Smile for the Devil

The catfights begin around minute 14, when girls at a rock club pull hair, throw awkward punches, yell unintelligible threats, brandish chairs, slap bystanders, and, eventually, yes, pull down a tube top. There follows on the television screen a boobs-and-butts montage filmed mostly at car shows, wet bikini contests, and the like before returning to more street fighting.

A young woman lies on her back in a parking lot as another grabs her by the hair and pummels her face. A friend, imploring the attacker to stop, begs, "She doesn't even know what's going on!"

The fight appears vicious and out of control. But watching the melee unfold on a DVD being played in a sparsely furnished Fort Lauderdale living room, a sturdy skinhead who calls himself Number One Diablo sees something else.

"That's just a type of friendship right there," he says, gesturing at the TV. "She didn't mean her no harm. That's just a love tap."

His voice betrays no sarcasm. The girl on the ground shrieks.

"She could have been stomping her in the face, hitting her with a weapon or something," Diablo continues coolly. "She was just punching her up."

Unfortunately, Diablo acknowledges, the love taps had left their mark. "She ended up pretty fucked up. What you have there basically is a broken nose," he says as the camera zooms in on her gory face. "It will require surgery to fix it; otherwise she's going to look boxer-style forever. I've had mine fixed three times. That's part of it."

The "it" he refers to is the South Florida skinhead and hardcore life, which Diablo has tried to capture on the DVD for the rest of the world. For several years, Diablo and a friend who goes by Doorag Dennis had taken a camera to music shows and other events, collecting footage of moshing, fistfights, and street crime. Dirty South: Street Brutality is packaged with a photograph of Diablo's silhouette on the box. Price for the 60-minute DVD: $18.

For this screening, a modest group has assembled: a sleepy-eyed skinhead named Luke, a thick and heavily tattooed skin who goes by Powder, an easygoing 20-year-old woman named Cheryl, and Diablo, whose moniker is tattooed in large gothic letters across his abdomen.

It's Tuesday, late, and they've just come from band practice. Diablo, 31, fronts a six-man hardcore group called Bolt Action that rehearses in an air-conditioned warehouse next to a salvage yard in Davie. They've made their way to Diablo's place, which is mostly empty after a longtime girlfriend recently moved out. An end table remains, a futon sporting a Skeletor throw pillow, and an entertainment center. Diablo has fired up the DVD on his PlayStation 2.

It begins with Diablo himself, shirtless, against a blank wall, warning viewers that they're about to see "fights, the aftermath of shootings, stabbings," and then a booming hip-hop soundtrack begins. The images flicker fast. Young men mill in a street, talking smack -- then the haymakers come, women scream at the men to stop, fighting bodies pile up.

Soon after, Diablo's friend Powder appears on-screen to provide a visual non sequitur to break up the mayhem. He drops trou, and on either side of polka-dotted thong underwear, tattoos -- one on each ass cheek -- you can make out the words EAT and SHIT.

For the most part, though, the video is one long assemblage of violence going down in the darkest corners of South Florida, especially West Palm Beach, where the bulk of the footage was shot. It's not a West Palm you'll recognize if you remain in your car from I-95 to the Intracoastal, a corridor on which the palatial Kravis Center showcases the likes of Sesame Street Live and Paul Anka and the $83 million convention center hosts antique shows. Instead, the video depicts one of the city's prime commercial and cultural sections, Clematis Street, at its after-hours worst. It also shows the fluorescent-lit sidewalks where gang members have been croaking each other at the rate of about one a month for the last year.

"The main concept of the movie," Diablo says, "is that nobody in this lifetime is above a beatdown. You say the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time and you're fucked up."

Again, no sarcasm. Diablo, martial arts trainer, two-time felon, part-time filmmaker, says his DVD is just a true portrayal of life, at least as he and his friends live it. A second video is in the works, but so is another felony prosecution against him. With the possibility that he could go away for a long time -- or find financial success peddling "punks gone wild" -- Diablo kindly offers a tour of the underground and his tangled psyche.