BDSM is hot and sexy but engaging with trauma and violence has risks. Every surgeon is going to botch an operation. It’s part of the job, part of the risk of getting work done. No one wants to be a statistic but also it’s unreasonable to expect 100 percent success in any field. Forgone conclusions are boring. Major franchise films are rarely going to let anything happen in their plots because that threatens profit. This also doesn’t mean a plot needs to end in tragedy to imply and offer risk. There is a danger in acceptance, in things working out. Lucio Fulci’s The Devil’s Honey is lyrical meditation on violence, trauma, recovery and revenge through an S&M lens. Originally released in 1986, this film is seeing new life after being re-released on Blu-Ray last year by Severin films.
This film is different from established Fulci classics, New York Ripper, A Lizard in Woman’s Skin, and Don’t Torture a Duckling. Canonical Fulci does feature spots of lyricism, especially in Don’t Torture a Duckling and New York Ripper. But these moments are selectively placed between the violence and who-done-it giallo amateur sleuthing. The Devil’s Honey is also violent from beginning to end.
The majority of Fulci classics center around solving mysteries, like who is quacking at Lt. Williams in New York Ripper? The narratives follow amateur detectives around as they try to figure out what is going on and who is killing people and why. The plot in The Devil’s Honey is unique to Fulci. It centers around a woman in an abusive relationship with a jazz musician and a surgeon who operates on her musician partner after he is in an accident. Her boyfriend dies during surgery and the woman kidnaps the surgeon, takes him to a remote location and tortures him. The majority of the film zooms in on the ways their individual psychosis’ develop and grow and are fed through their exchanges.
There are some good films focusing on BDSM-esque relationships. Secretary is often cited, but it frustrates me that the relationship is still a male dom and female sub. In some ways, the female vampire films of Jean Rollin, Mario Bava and Jess Franco as well as Ingrid Pitt’s character in The Vampire Lovers are all great examples of dominant women in cinema. Particularly Jean Rollin’s film, Fascination. Female sadism, female driven violence makes for great cinema. And like Fascination, The Devil’s Honey does a lot with the male response to female sadism.
The Devil’s Honey does not romanticize healing trauma through S&M. This is a nasty film. Even though threads of possible redemption are apart of this narrative, no one wants to go through any of the shit these characters do. Or perhaps it suggests that even if something is a fantasy and seems hot or even right, this doesn’t mean it won’t hurt for real, in a very not erotic way. If redemption is possible it might come with a cost that is not romantic. And because all of this is presented in extremely lyrical and romantic shots, it is profoundly effecting. The lighting in the film is very bright, the score is lush and sensual and the dialogue is constantly moving from intimate whispers to screaming. All of this working together opens you up to the emotional impact of the film and hits you with the blunt violence of the story.
The blu-ray reissue is very nice. The video looks great. It’s obvious the people working to re-issue this in HD took their time. It’s nice seeing good restorations of so many cult titles. This blu-ray is fairly expensive but I would much rather pay 20 dollars for a new, good quality blu-ray than sixty five dollars for an old VHS import.
The score in Devil’s Honey is incredible as well. Fulci’s films always have good music, so that’s no surprise. The New York Ripper has one of the most recognizable themes in European horror. This score sticks with you. The saxophone lines played by the jazz musician come in and out of the film, tied to the main character’s memories. The performers in the film do a great job bringing intensity to their roles but the music does as much as they do in creating a tense yet intimate atmosphere.
Five years after The Devil’s Honey’s initial release, the first season of Twin Peaks aired on television. It used similar penetrative saxophone lines to create an intimate and haunted atmosphere. The Devil’s Honey and Twin Peaks both can serve as a meditation on the reality of intimate sexual violence and the consequences violence imposes on us. They also both show the strange and scary ways violence can lead to healing. The Devil’s Honey is also a great companion to more contemporary films like Hard Candy.
Thursday Simpson is from rural Illinois. She has a BA from the University of Iowa. Her work has appeared in Diabolique Magazine, Rhino Poetry, The Breakroom Stories, Fishfood Magazine and Far Off Places.