1988 Countdown #35: INXS, “Devil Inside”

(New to the countdown? Catch up here.)

Adam Curry hypes the “Big Bang ’89” party coming up later that night on MTV: “This is the only place to be on New Year’s Eve,” he says. Which was empirically not true, but it is the place where I ended up on the last day of 1988, so I guess he was right enough.

Curry cues up the next song: “Right now, a little secret–well, it’s not a big secret. INXS has four videos on the top 100 countdown of the past year. This is the second video off of the Kick album and the second video on the chart.” (The first was “Never Tear Us Apart,” which placed at #52.) I don’t think any of that qualifies as being a secret of any size; perhaps realizing that he’s overpromised, Curry quickly segues to the clip itself.

We see a lurid devil’s mask against a backdrop of red smoke. The devil turns, and we see that the mask is actually on the back of the head of INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence, who is illuminated with a sickly green light but is still ridiculously good looking.

We then get a flurry of quick cuts, as if somebody turned on a snowblower in the editing bay. In the space of three seconds: neon lights, a crowd in a bar featuring a dude wearing sunglasses at night, a blond-haired person of indeterminate gender working a David Johansen vibe, a movie marquee touting  “DEVIL INSIDE,” the silhouettes of some shapely feminine legs, and then an electric guitar playing the song’s opening chord.

I’m not going to log every single cut—let’s just agree that the action is moving quickly, the song has a great sinuous groove, and we’re visiting some seedy club. More hyperactive edits introduce some guys in tuxedos, the Converse-clad ankles of a skateboarder, a female mannequin, a black dude in a doo-rag, and a blonde girl in a leather bra. The production is grimy and the editing style is Adderall-based, but at heart this is a classic MTV party video, where diverse people from every walk of life get down together, united by music. (Key examples of the genre include Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and Huey Lewis’s “Heart and Soul.”)

We also see Hutchence shooting pool and fronting his band in a crowded bar, turning up his rock-star swagger as high as it will go. The other five members of INXS are all dressed in black and appear intermittently: Hutchence is wearing an expensive gray jacket with a red pocket square and lip-synching lyrics like “Words as weapons / sharper than knives / makes you wonder how the other half die.” (Side note: INXS had much better lyrics than I gave them credit for at the time. Hutchence was a master of the art of crafting lyrics that fully worked in pop songs but had a twisted, decadent integrity.)

Also starring in this video is a dark-haired woman, who vaguely looks like Cher’s kid sister, apparently cast as the woman “with the look in her eye / raised on leather / with flesh on her mind.” She struts through the club with as much confidence as Hutchence, running her hands through her hair, working that vampire charisma, walking on the bar in high heels. Co-songwriter Andrew Farriss, playing keyboards behind the bar, looks up her skirt. She gets on the dance floor and pretends to head-butt the guy she’s with; Hutchence responds with a credible karate kick as he sings “look at them kick.” (On the nose, but since it’s the album title, the lyric does deserve a little extra impact.) That MTV party staple, a bellboy in a red uniform with brass buttons, looks at the action with a leer, as if he’s working the catering at an orgy.

The chorus showcases Hutchence in a variety of locations, including up close with a brass pole. Unexpectedly, it appears to be not a stripper’s pole, but part of a merry-go-round.

This video was actually filmed at Balboa Pier in Newport Beach, California, which is squarely in Orange County—if you’re heading south from LA, turn right just after you get to Anaheim and you can’t miss it. The director was Joel Schumacher, whose haphazard directorial CV at this point included The Incredible Shrinking Woman (starring Lily Tomlin), D.C. Cab (Mr. T), and St. Elmo’s Fire (the Brat Pack). (His Batman movies and John Grisham adaptations would come in the 1990s.) He owed INXS a favor because they had anchored the soundtrack to The Lost Boys (his 1987 vampire movie starring Jason Patrick, Kiefer Sutherland, and the Coreys)—this video was where the band called in their marker.

