like Basic Instinct. Fulci was right to be proud of his work while making the dubious comparison, because, even if The Devil's Honey isn’t as good as some its high budget Hollywood competition, no other Italian filmmaker was filling the void with anything other than cheaply-made, underwritten softcore. Had he lived to see the outrageous popularity of E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey series (pub: 2011) and its subsequent movie adaptations, however, Fulci would’ve been justified in pointing out that his film tapped into similar sadomasochistic appetites decades before it was ‘cool.’ Of course, it seems unlikely that his significantly more disturbing, bloody version of those same fantasies (Fulci’s fans should note that there is almost no gore in this particular movie, however) will please the same contingent of people.
A number of Fulci’s films were highly sought-after by collectors and fans since the advent of DVD and The Devil's Honey may be the top of the heap, following multiple Don’t Torture a Duckling and Lizard in a Woman’s Skin re-releases. Until now, it was completely unavailable on home video outside of Europe and Asia. Severin Films hasn’t outlined the specifics of this new restoration, but has stated that their 1080p Blu-ray transfer was culled from a scan of the original negative (I assume not a 2K/4K scan or else they’d want to brag about it). My job critiquing their transfer is complicated by the fact that Fulci was going through a super-fuzzy soft focus phase at the time. The most extreme case of this was 1983’s Conquest, which was also shot by cinematographer Alejandro Ulloa and appeared to have been photographed through a damp cheesecloth, but similar issues crop up in just about every one of Fulci’s movies for the rest of the decade. This fog of softness, light diffusion, and, I’m guessing Vaseline-smeared lenses makes difficult to accurately judge clarity. The best I can do is assure everyone that the movie is supposed to look this way and point out the general sharpness of the grain and other film textures. I hesitate to complain about the occasional posterization issues, because the original 35mm footage probably has some step gradations. The restoration also boosts contrast, helps differentiate objects, and punches up Fulci’s warm, desaturated, and oh-so-’80s palette. There are a number of film-based artifacts throughout the transfer (among the white flecks and scratches are some horizontal lines that might be scanning artifacts), but nothing I’d consider distracting, especially because, once again, the footage is meant to look so strange to begin with.
Severin is presenting The Devil's Honey with its original Italian and English dubs, both in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 mono. For the millionth time in mere weeks, I’d like to now verify that the film, like most Italian films from the era, was shot without sound, meaning that all of the language options are dubbed. Each track features distinct advantages and disadvantages. A majority of the cast appears to be speaking English on set and the superior English language performances better fit the actor’s performances on screen. On the other hand Italian track is much cleaner and significantly louder, in terms of dialogue, incidental effects, and music. In comparison, the English dub is muted, muffled, and has consistently distorted vocal tracks. First time composer Claudio Natili (who only wrote a full score for one more film after The Devil's Honey – Vincenzo Salviani’s Velvet Dreams in 1988) is often tasked with integrating his main theme into the on-screen shenanigans and reusing it in completely different contexts. His music benefits greatly from the Italian dub’s clarity and volume, which was, in the end, the reason I personally chose to watch the majority of the film with that track engaged.
The Devil's Halsey (17:26, HD) – American actor Brett Halsey discusses his long career, working with other European genre heavyweights Riccardo Freda, Mario Bava, and Jess Franco, his experiences on multiple Fulci films (with emphasis on The Devil's Honey), and not getting along with Blanca Marsillach.
Wild Flower (12:13, HD) – Actress Corinne Clery, a mainstay in erotic European cinema, talks about her modeling and acting career, performing in the nude, and her role in The Devil's Honey.
Producing Honey (13:22, HD) – Producer Vincenzo Salviani recalls his first meetings with Fulci, budgetary constraints, the making of The Devil's Honey, and some of the other films he produced.
The Devil's Sax (9:51, HD) – Composer Claudio Natili discusses the special challenges of The Devil's Honey’s largely jazz-based score, his time performing with the Italian pop group The Romans, and his other work in the industry.
Stephen Thrower on The Devil's Honey (21:43, HD) – The aforementioned author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci breaks down the latter part of the director’s career, the Italian exploitation scene at the time, how The Devil's Honey fits into the context of Fulci’s filmography, and the general behind-the-scenes story of the film (including that rumour that it was developed as a Beyond semi-sequel at some point).
Fulci's Honey (16:55, HD) – Film historian and author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films (Midnight Marquee Press, 2015) Troy Howarth discusses eroticism and sex throughout the director’s career in this fantastic video essay.
Alternate U.S. video opening (2:32, SD)
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Full-sized .jpg versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab.