Saturday, January 2, 2010

Joe D'Amato's Devil in the Flesh (Il diavolo nella carne) (1991)

In 1986, Joe D'Amato released his Eleven Days, Eleven Nights (Undici giorni, undici notti) (1986) which became, at the time, his most successful film and his favorite of his "softcore, erotic" movies. For the director, the film also kindled a love affair with the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, the shooting location of Eleven Days, Eleven Nights, and D'Amato has this to say about why the film was successful and also his favorite: "I don't know, because it's my first movie in New Orleans. And I like New Orleans very much. New Orleans is a very cinematographic town. It's a nice place to make movies and it's the first time and I was very excited to be working there." (All previous facts and quote from D'Amato's interview included in Flesh and Blood, Issue #7, edited by Harvey Fenton, FAB Press, 1996.) D'Amato would film in the city again and in the waning days of his film production company (Filmirage) in 1991, he would film and release Fatal Obsession (Ossessione fatale), A Woman's Secret (La donna di una sera), and Door Into Silence (Le porte del silenzio). The latter film was directed by Lucio Fulci with the former two directed by D'Amato, and during the same year, Joe D'Amato would direct one other film--outside the city of New Orleans in Louisiana's hot and swampy areas, Devil in the Flesh (Il diavolo nella carne).
Sammy (Robert LaBrosse) and Klaus (Wayne Camp), although both appear as and make representations as to being American Special Forces soldiers, are mercenaries. The Louisiana location presumably substitutes for a Central or South American country where a coup d'etat has occurred with the rebels taking control. The ousted prime minister, Victorio Evans (Harold Evans) is being escorted to the border by Sammy and Klaus. Victorio has an extremely weak heart and cannot make the perilous journey on foot to the border, especially with the rebels on the trio's trail. Sammy and Klaus have to keep Victorio alive long enough to reach the border so they can receive their cash reward. On foot, the group reaches a small, International health clinic, run by its doctor, Katrin (Tracy Ray), and her three nurses, Helga (Carmen Di Pietro), Sophie (Nicole Grey), and Hellen (Jennifer Loeb). Sammy and Klaus take over the clinic and force the medical staff to attend to Victorio's health.
Devil in the Flesh is presumably a pick-up production during the shooting of one of the other Louisiana films of 1991. My best guess is that D'Amato shot Devil during the shooting (or right before or after) Fulci's Door Into Silence. I base this presumption on 1) D'Amato didn't work on Door as cinematographer (Giancarlo Ferrando shot Door); 2) Steve Morelli was a production manager on Door and wrote the screenplay for Devil; and 3) both Fulci and D'Amato allude to financial problems with the productions (Filmirage would not survive long after 1991).
D'Amato wasn't an intrusive producer (and seemingly this was his only role in Door's production) but an "apprehensive" one (revealed in his interview in Spaghetti Nightmares, conducted before the publication date of the book (1996) and presumably before 1994 (since the included filmography of D'Amato's directorial credits end there. Nonetheless, the interview was conducted not long after Filmirage's dissolution). When asked "Does this insecurity [D'Amato being apprehensive] lead you in any way to interfere with directors who work with you?" D'Amato responds: "No, not all. If I didn't respect other directors creativity, I'd make the film alone. (Spaghetti Nightmares)" No doubt D'Amato had faith in veteran Fulci's abilities (When D'Amato is asked what he thinks of Fulci's films during the documentary "Joe D'Amato Totally Uncut" included as a supplement on the Shriek Show Anthropophagus DVD, D'Amato responds, "Fulci's films were the best I produced."); and there's is also little doubt to presume while Fulci was filming, D'Amato would have time to simultaneously film another production at a singular location. Steve Morelli, the screenwriter for Devil, appears today to be an adult filmmaker. According to his IMDb credits, he appears to have been writing and directing adult films since the mid-1990s. I've never seen a Morelli adult film, so I cannot comment upon them. However, the narrative of Devil in the Flesh feels like a stereotypical story for a traditional adult film. The set-up for the film which I detailed in the second paragraph only occupies five to ten minutes of Devil, while the overwhelming majority of the film takes place at the clinic with the four actresses. The fortuitous stumbling upon the clinic rings of the traditional tale of the wanderer seeking shelter with the farmer and his daughters. It's not long after the soldiers arrive that the "erotic" (or would-be erotic) scenes begin. (There are a couple of rape scenes in the film, which aren't detailed or graphic and shot the same way as the consensual sex scenes but that doesn't change their depictions of what they are). The narrative focuses on sexual tension, especially between Ray's Katrin and LaBrosse's Sammy, voyeuristic sequences, and sex scenes with various characters coupling; and the thin plot seems sequential with a predictable ending while the non-sex scenes feel like filler.
I've been unable to learn as to why Filmirage had financial problems (and its subsequent demise). I only know that financial problems existed: D'Amato alludes to them during the "Totally Uncut" supplement from the Anthropophagus DVD, and Fulci alludes to financial problems riddling the production of Door and leading to its distribution problems (the film being withheld for release because of financial problems) during his Spaghetti Nightmares interview. Considering that Joe D'Amato had opportunity and a motive to shoot Devil in the Flesh, I have little doubt that it was a pick-up production for a quick cash in.

So what about the quality of this Joe D'Amato quickie? Devil in the Flesh feels hurried and uninspired. The sex scenes are a big indication. During his "Totally Uncut" interview, the interviewer comments to D'Amato about another softcore production, Fatal Seduction (La iena) (1997), that "One defect in 'Fatal Seduction,' I think, is that the sex scenes are shot as if they were edited porn scenes, which weighs the film down." D'Amato gives an uncomfortable-sounding laugh and responds humbly, "Yes. That's my fault. It's become a habit of mine. Because...It's just my fault. All my fault..." Likewise, the sex scenes feel the same way with no real attempt at eroticism at all (especially coming from a director quite adept at shooting erotic scenes, evidenced by his work at the earlier part of his career and at least a decade before Devil). The hurried feel is also evident by the set-ups and pacing. This is one-take cinema with static shots, mostly uninteresting compositions, with little flare. The dialogue is actually fairly credible and not bad; and in fact, the themes within Devil in the Flesh are fairly interesting: two mercenaries who love only money and their lives must keep a shaky political figure alive long enough for delivery, like a human battery as cargo with enough juice just to finish the circuit, while the two make a necessary diversion only to take it as an opportunity for indulgence and character-building. No time for depth, though, in Devil in the Flesh. The acting by all is bad. The only thing notable perhaps about Devil in the Flesh is that it marks a important period of time in the career of its truly talented director, Joe D'Amato.

1 comment:

Mr.LargePackage said...

Great review, Hans. I am also an expert on eroticism, an ex-mercenary, and a doctor. So yes, this story is based loosely on my life in the 80's. And that is large and in charge.