On the set, the 48-year-old Schumacher complained, “When this is over, will somebody buy me a T-shirt that says ‘Too Old for Video’?” (That detail courtesy of Gina Arnold, who wrote about the shoot for the Los Angeles Times.) Other salient on-set intelligence: the fog in the video was actually produced by a mosquito fogger without any insecticide in it. Also, the second night of the video shoot conflicted with a U2 concert in L.A., but the INXS fans in attendance seemed unconcerned: “Are you kidding? INXS beat out U2 any day! That U2 is just a bunch of sloppy dudes. Bono needs a bath.”

Back to the video, which has come to a new section: same setting, same cast of characters, same short-attention-span editing style, but lots of backlighting and people in the crowd standing still, paralyzed by the power of INXS, or waiting for a plot development. And improbably, they get the plot development! A motorcycle gang rolls up to the club. The bikers face off in a line against a bunch of surfer dudes, many of them shirtless, apparently ready to rumble over whether the best single from Listen Like Thieves was “What You Need” or “Kiss the Dirt.”

Hutchence leads INXS in a single file between the two glaring camps, which apparently is a powerful enough gesture to defuse tensions. He clearly missed his calling in the Australian diplomatic corps. Instead, we get to see him dancing, which Michael Jackson taught us is the traditional celebration when you stop two rival gangs from carving each other up. I am reminded that when the MTV dance show Club MTV, popular at the time of this countdown, wanted to audition new people to be on-camera dancers, they would use INXS songs, because the band’s music bridged the gap between rock and R&B; anyone who wasn’t comfortable dancing to INXS wouldn’t do well with the Club MTV playlist.

Guitar solo! It’s a lovely chiming interlude by the spectacled Tim Farriss, looking intense as he delivers something more melodic than flashy. Intercut with his guitar: bewildered spectators looking through a window, Andrew Farriss with a popeyed expression, Hutchence flirting with a drag queen.

“Here comes a woman,” Hutchence sings again, and Schumacher introduces a new character, a woman in white standing up in a limo, gesturing dramatically through the sunroof and showing off her elbow-length gloves. She emerges and faces off with the woman in black. It looks like there’s going to be a confrontation—but then the woman in black just gets into the limo, replacing the woman in white as the companion of a corpulent man in a tuxedo. He’s wearing sunglasses, he has a predatory vibe, and he feels like the devil inside the limo.

Hutchence chants “the devil inside” but the woman in white doesn’t stick around to hear it—she gets on the back of a motorcycle and rides away into the night. The tinted glass rolls up on the limo and as it drives away, we can see that the chauffeur is wearing the grotesque devil’s mask that was featured in the first image of this video.

The pace of the cutting gets even faster as we head for the fade: tight skirts, gypsy women, Hutchence gyrating and stomping, a bunch of skateboarders, musclemen twins in skin-tight zebra-print overalls (the ominous lighting doesn’t make them any less ridiculous).

The video concludes with a bookend of the opening image: Hutchence turning away from the camera to show off the mask on the back of his head, implying (or perhaps just hoping) that in his case, maybe the devil is outside.

“Devil Inside” peaked at #2 on the pop charts (blocked from the top by Billy Ocean’s “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” and Whitney Houston’s “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.”) You can watch it here.

posted 19 September 2019 in 1988 and tagged , , . 2 comments

2 Comments on 1988 Countdown #35: INXS, “Devil Inside”

  1. Kevin Chang Says:

    I still look forward to these blog entries, btw. It’s not like I’m checking that often (this may be the first time I’ve looked in maybe a year?) but you never disappoint.

    Anyway, I think both this song and this video would be characterized in the modern vernacular as “edgelord” or “extra”. It was a bit cringeworthy even when it first came out.

    Did you read David Mack’s original Kabuki comics in the late 1990s? When the Japanese yakuza/biker gang panels started whipping this song out I got thrown out of the scene so hard.

  2. Gavin Says:

    Thanks, Kevin! I haven’t seen those comics, but I will try to track them down.

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