Friday, July 18, 2014

ITALIAN HORROR WEEK: Go Beyond the Beyond to Lucio Fulci's DEVIL'S HONEY

DAVID ZUZELO has written for Deep Red, Weng's Chop, Exploitation Retrospect and runs Tomb It May Concern, a screen shot filled fest of hot women and hot blood. He's also a great friend, teacher and inspiration to me. Under David's "tutelage" I have become a better horror fan; more well rounded and exposed to movies I would never in my dreams have seen otherwise had the chance to see. Today David brings you something special. Something obscure. Think of this as a great opportunity to expand your mind like a lysergic trip that opens your consciousness. 

Please follow along with David's blog Tomb It May Concern on. This stuff is beautifully explicit. It will certain keep your hormone levels up.

It's time for Italian Horror Week at Doc Terror's again!  It is always fun to explore, revisit and get new perspectives on the genre that, for this writer, was the real mind opener. The day I started looking at movies like Demons and Zombie as something from a subgenre below simple “Horror” my eyes were opened up to an entire cinematic culture that was perhaps diffused in a blob of sexy big box VHS covers, oddball cinematic releases (I was a young teen in the 80s, so we still got things like NIGHTMARE CITY at the Multiplex!) and occasionally cut, mostly re-ratio'd into oblivion films with a whole different feel than the glut of (beautiful to these eyes) slashers and low budget creature / SF films.  Now, decades later, Italian Horror is like a codeword for rediscovery. 

However, that isn't what I'm here for today. Instead, I want to look at something that Italian Horror really meant, and means still, to me.  Thanks to the diligent work of many many zinesters (and I won't list 'em because it is too many and I don't want to leave anyone out) and yes, gray market sellers Italian Horror became something that brought me to this point. The edge of my European Trash Cinema Mania! 
So, what I wanted to do is best summed up by the final line of Lucio Fulci's classic film, THE BEYOND.

“And you will face the sea of darkness, and all therein that may be explored.”

After scouring every catalog of tapes and every video shop for ANYTHING that could be Italian Horror related, and it was easy to be wrong since many films were released under multiple titles and many cast and crew members were listed under bland common pseudonyms, I realized that my eyes were beginning to wander.  When the realization hit, mostly thanks to Craig Ledbetter's European Trash, that the guy that made HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (my favorite Italian Horror Film) also did Westerns and Sex Comedies I was beyond intrigued.  I wasn't even a fan of some of these types of films, but it captured my imagination. What could they bring to the table that I hadn't seen before?  Well, I was about to find out. 

Italian Horror is the gateway to the entire Italian Genre Cinema in my case.  Every genre, and I've learned to embrace them all.  Well, maybe not Franco and Ciccio, they can fuck off.  Other than that, I'm in for ANYTHING!  It's a wide world of Italian cinema, so here is a particular favorite that you may not have seen that will give you a wider view of the darkness (and light) that may still be explored as we celebrate the makers of Italian Horror with this weeks posts!

LUCIO you need his resume?  Nah, you know he was the Maestro of Zombie and Shark Face Offs, the Oracle of Ocular Erasure, the guy that put the Quack in the Ripper's Blade.  But when you start to go deeper you find some great Westerns (I prefer Massacre Time to Four Of The Apocalypse if you must know), entertaining comedy (it was so great to see THE EROTICIST from Severin Films) and even a space comedy with Franco and Ciccio (aka, no, fuck those guys!).  But if I had to pull one gem from the pile, and rank it in my top 5 Fulci films of all, it would be 1986s overheated sex thriller, THE DEVILS HONEY!  Now, this is a movie!  This was possibly the first film that was a real gateway for me to jump over the borders of Italian Horror into the sex dramas and gave me a lifelong love of these zany potboilers that the Italians do so well. No DEVIL'S HONEY, no long running lust for Filmirage flicks and I'd be a lot less cinematically satisfied without those!

Opening on Johnny, a bad boy sax player laying down some sweet grooves in a recording studio as his somewhat submissive girlfriend Jessica (the stunning Blanca Marsillach) we find out that his lady likes to get her muff maneuvered by the sensual soundwaves of the blissed up bass he can bring.  It's an odd scene, but it's as iconic as a splinter in the eyeball from my personal lexicon of cinema. The duo head out on the road and a motorcycle ride takes a swerve into a handjob that shows Fulci cared about road safety as well as travel guides to Matool!  The road guide to cycling probably does not include “Lend The Driver A Hand” in it's cardinal rules, but Johnny just doesn't care.  And for the record, when you decide to turn Johnny down, he zips his pants with such force that Jessica gasps and I wonder aloud each time if Fulci had brought along Giannetto De Rossi to film a cock chop for good measure!

For the next twenty minutes or so, the weird power dynamics of Johnny and Jessica play out. He alternates between Nice Guy J full of, “I love you” and flowery phrasing to being her “master” and demanding anal sex while standing on steps.  Somehow though, Jessica always finds her inner submissive and gives in to the pleasures. But for how long can this go on?  Until Johnny conks himself on the head while goofing around on the handjob Harley and one performance scene with the sax where he can't “get it up” for his obviously secret gay crush of the producer and it's off to hospital. 

