Monday, January 27, 2014

The Devil's Honey (1986)

AKA Dangerous Obsession and Divine Obsession

To the more casual genre fan Lucio Fulci’s name is probably synonymous with gore, hell the man shares the nickname “The Godfather of Gore” along with Herschell Gordon Lewis. Its nothing shocking seeing as the legacy of Fulci’s classic extensive bloodlettings like Zombie (1979), City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), The House By The Cemetery (1981) and The New York Ripper (1982) speak for themselves, but as any fanatic will attest to, Fulci was one of the most versatile directors of Italian cinema working in a variety of genres throughout his career and for the most part being able to pull it off. Fulci’s giallos such as Perversion Story (1969), A Lizard In a Woman’s Skin (1971) and Don’t Torture a Duckling (1971) are constantly referred to, rightfully so, as some of the best the genre has to offer and a film like Four of the Apocalypse (1975) is unquestionably a standout in the world of spaghetti westerns. It shouldn’t be a stretch to call 1986’s twisted psych drama The Devil’s Honey one of the more hidden titles in Fulci’s body of work. Helmed during a period which isn’t exactly held in the highest regard by many Fulci fans, The Devil’s Honey is a prime example of Fulci’s versatility and is not only the best of his post New York Ripper era but also of his best films in general.  

While teasing his girlfriend Jessica (Blanca Marsillach), hotshot saxophonist Johnny accidentally falls from his motorcycle resulting in a traumatic head injury requiring emergency surgery after he passes out during a recording session. However Dr. Wendell Simpson (Brett Halsey), the doctor performing the operation has other things on his mind after having just been told by his wife Carol (Corrine Cléry) that she wants a divorce. Too distracted by his marital problems, Dr. Simpson ends up botching the surgery, inadvertently killing Johnny. Overcome with grief and anger, Jessica eventually snaps and kidnaps Dr. Simpson and submits him to a series of various physical and emotional humiliations, yet despite his ordeal and Jessica’s constant death threats, during the course of his torments Dr. Simpson mysteriously finds himself becoming more and more attracted to his captor.

Although it might seem inconceivable to some considering some of the films that came before it, but if Fulci ever directed a film that could be considered a “love story” than The Devil’s Honey (Il miele del diavolo) would be it. Its also a film that just might make those who’ve labeled Fulci a misogynist do a serious double take. With The Devil’s Honey, Fulci has it both ways as he offers up a more than healthy amount of sleaze (including a very innovative use of a saxophone) but along with it presents an involving story of damaged lives, sadomasochism, dominant/submissive relationships and role reversal. Perhaps the most successful aspect of the film is the way Fulci presents the relationship between Johnny and Jessica. Early in the film Fulci offers a pretty good a glimpse yet its after Johnny’s death when Fulci employs constant flashbacks revealing the true nature of the relationship does the film begin to take an a entirely new meaning, and not just in terms of the evolution of Jessica’s character. Fulci was also wise to spend a good amount of time exploring the dysfunctional marriage of Dr. Simpson which makes his change of attitude towards his predicament and Jessica all the more profound and the combination of circumstances that lead both characters to where they are all the more feasible, “meant to be” in an odd way, and Fulci was wise to end the film on an ambiguous note, one that is as touching as it is unsettling.  

The Devil’s Honey has had a pretty odd history in terms of home video in that some years back an Italian DVD surfaced that, according to a few online reviews was of pretty good quality but it seemed to go out of print almost immediately and is impossible to find these days. Also not too long ago a company based in Hong Kong released an all region DVD which got some not so rave reviews but just like the Italian disc is long out of print and when copies do occasionally pop up on eBay the prices are normally outrageous. The film did get an American VHS release back in the day via Action International Pictures under the title Dangerous Obsession which will make an appearance on eBay every now and then. Alas, like so many deserving films which should have gotten a proper release a long time ago, the easiest way of seeing the film is by DVD-R sourced from a Dutch VHS tape. Really though, there’s no excuse for this films absence on DVD seeing as several of Fulci’s later films have gotten legitimate releases and many in special editions so hopefully it wont be long until some company picks this one up and gives it its due as its a film that all Fulci fanatics should see and is more than worthy of holding the title of Fulci’s last masterpiece.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Manhattan Baby (1982)

AKA Eye of the Evil Dead and Possessed

Its somewhat humorous that there is a fairly common opinion that the works of both Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, two of the most well known and highly regarded directors of Italian horror cinema began to go downhill at certain points in both their respective careers. While many feel that Argento began to lose his touch in the 90’s with Trauma (1993) and with each new film continues to polarize to this day, in Fulci’s case, The New York Ripper (1982) is the film that several fans point to has his last masterpiece, yet that film also has the distinction of having more than its fair share of detractors. With the exception of the mental Cat in the Brain (1990), largely considered one of the very first “postmodern” horror films, the majority if of Fulci’s films made after The New York Ripper have been swept to the side and essentially thrown under the bus. Following the ultra gritty Ripper, Manhattan Baby saw Fulci take a completely opposite direction, returning to the realm of the supernatural where Fulci found himself on a roll with masterpieces like City of the Living Dead, (1980) The Beyond (1981) and House By The Cemetery (1981) and out of all of Fulci’s post-Ripper films, Manhattan Baby is one that seems to take the most amount of grief which is too bad as its an underrated film that deserves better.

