The Devil's Honey

Color, 1986, 82 mins. 48 secs.
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Brett Halsey, Corinne Clery, Blanca Marsillach, Stefano Madia, Paola Marina, Bernard Seray
Severin Films (UHD, Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0/RA/R1 4K/HD/NTSC), 88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

With The Devil's Honeythe Italian horror The Devil's Honeyscene in disarray in the late '80s, director Lucio Fulci was dabbling in areas well outside his usual gore-splattered fever dreams including fantasy and sci-fi. However, nothing else remotely resembles The Devil's Honey, a completely outrageous erotic thriller with one of the most jaw-dropping opening sequences you'll ever see. If you haven't seen it, you're in for one of the wildest rides in Italian exploitation history.

Petulant Jessica (Marsillach) spends her days as the artistic muse to saxophone player Johnny (Madia), who gets off on tearing off her clothes and arousing her with his musical instrument in the recording studio. Meanwhile the wildly dysfunctional Dr. Simpson (Halsey) relieves the tension of his uncomfortable marriage to Carol (Story of O's Clery) and his daily surgical routine by getting a prostitute to smear red fingernail polish all over her stocking-covered nether regions. One afternoon the thrill-seeking Johnny takes Jessica out for a motorcycle ride in the country, complete with a vehicular handjob, followed by a lovers' spat outside a cabin that ends with him smacking his head against a big rock. He seems fine at first, but back in the studio he suddenly collapses. Soon Johnny's on the operating table under Simpson's scalpel, but the doc is so distracted by his wife's divorce threats that he botches The Devil's Honeythe procedure. Johnny's death sends Jessica into a traumatized tailspin, calling the doctor's actions cold-blooded murder and conspiring to make him pay... by kidnapping him and turning him into her helpless captive with a German shepherd always keeping watch.

Very kinky and completely insane, this is really a film better experienced than described. Marsillach is intense and unforgettable, easily stealing the show from her more famous co-stars despite her third billing and bravely spending the majority of the film completely nude. Her treatment of Halsey manages to repeatedly outdo itself with everything from candle wax to dog food used as tools of humiliation, and the actor (who also appeared in Fulci's Touch of Death, Demonia, The Devil's Honeyand, via recycled footage, A Cat in the Brain) is clearly game for just about anything as well. The story itself (a more extreme gender-swapped version of The Collector, basically) was clearly inspired by Fulci's earlier script for the 1985 erotic drama Collector's Item (also with Marsillach), which ended up being directed by Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, but this variation is far more extreme and memorable.

The American horror press really played up this film in the mid-'80s as Fulci mania was really starting to kick into gear, but anyone wanting to see the actual film was frustrated when it wound up going straight to video in most territories outside Italy. A heavily The Devil's Honeycut American VHS from AIP (that's Action International Pictures, not the drive-in studio) under the title Dangerous Obsession managed to get the basic idea across but was missing some of the more delirious footage (including part of the sax sex and a shocking moment involving Halsey's bloody face and Marsillach's abdomen), while an uncut Japanese VHS had all of its considerable frontal nudity optically fogged.

Anyone longing for an accessible, uncensored version of this film was first rewarded with the 2017 release from Severin Films, as separate Blu-ray or DVD editions. The new transfer blew away anything we'd had before, obviously, though the authoring is often at war with the grainy, heavily textured nature of the production. Some indoor scenes shot in low lighting are especially harsh on the eyes with the compression fighting a fruitless battle at keeping up, and while the opening and closing credits have their share of speckles and debris, but the body of the film appears to be in good shape. Audio options on the Blu-ray include the English and Italian tracks in LPCM mono The Devil's Honey(both are dubbed as the film wasn't shot with direct sound); only English SDH subtitles for the English track are included, so there's really not much point in choosing the Italian track except for sheer curiosity value.

The extras kick off with the brilliantly titled "The Devil's Halsey" (17m26s), which features a quick opening rundown of his Hollywood career before launching into an account of his Fulci days including the director's frail health when this film started and his distaste for his leading lady, who "had no discipline and no talent; other than that she was really good!" His thoughts on Touch of Death are quite interesting, too, as he explains how the film's lack of funds and permits ended up in in the result we have now. Clery turns up next for "Wild Flower" (12m13s), a rundown of her on-and-off career in Italian films (which also includes the incredible Hitch Hike) and a bit about her most famous role as well. "Producing Honey" (13m22s) features producer Vincenzo Salviani also touching on Fulci's medical issues, the evolution of the script from the more hospital-oriented first version, and some other films with Ruggero Deodato, while "The Devil's Sax" (9m51s) has composer Claudio Natili chatting about his own background in Italian pop music and his collaboration with Fulci, plus a fun look at him at work in his studio. On the more scholarly side, the always articulate and entertaining Stephen Thrower, author of Beyond Terror, offers an analysis of this film's peculiar place in Fulci's filmography with a 21m43s interview, with this film's release after Fulci's illness-based hiatus kicking off a fan frenzy including wild speculation that this would be a sequel to The Beyond. He also touches on the inherent eroticism in Fulci's early gialli that laid the groundwork for this film where it exploded right to the forefront during a spate The Devil's Honeyof video-friendly Euro erotic offerings. An audio essay by Splintered Visions author Troy Howarth (16m55s) dives deeply into the influence of Fulci's gialli and notes the connection to Collector's Item (or The Trap to go by its theatrical title), with this film coming after a sabbatical and his late period giallo, Murderock. The disc rounds out with the heavily altered American VHS credits and the international English trailer. Anyone who ordered directly from Severin at the time had plenty of choices including a limited slipcase and an enamel pin.

In 2020, 88 Films brought Fulci's film to U.K. Blu-ray, also uncensored and taken from the same scan with significantly better compression. The presentation also boasts "exclusive dust and scratch restoration," which means the main and end titles have been cleaned up quite a bit. The LPCM English and Italian tracks here are both fine, and translated English subs are included for the Italian track at last. The Halsey, Clery, Salviani, Natili, Thrower, and Howarth featurettes are all ported over here along with the The Devil's Honeyalternate Italian credits, the trailer, and the alternate 6m23s edit of the opening sequence sourced from the U.S. Dangerous Obsession VHS. The biggest new extra here is a new audio commentary by Samm Deighan (available nowhere else), and it's an excellent one as she doesn't even try to contain her enthusiasm for Fulci or this film as she goes through the production, ties to other captive narratives, the battle of the sexes angle, and tons more.

In 2024, Severin revisited the film as a UHD and Blu-ray two-disc set featuring an exclusive slipcover from their site. The UHD contains the feature film (with both English SDH and English translated subtitles this time), with HDR bringing a lot of heft to the new 4K transfer from the original negative. You can easily dispense with the prior U.S. release as this is a big improvement across the board. All of the previous featurettes are included here, plus the trailer and alternate opening. In the new featurette "Sax, Lies and Videotape" (14m36s) Marsillach talks about her path to acting along with her sister (Opera's Cristina Marsillach), her memories of working on Paul Verhoeven's Flesh + Blood, the dedication she brought to her role in Fulci's film, the different rapport she had with her two male co-stars here, very inappropriate behavior by Salviani, and her impression that Fulci "took it too far" with some of the wilder sexual moments that weren't in the script. Also included is an archival audio interview with Fulci by Michele Romagnoli about the director's fondness for this "beautiful" film, comparisons to Misery and Collector's Item (which gets trashed a lot), thoughts on David Lynch, and Fulci's habit of casting himself in small roles.

Severin (UHD)

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88 Films Blu-ray

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Severin (2017 Blu-ray)

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Updated review on April 21, 2024