Starring Brett Halsey, Stefano Madia, Blanca Marsillach, Corinne Clery
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Distributed by Severin Films
Step aside, Steve “Careless Whisper” Gregory and that buff shirtless dude from The Lost Boys (1987) because there’s a new Sexy Sax Man in town and his name is Johnny. Viewers have no doubt seen scenes of titillation wherein women are seduced by saxophone, either with sultry music playing softly in the background or a multi-talented musician knowing just how to finger those high notes. But when was the last time anyone saw a woman literally get off via sax? It was probably 1986, when infamous Godfather of Gore Lucio Fulci turned his attention to a more prurient interest, delivering a feature of unbridled erotica and undeniable misogyny. This isn’t to suggest Fulci himself was a misogynist, and I am definitely not one to lob that term around because it is so frequently misused these days, but, man, do women ever get the short straw here. In the universe of The Devil’s Honey, women are either used for sex or abused by men – often both. But don’t worry, ladies, because the men don’t look much better in Fulci’s world; reduced to one-dimensional caricatures who either want sex or a woman to beat… before sex. Hey, at least the plot is easy to follow.
Johnny (Stefano Madia) is a promising musician who spends most of his time in the studio, where he likes to engage in heavily petting his girlfriend, Jessica (Blanca Marsillach), between takes. And no, he really doesn’t care who is watching. Johnny knows how to get Jessica’s juices flowing – it’s all about that sexy sax – but even when she isn’t in the mood don’t worry, a few belts to the face and some forced entry does the trick. As Johnny & Jessica sort out their problems, Dr. Simpson (Brett Halsey) is facing a couple of his own. He’s stuck in a lifeless marriage to Carol (Corinne Clery) and even when he buys a hooker, it ends with disappointment. His only true passion seems to be in his work, at the hospital. The next day, Johnny takes a spill from his motorcycle and hits his head on a stone, but he seems fine. The guy is a pro; earlier that morning he had Jessica forcibly give him a handjob while they were out joyriding – and they didn’t crash once.
At the studio, though, Johnny’s condition worsens in, like, a second and he collapses on the floor. Dr. Simpson performs the operation on his brain, but he does so right after Carol has lambasted him and announced she wants a divorce. Uh, bad timing, Carol. Johnny dies on the table as Dr. Simpson’s mind rolls over his impending bachelorhood. Jessica is extremely distraught, blaming Simpson for her lover’s death and vowing revenge. Then, she watches a video to reminisce about Johnny – one where he basically rapes her in front of the camera. Ah, young lovers! After completely losing her mind Jessica decides to abduct and torment Dr. Simpson, reducing his humanity and belittling him in all the worst ways. But don’t think for a second this is going to stop Simpson from getting harder than Chinese arithmetic if Jessica offers to open up her flower shop.
If aliens visited our planet and saw only this film, they would be right to assume we are a species with little interests outside of fighting and fucking. Actually, that might not be too far off… Regardless, I’m not entirely sure what Fulci had hoped to achieve with this film outside of perhaps some personal sexual catharsis and the release of some deep-seeded desires, maybe? My advice would be not to take a thing you see here seriously. The film opens with a woman erupting over the sonic vibrations of a saxophone, her untamed jungle blooming over a thin pair of panties – a tone has been set. Back in 1986 this was the best hedonists could hope for: a legit feature film replete with sexuality and perversion. This was pre-internet; the prime time of softcore and Skinemax. Where Fulci succeeds here is in leaning into the absurdity of the script, pumping these deviant escapades with such ridiculousness that his tongue must have been planted firmly in his cheek.
There really isn’t a plot here. The five writers credited for this salacious skin flick might’ve found a way to string a few sentences together so a semblance of plot could be formed, but it’s really nothing more than a vehicle for masturbatory fantasies. The central conceit here is Jessica avenging Johnny’s death by blaming his doctor, with plans to kill the man for his “crimes”. Except, as the flashbacks show Johnny was a shitty boyfriend who routinely brutalized his girlfriend and – LAME TWIST SPOILER WARNING – during the finale we learn she was extra disgusted by him because he swung like saloon door. The look on Jessica’s face when some random dude starts playing Johnny’s skin flute is that of pure terror.
The third act of The Devil’s Honey gets so bizarre it nearly reaches the insane heights of one of my favorite ‘80s cult classics, Ninja III: The Domination (1984) though, really, few films can hit those deliriously dizzying highs. This is a movie that would kill with the right midnight crowd because watching it at home, alone, isn’t exactly the right setting for such devilish debauchery. I find Fulci still works best when operating under the rubric of horror because that’s where his excess can best flourish; in the world of softcore, that can only lead down one road: making an actual porno.
A new 2K scan from the camera negative has given the film’s 1.85:1 1080p image what is likely the best presentation it has ever received, warts and all. There is an inherent softness to much of the picture that is impossible to escape, with some scenes pumped full of smoke and looking expectedly hazy. Film grain is variable, though more often than not natural and not noisy. Colors are neutral, hardly popping off the screen but not drab. White flecks and minor damage are persistent throughout, which makes the new scan seem less impressive though it does have the unintended benefit of allowing the film to maintain a certain grindhouse aesthetic. Black levels are mostly dark; rich enough to get a pass.
English and Italian LPCM 2.0 tracks have been included, though the latter is a clear winner. Since all sound was usually recorded in post for Italian productions I normally prefer the campiness of a dub, but the English track here sounds anemic and flat compared to the robust presence of the Italian option. Plus, as an added bonus the descriptive subs on the Italian track are (unintentionally?) hilarious. Subtitles are available in English.
The majority of the extras here are sit-down interviews, including “The Devil’s Halsey – An Interview with Actress Brett Halsey”, “Wild Flower – An Interview with Actress Corinne Clery”, “Producing Honey – An Interview with Producer Vincenzo Salviani”, “The Devil’s Sax – An Interview with Composer Claudio Natili”, “Stephen Thrower on The Devil’s Honey”, and “Fulci’s Honey – An Audio Essay by Troy Howarth”. An alternate opening and the film’s trailer are also included.
- NEW 2K RESTORATION of the film
- FULLY UNCUT PRESENTATION of the film
- The Devil’s Halsey: An Interview with Actor Brett Halsey
- Wild Flower: An Interview With Actress Corinne Cléry
- Producing Honey: An Interview With Producer Vincenzo Salviani
- The Devil’s Sax: An Interview With Composer Claudio Natili
- Stephen Thrower on The Devil’s Honey
- Fulci’s Honey: An Audio Essay by Troy Howarth – Author of “Splintered Visions
- Lucio Fulci And His Films
- Alternate Opening
Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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