With 13 Days of Shot On Video I’ll be reviewing a new shot-on-video horror film every weekday for the last two weeks of October. You can view all entries HERE.
In terms of sheer unintentional lunacy, Black Devil Doll From Hell may be the most batshit crazy movie I’ve ever seen. To call Black Devil Doll from Hell “a doozy” — a movie wherein a woman buys a possessed doll from a thrift shop and is then repeatedly raped by said doll for pretty much the entire remaining runtime — feels like the understatement to end all understatements. We the viewer really truly don’t know what we’re in for, even if we think we do. Black Devil Doll from Hell is audacious, bizarre, borderline pornographic, and the director is clearly insane. But dammit, it has heart! A real earnest sincerity that a lot of films are lacking. I mean, how else can you explain why director Chester Novell Turner decided to make this strange and unclassifiable movie? He obviously had a vision he truly believed in, and you can’t help but admire that.
Even by SOV (shot-on-video) standards, Black Devil Doll from Hell is one of the lower-tiered releases. Abrupt cuts, continuity jumps, and audio issues abound. But again, Turner saw the production through to the end — ponying up $8000 of his own money to complete it — and that takes dolls. I mean balls! Balls. It takes balls. Not dolls.
The movie opens with a painfully long credit sequence: we get your standard white type on navy background, set to some weird proto rap-rock tune whose lyrics do us the service of laying out the entire plotline (kind of like a James Bond film from Hell.) For almost seven minutes the repetitive song drones on, though to be fair it does include some killer guitar solos. Mind you, most films don’t even have opening credits anymore, and the ones that do are usually set to some sort of kinetic motion or action, so the length of the opening is particularly noticeable.
And speaking of music: the music throughout the rest of the film (composed by Turner, naturally) takes on two different vibes. There are these upbeat instrumentals that sound like they came from a Wesley Willis demo tape; oddly cheerful and wonderfully out of place in such a horrifying movie. And then there is this high-pitched stabbing synth sound that almost has a John Carpenter feel to it, but it’s so loud and shrill that it oftentimes overpowers the dialogue. Needless to say, if musical variety is your thing, Black Devil Doll from Hell has you covered.
So, as the movie plods along, we find out the lead (bravely played by Shirley L. Jones) is a church-going good girl who frowns upon promiscuous behavior and shuns men who only show interest in her for her body. However, she makes the regrettable mistake of buying a possessed (and extremely horny) doll from a thrift store and then showering in front of it. She plops it down on the toilet, says “these are the only eyes that’ll see me naked before I’m married”, and then gets in the shower. It’s like the puritanical version of saying, “I’ll be right back” in a horror movie. Anyway, while she’s in the shower, she starts fantasizing about having sex with the doll. And this pattern continues for the next couple scenes: she showers, she fantasizes about dummy sex. It’s surprisingly pretty graphic, too: the camcorder-look and homemade vibe make it feel even sleazier and realistic.
Eventually the doll actually comes to life, knocks her out and ties her up, and then, y’know, rapes her repeatedly — all the while insulting her, exhaling some mysterious smoke, and shouting “bitch!” more than Freddy Krueger could ever dream of. And yet the most insane part of it all is that she’s supposedly deriving pleasure from the whole thing. It’d be offensive if it weren’t so goddamn insane. Ratcheting up the insanity: the doll was modeled after Rick James. No, I’m not joking.
So now that she’s experienced, y’know, puppet penetration, she seeks out the real thing. But she finds that her human suitors don’t quite live up to her plastic partner. No one can please her quite the same way the Black Devil Doll from Hell does. So she pleads with the doll to do the horizontal mambo with her one more time, only this time the doll has apparently had enough of Jones, and gives her what I can only describe as a “deadly orgasm” — at least, that’s what it looks like.
Soon enough, the doll makes his way back to the thrift store and is purchased by yet another innocent, unsuspecting young woman. And so the cycle begins again. And just like that, the barely-70 minute runtime is up and it feels like you’ve been watching this thing for 3 hours.
As I said earlier, Black Devil Doll from Hell is pretty bad even by ’80s SOV standards. Not the worst I’ve seen, but pretty close. Of course, I mean all of this in terms of its technical achievements. When it comes to originality and the always appreciated “what the hell did I just watch?” sensation, Black Devil Doll from Hell knocks it out of the park. It’s vile, and strange, and moralistic, and misogynistic — but you’ll also be laughing while shaking your head in shock.
Turner may only have two films to his name — Black Devil Doll from Hell (1984) and the equally-treasured horror-anthology Tales from the Quadead Zone (1987) — but he’s still lauded among the tapeheads and celluloid collectors, like some VHS version of Dalton Trumbo or Herk Harvey. Watch if you absolutely must (and you must, naturally) but have a bar of soap ready to wash the dirt off afterwards.