Thursday, 23 March 2023

The Devil’s Honey (1986)

The Devil’s Honey is a 1986 psycho-sexual thriller directed by Lucio Fulci.

The fact that it’s a thriller doesn’t become obvious for quite a while. In fact it seems to be more of a sexual/romantic melodrama. In this early part of the movie there are two separate plot strands which don’t seem to have any connection. There is a connection of course. Or at least there will be. What the two plot strands do have in common is that both deal with what might be called the darker side of sexual desire.

Cecilia (Blanca Marsillach) is in love with saxophone player Gaetano (Stefano Madia). She is clearly the submissive partner in a sado-masochistic relationship. It’s clear that she enjoys it as much as he does but she has problems admitting it. He has no problems at all admitting that he likes having her as his slave. She is however completely obsessed with him.

Meanwhile the marriage of prominent surgeon Guido (Brett Halsey) to his wife Carole (Corinne Cléry) has struck a right patch. A very rough patch. Carole is both love-starved and sex-starved. Wendell isn’t interested in having sex with her but he’s very interested in having sex with prostitutes. Sex with a kinky edge. There’s certainly a hint that his tastes also run just a little in the direction of sado-masochism. He seems to like the idea of having his prostitutes play the submissive rôle.

Then the two plot strands collide, in the operating theatre.

Guido is trying to save his marriage. He is trying desperately to persuade himself that he wants to have sex with his wife. It’s obvious that he doesn’t want her to leave him and that in his own way he needs her but she’s not going to be convinced of that unless he can perform in the bedroom.

His efforts to revive his marriage are hampered by the fact that a girl is now stalking him. She considers him to be no better than a murderer. He doesn’t know if she is going to be content with harassing him or if her intentions are more drastic.

He finds out that her intentions are very drastic indeed although neither Guido nor the viewer can be sure exactly what those intentions are.

By the way, the character’s names in the English and Italian language versions are quite different. The English names are not just Anglicised versions of the Italian names. Guido becomes Wendell, Gaetano becomes Johnny, Cecilia becomes Jessica. The only name that doesn’t change dramatically is Carole. She just becomes Carol.

This movie answers several questions you may at some time have asked yourself. Such as, can you use a saxophone as a sex aid? Can you perform sexual acts on the the back of a motorcycle while said motorcycle is travelling at high speed? It turns out that the answer to both questions is yes.

This is an erotic thriller with the emphasis on the erotic. The eroticism is decidedly kinky. What’s more interesting is that it’s not just sexually kinky but emotionally kinky. It’s a movie about dominance-submission games. It addresses yet another interesting question - what happens when dominant-submissive rôles get reversed, when a masochist becomes a sadist? And in a sado-masochistic relationship which partner is truly dominant?

It’s also obviously a movie about madness. Cecilia becomes more and more unhinged. Guido’s behaviour becomes much stranger. This is sexual and emotional obsession leading to madness.

There’s a lot of complexity to the key relationships in this movie - the Guido-Carole relationship, the Gaetano-Cecilia and Cecilia-Guido relationships. There’s love and hate mixed up. There are power games being played out. The relationships are all obsessive and all driven by out-of-control sexual passion. Sometimes one partner seems to be getting more out of the relationship than the other. It’s not always certain to what extent both partners are willing. There’s a sense that maybe all of these characters are to some extent out of control. The sexual and the emotional are not always in sync. In some of these relationships one character (or sometimes both) is not sure at all sure of his or her own feelings.

Cecilia is sexually excited by Gaetano but is horrified by the things he persuades her to do. But she does these things anyway. Perhaps she does them because she thinks he loves her. Perhaps he does, Cecilia can’t be sure, and nor can we.

There is some violence but (despite Fulci’s reputation as a director of gore films) there’s no gore at all.

There is definitely a lot of sex. There’s a lot of frontal nudity. There are pretty strong sex scenes (although definitely softcore). It’s a sleazy kinky movie, but it’s sleazy and kinky in an intelligent and provocative way. It’s a movie about sex and sexual obsession and it confronts those subjects in the kind of direct way that very very few American movie have ever done.

Brett Halsey and Corinne Cléry are very good. Corinne Cléry is of course best-known for The Story of O (1975), coincidentally another movie dealing with sado-masochism in a fairly complex way. Stefano Madia is extremely good as the charming, sinister, disturbing but oddly innocent Gaetano.

It is however nineteen-year-old Blanca Marsillach who gets the juiciest rôle, as Cecilia. She gives a powerhouse performance. She’s frightening and vulnerable and angry and sad and crazy and sympathetic at at the same time.

I made my first attempt to get into Lucio Fulci’s films quite a few years back and was rather disappointed by a couple of his most admired films. After that I kind of give up on him. Then a couple of years ago I saw his 1969 proto-giallo One on Top of the Other (AKA Perversion Story, 1969). I was surprised to discover that it was a very stylish well-crafted film and I was even more surprised to find myself loving it. So suddenly Fulci was very much back on my radar.

The 88 Films Blu-Ray offers a nice transfer. The image is just a tiny bit grainy at times although it’s possible the graininess may have been intentional. On the whole though it’s a superb transfer. With a host of extras - several interviews, an audio commentary by Sam Deighan (she manages to be both perceptive and enthusiastic) and two short pieces on the film by Stephen Thrower.

I reviewed Fulci’s excellent One on Top of the Other (Perversion Story, 1969) a while back.

The Devil’s Honey is a terrific movie. Very highly recommended.

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