THE DEVIL'S HONEY (1986) Blu-ray
Director: Lucio Fulci
Severin Films

In 1986, Lucio Fulci got out of the hospital and plunged headlong into erotic obsession with THE DEVIL'S HONEY, on Blu-ray for the first time in America from Severin Films.

Saxophonist Nicky (Stefano Madia, BODYCOUNT) enjoys an increasingly perverse sadomasochist relationship with muse Jessica (Blanca Marsillach, FLESH + BLOOD) whose reluctance and resistance spurs him on to greater depths of depravity. Jessica does not realize just how much she really loves Nicky, however, until he has an embolism and collapses in the studio after falling off his motorcycle and striking his head on a rock. When he dies on the operating table, Jessica blames his doctor Wendell Simpson (Brett Halsey, RETURN OF THE FLY) who was distracted by an earlier argument with his wife Carol (Corinne Clery, MOONRAKER) during the procedure. After anonymously harassing the doctor on the telephone, even to the point of spoiling his attempted reconciliation with his wife, Jessica abducts the doctor and chains him up in Nicky's seaside villa, intent on making him suffer with the knowledge that she is now in charge of whether he lives or dies. As the days pass, however, Jessica is surprised by her own reactions to Simpson's responses to her sadism and starts to question her masochistic devotion to Nicky's memory.

Although eroticism was certainly not unfamiliar in Fulci's filmmaking canon, he was better known by the mid-eighties as the Italian godfather of gore with his unofficial and unauthorized "sequel" to DAWN OF THE DEAD in ZOMBIE, his gothic trilogy THE BEYOND, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, and HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, and the excesses of his latter day giallo THE NEW YORK RIPPER regardless of the few misfires in other genres that followed. Coming out of a year-long convalescence after contracting viral hepatitis while shooting the CONAN-inspired CONQUEST, Fulci mounted this Italian/Spanish co-production – shot largely in Sitges, Spain with a Venice-set flashback in which Fulci makes a cameo – take on the post-9 1/2 WEEKS Italian brand of softcore erotica that also reshaped Tinto Brass' brand of kink into a more glossy and commercial brand. Before he was taken ill, Fulci had been intending a work in this direction with another man-held-captive-by-possessive-woman scenario – based on a script by himself and Francesco Barilli (PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK) – that became Giuseppe Patroni Griffi's COLLECTOR'S ITEM with Tony Musante (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE), Florinda Bolkan (A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN), Laura Antonelli (VENUS IN FURS), and Marsillach as the latter's daughter (with her sister Cristina from Dario Argento's OPERA playing Antonelli in flashbacks). Whereas Fulci's earlier films were easy targets for charge of misogyny, his rumination here on "the loneliness of sadomasochism" is surprisingly tender in throwing together two people in mourning for the deaths of relationships in different respects. Even if the ending is a little abrupt, the level of psychological complexity subtly conveyed throughout is enough to hint that Jessica's masochism with Nicky is more than a sexual kink (and we never learn if she actually was pregnant and suffered a miscarriage after Nicky's death or if it was a delusion). THE DEVIL'S HONEY of the title comes from a verse of poetry that takes on special meaning for both.

Released on VHS stateside as DANGEROUS OBSESSION by Action International Pictures with some trims to the saxophone sex scene and a bit of footage lost to an overlap in the video master reels, THE DEVIL'S HONEY has taken a long time to make its American digital debut. Citing itself as a 2K restoration (although not of what element), THE DEVIL'S HONEY's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 can be excessively grainy and soft at times, but this should not be a surprise given the photographic style that cinematographer Alejandro Ulloa – billed in the English credits as "Alessandra Ulloa" and as "Alessandro" in the Italian – adapted in the eighties with a lot of backlighting, diffusion, and lens flare. Most of the present-tense exteriors and interiors like the operating room as well as close-ups without diffusion look considerably sharper than the flashbacks and the sequences set at the villa, the look of which appears to be not so much dreamy as humid. Audio options include the English and Italian dubs in LPCM 2.0 mono. The English track is rather low in volume, requiring more amplification to hear the dialogue while some of the music cues mixed lower barely register. The Italian track is more full-bodied throughout and the more satisfying listen (even if the English features familiar Italian genre voice performers), although the optional English subtitles are actually dubtitles with SDH designations. The subtitles persist in referring to Halsey's character as Dr. Simpson when he is Dr. Dominici on the Italian, and they transcribe Marsillach's line on the English track "I was gonna ask him" rather than her Italian "Assassino!"