Johnny is not in luck however, as his doctor is played by Fulci favorite Brett Halsey is as freaky deaky as Johnny when it comes to sexual politics! We meet him as he is dirtily declaring himself a master over his pay for play girlfriends and humiliates one by smearing her with some fingernail polish afer she is done masturbating with the brush. Yep, you read that right. And Fulci surely isn't subtle as the crotch that goes on and on hearkens to an overtly erotic act of aggression as forward as the quacking New York Ripper.  But Dr. Simpson has his own problems in the form of a spying wife that is onto his games and she is NOT happy.   And that ain't good for him at all. Mrs. Simpson is at the breaking point and hell is going to bust loose!

The two stories collide in a crash landing of botched surgery and mental breakdowns as the bizarre love story comes to an unforseen end.  You see,  the doctor's drive to this surgery gets messy as his wife reveals her knowledge of his bizarre paid affairs, so he responds with a calm and even explanation that she can  fuck right off as she threatens him with divorce.  Somewhere, Sam Kinison was screaming, “HALF!!!” at his screen if he saw this film.  Now the Naughty Doc is distracted...and a distracted surgeon is not a good one! Beep Beep Beep Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee....   Dead Johnny...
What is a girl to do?
REVENGE!!!    "My name is can call me, Jessica!"
Stalking the doctor as he tries to patch things up at home, both characters are pushed out of the things they keep close to maintain their rather odd lives and are eventually driven together when Jessica goes from angry caller to enraged kidnapper. It's not as simple as revenge anymore as the two are tied together by lost obsessions and nostalgia for things that were never what they believed they could or should be.

The scene shifts to an isolated villa as Jessica exacts what starts as a path of humiliation for the "great surgeon" that killed her lover. She threatens him with stabbing, an eyeballing of his urine soaked crotch, the possibility of dog devouring (DICKEY NO!! A little Fulci humor for the fans) and more, but challenges him to take his own life first.  Why?

"The alternative is worse than death."
Well, it gets worse as the duo become wrapped up in a twisted relationship where Jessica breaks her chains from Johnny and Dr. Simpson can finally let go and become the slave to his own obsessions and he sees her as his second chance...The Devil's Honey Pot.  But will he drown in the depths of the sweetness of her sickness?

You never know who will survive here, or what will be left of their psyches when the film ends. The final 30 minutes showcase some bizarre sequences that fit completely with the world of zombies that warp between realities and sharks battling the undead. Jessica wanders nude through a smeary abattoir as the doctor begins to fall in love with her as he dines on dog food and wears a chain and collar. His breaking down becomes what gets her off, just as Johnny had humiliated her so many times.
And there was that the movie theater... lets just say you may have seen it coming, but you didn't know who would be coming together!

THE DEVIL'S HONEY definitely embodies the spirit of Eurotrash sexploitation films (especially from the 80s, of which it is amongst the best) with every frame, and it's also distinctly a Fulci directed film.  The obsessive use of widescreen reaction shots (especially those eyes that either go up in fright or down in determination), the unflinching hovering for just a little longer than others may spend on details like dripping fingernail polish smeared on a woman's face and the occasionally gauzy establishing shots of both indoor and outdoor locations (think CONQUEST for example) are all on show.  But what is more interesting to me is that the film was not made with, even near this time, would be Fulci's star cast of not just actors, but technicians.  No Sacchetti screenplay. No music by Frizzi.  No cinematography from Salvati.  While the film does retain the veteran services of Vincenzo Tomassi, it's a bit afield from his usual situation and Fulci definitely still brought his vision to the screen. 

While the film really is held together by the leading performances of Brett Halsey and Blancha Marsillach, the rest of the cast deserves mention as well. Johnny is just sleazy brilliance from Stefano Madia, with it's twitchy demanding and appeasing punctuated by pant tuckings and backdoor fuckings.  And the beautiful Corrine Clery really ratchets up the tension on the doctor as the pushed aside wife that decides to do some shoving back to assert her value, which will probably be most of what her soon to be ex-husband owns. They have a great sequence where she offers him the chance to make love to her to keep them together, only to throw in his face that she knew he would fail.  Just great.

Lucio Fulci makes a quick appearance as a seller of “mystical bracelets” which play into the emotional arc of the story in an interesting way as well, rocking a cool beard and hat!
And while Halsey gives the expected excellence (I wonder how much he enjoyed the cuffed swims and the chained up with a dog bowl bits), it's Blancha Marsillach that really sells the entire experience.

Marsillach's performance in all it's Eurotrashy glory is fantastic.  Subtle moments such as her reaction to watching home movies of herself with Johnny, where he starts sweet and forces sex on camera upon her while she sits cradling the spot she wanted this weird ogre's baby to arrive is weirdly moving. So much so that the bizarre actions she takes from here on out almost make sense. She switches from reluctant servant to clever predator quickly as the doctors life falls apart in all it's nostalgia for something he never had with his wife.  Both of them are lost in gaining retribution and punishment for what they believe they could never have.  Not easy to get across when the film is a cheap sexploitation movie with sax sex!    And when Marsillach gets really angry she becomes one of Fulci's scariest characters, hatcheting up the doctors car, humming her dead lovers songs or wobbling between fantasy and reality, it's pitch perfect sleazy mania!  I'd rather have to outrun a chubby zombie on a boat than face her! 

This film was the perfect gateway to madness, which I would never have found without Lucio Fulci and the Italian Horror Boom. It made me a real fan of exploitation cinema when I break it all down, it was the point I tossed aside simply being a horror fan...and I it's one I'll always go back too.  Sadly, there is no truly definitive English language print available, though eager beavers can always hunt around for a fandub that blows away the Chinese DVD (my least favorite disc, ever) and gives a better appreciation of the craftsmanship, the sleaze and the sex of THE DEVIL'S HONEY.

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