DIRECTED BY: Chester Novell Turner
FEATURING: Shirley L. Jones
PLOT: A sexually-repressed church lady buys a magical puppet who comes to life and rapes her, waking her slumbering libido.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Chester Novell Turner deserves some sort of weird movie recognition for his two movie opus of Black Devil Doll from Hell (1984) and Tales from the Quadead Zone (1987), films which reveal the relative polish and elegance of the maligned Ed Wood Jr. Sadly, a spot on the list of the weirdest movies of all time for Black Devil Doll from Hell is not that recognition. Although the doll sex scenes are a hoot, the movie as a whole is dull, and made up mostly of filler.
COMMENTS: The original tagline to Black Devil Doll from Hell was “Was it a nightmare? Or was it for real?” It should have been “I was raped by a puppet—and I liked it!” Shot on video with a budget of about $8,000—although when you watch you’ll find yourself wondering what Turner could possibly have spent all that money on—Black Devil Doll is basically an elaborate home movie starring Turner’s then-girlfriend and a cast and crew made up of relatives and buddies.
Massacre Video’s DVD presentation is taken from the best source material possible—which is a transfer of an vintage VHS tape. Anyone who dug the glitchy visual aesthetic of Trash Humpers should respond to this style: with warping around the edges and lots of horizontal roll to accentuate the washed-out lighting, Black Devil Doll is authentic analog ugliness. You shouldn’t want to see it any other way—these visual smudges are all part of recreating the authentic “just took a chance on this turkey because of the crazy title and cover” 1980s video store experience. Watching a pristine, restored version of Black Devil Doll from Hell would be as pointless as a Spike Lee remake with Halle Berry in the lead and Samuel L. Jackson voicing the puppet.
While the visuals are drab, the audio is frustrating. There is a constant background hiss, the dialogue can be hard to make out, and Turner’s childishly repetitive Casio keyboard score is irritating beyond belief. At one point, he holds a single ear-piercing high note for 45 seconds (I timed it). And let’s not forget that the acting is terrible, and the direction, too—there are long pauses in the dialogue while Turner patiently waits for the actors to remember their next line, and scenes where Jones just putters morosely around her house, doing nothing to advance the story.
All of this incompetence would be intolerable, if the core idea of a supernatural rapist who looks like Rick James turned into a ventriloquist’s dummy wasn’t so inherently bizarre and ludicrous. As it is, you’re left watching wide-eyed in sick fascination to see what strange, sleazy turn the tortoise-paced story will come up with next. The Devil Doll occasionally exhales smoke through his mouth, solely because it’s a cheap effect that looks marginally cool. After blasting his victim with a vent of steam he utters the classic seduction line “now that you have smelt the foulness of my breath, you may feel the sweetness of my tongue!” (I’m totally trying that line out on my next date). The sex scenes look absolutely ridiculous and anti-erotic, but the puppet’s technique must be is superlative, because soon after he rocks her world the church lady proclaims “I didn’t know it could be this beautiful!” She soon throws her Bible in the trash and starts searching the house to find the Devil Doll (whom she dubs “Mr. Wonderful”) for another round of fine lovin’ (splinters be damned!), but he’s gone missing. With the doll departed, she picks up strange men instead, but no one can satisfy her.
It’s all quite amazing; you keep on watching not because it’s entertaining, but out of awe that something like this even exists.
Massacre Video’s releases comes in a box set together with Turner’s other movie, Tales from the Quadead Zone (which we chose to represent the Chester N. Turner phenomenon on the List). The Black Devil Doll disc includes an alternate cut of the film that’s missing 13 minutes (they kept all 12 minutes of credits, though). There’s also a thirty minute interview with writer/director Turner and star Jones, and, even better, a commentary track. Jones, now likely a grandmother, makes some priceless comments: she calls the puppet “my baby!” when he first appears, critiques her own nipples, and breaks into an uncontrollable fit of laughter during the sex scene.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“The shot-on-video wave that turned horror VHS collecting into such a bizarre free for all in the 1980s resulted in many outrageous oddities, but none can really compete with the brain-shredding experience of Black Devil Doll from Hell.”–Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital (DVD)