While vacationing with her family in Egypt, Susie Hacker, the young daughter of an archeologist is approached by a local blind woman and handed a jewel along with an ominous warning, “Tombs are for the dead”. Not long after, her father George is blinded by a mysterious blue light while exploring an ancient tomb. Upon returning to their home in New York City, George miraculously gains his eyesight back but Susie beings to exhibit some odd behavior and several strange events begin to plague Susie as well as her brother Tommy, and Susie’s health and psyche soon take a turn for the worse. Desperate,  George turns to an antiques expert informing him Susie is at the mercy of an ancient, malevolent curse housed in the jewel given to her in Egypt, a curse that is wreaking havoc on her family and anyone that comes in contact with them.  

Manhattan Baby (a title which has nothing to do with anything) is a curious entry in Fulci’s filmography in that it defiantly sees Fulci returning to some familiar territories just on a slightly smaller scale than before and there are some tips of the hat to other genre films as well, the most obvious being The Exorcist (1973) but with a Fulci touch of course. If there’s one thing that really sets Manhattan Baby apart from Fulci’s other films of a similar nature its that the tone of the film isn’t as overtly apocalyptic as say The Beyond or City of the Living Dead which is why the film isn’t nearly as derivative of Fulci’s other works as many detractors claim and despite Fulci’s use of several tropes from his past films it never feels as if he’s spinning his wheels, always throwing some unique little twist in the mix. Another common complaint leveled at the film is that its nonsensical which is quite odd considering Fulci was never really regarded as a master of the cohesive narrative, especially when discussing his 80’s supernatural horror films. Its a bizarre film to be sure, one that employs dream logic in every sense of the meaning and yes, there are times when the film doesn’t really seem that interested in telling a “story” so to speak, yet given the curse angle, the randomness of many of the events in the film actually work in its favor leading to some really surreal, imaginative and memorable moments.

One of the things that sticks out the most about Manhattan Baby is that unlike Fulci’s more well regarded horror works from the early 80’s is the lack of gore, something that will no doubt disappoint fans that have yet to see the film that have come to expect extreme violence from Fulci but the lack of bloodshed isn’t really a detriment to the film, mostly because the majority of the happenings in the film don’t really call for any, although there is one fairly bloody moment towards the end of the film. Its important to note that the producer of the film cut ¾ of the budget resulting in some serious downscaling on several of the films major visual effects. Even with the lack of sufficient funds Fulci’s command of the visual is in full force and economical as the film might be its actually the visuals that are one of the main selling points of the film with Fulci taking full advantage of the metaphysical nature of the story. Naturally the opening moments of the film in Egypt are stunning with Fulci’s camerawork immediately conjuring up a feeling on menace with Fulci also making nifty use of sand which also comes into play later on the film during a mesmerizing scene where a bedroom floor becomes a desert. Also aiding the film is the main theme by longtime Fulci collaborator Fabio Frizzi along with older pieces from past Fulci films so yes, on that front the film is a bit recycled.

Manhattan Baby has the distinction of being the last Fulci film to receive an American theatrical release as Eye of the Evil Dead. Not an entirely inappropriate re-title, although the poster featuring a scantily clad woman about to be ravaged by creatures to bare a strong resemblance to the Templar Knights from Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead films couldn’t have been more misleading. Some random tidbits, the Blue Underground DVD of the film contains an interview with co-screenwriter and Fulci collaborator Dardano Sacchetti which may be a bit brief running only 9 minutes is rather fascinating particularly due to the man’s views on a variety of topics including the horror genre in general, the budget issues the film faced, working with Fulci and perhaps most interesting is his explanation of the religious influences behind the films finale, IE the differing of opinions between the English and Italians regarding good and evil. He also addresses the charges of misogyny that have been directed at Fulci over the years. Also, Fabio Frizzi’s theme for the film was brilliantly covered by Finnish death/doom metal band Hooded Menace on their 2010 debut album Fulfill The Curse. Ultimately, it isn’t likely that Manhattan Baby will be considered “essential” Fulci anytime soon. It is however a film that Fulci fanatics should give a chance. While not Fulci’s best, its far from his worst and is deserving of a reassessment.