Okay, who are we kidding — writer/director/no-budget visionary Chester Novell Turner’s direct-to-video 1984 feature Black Devil Doll From Hell is a reprehensible, misogynistic, mean-spirited, thoroughly incompetent, less-than-amateur pile of shit with absolutely no redeeming social, artistic, or even entertainment value whatsoever. All I’m asking is — what’s so wrong with that?
If we’re going to be completely honest with (and about) ourselves, we have to admit that we all have occasions where pure, unadulterated rotten-ness for its own sake is, for whatever reason, sort of appealing to us as viewers. If not, then we’re not the sort of people who enjoy reading (or, in my case. writing for) a blog like this one. Sure, I wander pretty far afield into things like mainstream movies and comics and what have you, but the name of this site is still Trash Film Guru, goddamnit, and anyone who checks in here at the very least infrequently does so more or less hoping to find reviews of films exactly like this one. Or at least sort of like this one, because frankly there are no other films — not even 2007’s indie production Black Devil Doll, which isn’t so much a “remake” per se as an altogether different flick extrapolated from the idea at the core of this one — that are exactly like Turner’s ultra-sleazy little number here.
The “plot,” as it were, is a pretty simple one — uptight church-going woman Helen Black (played by Shirley L. Jones, Turner’s girlfriend at the time) buys a black, dreadlock-adorned ventriloquist’s dummy at a shoddy antique/second-hand shop and takes it home, whereupon it promptly comes to life and proceeds to rape her relentlessly. Somewhere mid-sexual assault, though, Helen actually starts enjoying what this ( literally) pencil-dicked evil puppet is doing to her, and before you know it, she’s in the throes of passion and begging for more and more of that good hard rammin’ morning, noon, and night. One thing you can definitely say about a lover made of wood — while he may not be much in the conversation department (his idea of foreplay being limited to shouting sweet nothings like “wake up, bitch!”), he never goes limp.
He’s a possessed devil doll from hell, though, remember — so he’s obviously schtuppin’ the living shit out of poor Helen in order to steal her immortal soul. Or something like that.
Is it all as deliberately offensive as it sounds, playing up every negative racial and sexual stereotype imaginable with no apparent concern, much less conscience? Why, yes, it is — but it’s also blatantly obvious that Turner himself isn’t taking things very seriously, so there’s not much point in us doing so, either. And just when things threaten to get well and truly boring, he throws in little touches like having the devil doll go down on our hapless leading lady with a red-painted popsicle stick tongue. Comparisons to straight-up low-grade porno aren’t entirely out of place here, but as there’s no actual (as far as we know — or at least hope) penetration going on, Turner and his old lady (and his brother, who was pretty much the only other member of what can loosely be described as a “film crew” here) stay (barely) in “hard-R rated” territory here.
And truth be told, even the cheapest, sleaziest, let’s-get-this-in-the-can-and-get-the-fuck-outta-here-before-we-have-to-prove-these-girls-are-18 SOV porn boasts higher production values than Black Devil Doll From Hell. Turner claims he spent something like six thousand bucks making this thing, but it’s hard to see where that money actually went.
Tell you what, though — this movie has been something of a “holy grail” for connoisseurs of largely-forgotten shot-on-video ’80s horror for a long time now, with copies of the VHS release from the late, un-lamented Hollywood Home Video going for big bucks on eBay — until quite recently, that is.
So what changed? Glad you asked!
Underground label Massacre Video — the folks responsible for last year’s DVD release of Wally Koz’ (or should that be Koz’s?) 555 — bucked the prevailing “wisdom” that Turner died some years ago in a car crash and actually tracked the guy down and secured DVD rights to both this film and his 1987 follow-up effort, Tales From The Quadead Zone, and the end result is a two-disc DVD boxed set called, just like the title of this review (I’m feeling lazy tonight, sue me) The Films Of Chester Novell Turner. So, yeah, a juicy little urban legend has met an untimely demise, but hey, at least these films are finally available again, and furthermore are being presented complete and unedited for the first time since before Turner cut his distro deal with HHV and was selling homemade copies from the trunk of his car to local Chicago-area mom n’ pop rental shops (Massacre’s DVD features both the full-length cut culled from Turner’s own master tape (don’t worry, it still looks like shit) and the pared-down, half-assed-metal-music added- in “mass” distribution version).
On the extras front, there’s a full-length (and pretty interesting) commentary track featuring both Turner and Jones (neither of whose recollections are entirely clear, but are at least always entertaining to listen to), a new “making-of” mini-documentary called Return To The Quadead Zone (only included, bizarrely enough, on the Devil Doll disc and not the Quadead disc itself — go figure), a stills gallery, and the requisite trailers for other currently-available and/or forthcoming Massacre titles. Oh, and the cover is completely reversible, with the new Massacre version on one side and the original VHS artwork and blurbs on the other (as pictured in the photo atop this very review). Really cool. All in all, a pretty impressive package for a movie whose most (and perhaps only) enduring “quality” is how well and truly unimpressive it is.
If you don’t know that you’re getting into with Black Devil Doll From Hell, then I certainly can’t recommend watching it — but hey, this is such an absolute obscurity that chances are the only folks who have heard of it will know exactly what they’re getting into. If that describes you (and it certainly does me), then this set should probably shoot to the top of your “must-buy” list right now.
This is the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the barrel. I can’t say I “like” it here, but shit — visiting every now and then sure is interesting. Just don’t spend too much time dwelling on why you feel so fucking comfortable here.