Severin has produced a nice array of new extras starting with "The Devil's Halsey" (17:26), an interview with actor Halsey in which he discusses his early Hollywood career and his decision to go to Italy, working with Riccardo Freda, Mario Bava, and later Fulci (along with returns to America in between with writing credits on television shows like THE DUKES OF HAZZARD and penning some novels which were optioned but never filmed). He speaks favorably of THE DEVIL'S HONEY and working with Clery but less so of Marsillach before moving on to THE TOUCH OF DEATH of which he recalls working with Fulci to add black comic elements to a more straightforward script. In the context of his casting in THE GODFATHER PART III, he describes DEMONIA as a "mess" made with Sicilian mob money. He also reveals that he did not know he was in CAT IN THE BRAIN until he returned to Italy and learned that Fulci was busy at work on a film in which Halsey was supposedly appearing. "Wild Flower" (12:13) is an interview with actress Clery which focuses on her Italian experience in general, traveling to Italy for a love affair with a man she eventually married, working as a model in Paris and Milan while turning down offers by producer/casting agent Ibrahim Moussa to turn her into a movie star before eventually making her debut in THE STORY OF O. She briefly discusses the main feature but focuses more on the period in which she was fortunate to work before the decline in European film production.

"Producing Honey" (13:22) is an interview with co-writer/producer Vincenzo Salviani who recalls being the one to convince a just out of hospital Fulci to fly to Spain and shoot the film. Fulci was apparently unsure of how to shoot an erotic film and Salviani recalls working with him daily to find solutions to shooting challenges (Salviani would direct Halsey two years later in the erotic drama VELVET DREAMS with Kathy Shower). He also touches upon his collaborations with Ruggero Deodato, having produced WAVES OF LUST and LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN after serving as production manager on a number of Fernando Di Leo films. In "The Devil's Sax" (9:51), composer Claudio Natili recalls the scoring assignment on the Fulci film as a new challenge after years as a singer and songwriter (having appeared as a singer and actor in Renato Polselli's musical comedy MONDO PAZZO... GENTE MATTA! back in 1966). He worked with Salviani more so than Fulci and reveals that he would have been even more nervous taking on the assignment had he known that Fulci had been a jazz musician in his youth. Stephen Thrower – author of the Fulci tome BEYOND TERROR – video piece on the film (21:43), he discusses the film in the context of Fulci's later works, the director's illness, and apparent early rumors that THE DEVIL'S HONEY was supposed to be a sequel to THE BEYOND. He also covers Fulci's input on COLLECTOR'S ITEM and the similarities between the two films. SPLINTERED VISIONS writer Troy Howarth also provides an audio essay (16:55) which covers some of the same ground while also arguing that eroticism was not absent from Fulci's earlier filmography (citing PERVERSION STORY, A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN, and THE EROTICIST while noting that Barbara Bouchet's nude scene in DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING is employed to anti-erotic effect) and drawing on Fulci interviews in which the director referred to the film as a "survival project" of which he is nonetheless proud. Extras are rounded out by an alternate opening (2:32) from the American video release with the replacement DANGEROUS OBSESSION title card as well as the minor variations in the saxophone sex scene, as well as the export theatrical trailer (2:40). Copies ordered from retails feature a reversible cover while a sold-out run directly from Severin featured a slipcover. (Eric Cotenas)