BOOTLEG FILES 449: “Black Devil Doll From Hell” (1984 no-budget horror movie).
LAST SEEN: The entire film is on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: It has been released on VHS.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: An underground cult favorite that defies all laws of good taste and logic.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: A DVD release had been announced, but it is on indefinite hold.
To be perfectly honest, I never heard of “Black Devil Doll From Hell” until I read a Facebook posting by Village Voice columnist Michael Musto, who claimed this 1984 production was the worst movie ever made. Well, that’s quite a claim, and I needed to confirm whether Musto actually located the bottom of the cinematic barrel.
I am not prepared to say that “Black Devil Doll From Hell” is the worst film ever made, but it certainly ranks among the least competent endeavors ever unleashed on an unsuspecting audience. But, strangely, its overpowering ineptitude has something of a hypnotic effect on the viewer – in watching this production, it is almost impossible to comprehend that this mess was ever completed, let alone launched into release.
“Black Devil Doll From Hell” combines the Zuni doll segment of the classic TV movie “Trilogy of Terror” with the ventriloquist’s dummy chapter of the British horror masterpiece “Dead of Night,” and then mixes them into a blaxploitation setting. In this film, religious fanatic Helen Black finds herself alone in an amoral world. She chastises a jive-talking petty thief who sells stolen merchandise from the trunk of his car, and later berates a friend who tries to set her up on a date. “I’m not interested in Sam,” she says about her would-be Lothario. “All he wants to do is get between my legs.”
One day, Helen goes to a shlocky gift store run by a tiny woman who appears to be wearing Butterfly McQueen’s costume from “Gone with the Wind.” Helen spies a black ventriloquist’s dummy with a head full of dreadlocks. Although the store’s owner warns that the dummy has a strange history – it somehow found its way back to the property after being sold on four separate occasions – Helen thinks it would be a cute addition to her house full of religious bric-a-brac.
Helen brings the dummy home and sets it on her toilet. She rolls up the doll’s jacket sleeves and wraps dark fabric on its white arms to make it “look real.” Helen then gets out of her clothing to take a shower. While she is scrubbing herself down, the shower curtain inexplicably pulls back to find the hygienic Helen scrubbing her ample breasts with soap. All of a sudden, the doll opens its eyes, turns it head, observes Helen and begins to rock back and forth.
That night, Helen begins having nightmares that the doll is having sex with her. At one point in her ghastly dreams, she is running through her home while the doll rides on her, piggyback-style. However, upon awaking, Helen finds herself in an even worse nightmare – the doll has come alive and is eager to take sexual advantage of her. “Wake up, bitch!” the doll growls at the sleepy Helen.
And how does Helen react to being sexually assaulted by a ventriloquist dummy? Well, it seems that she loves it – to the point that she quickly jettisons her Bible-thumping ways and becomes the newest slut in the ‘hood. But although the local studs are fun to have around, Helen realizes that her doll has (pardon the pun) the best wood around.
“Black Devil Doll From Hell” was the creation of one Chester Novell Turner, whose only other confirmed feature film is a 1987 obscurity called “Tales from the Quadead Zone.” Biographical material on Turner is scant – the IMDb claims he was born in 1950 and SoiledSinema.com says that he died in a car crash in 1996, but beyond those factoids the filmmaker remains an elusive mystery.
It is safe to assume that Turner had no filmmaking education whatsoever. “Black Devil Doll From Hell” launches with an interminable opening credit sequence that runs an astonishing six minutes, which is then capped by 30 seconds of blank screen. The production appears to have been shot on some crummy camcorder, and the sound is frequently unintelligible while the picture wobbles in and out of focus. A synthesizer music score is dropped helter-skelter throughout the soundtrack, often muffling the dialogue.
Shirley L. Jones, who plays Helen Black, carries the film’s dramatic weight. But even without the middle initial, this Jones will never be confused with the same-named Oscar-winning actress – Jones delivers her lines in a dreary sing-song manner that never changes with the story’s twists and turns. Whether she is being raped by a puppet or singing the praises of Jesus, Jones’ line delivery is atonal throughout.
As for the puppet – well, despite a Redd Foxx-style gravelly voice and a scatological vocabulary, this doll is the least threatening creature in horror movie history. The doll is operated with such incompetence that the only reaction it could possible generate is laughter. Indeed, the rape sequence – which includes having the doll’s Popsicle-stick tongue licking Jones’ breasts – is so ridiculous that it steamrolls the film’s underlying misogynist theme into unadulterated camp.
Over the years, “Black Devil Doll From Hell” somehow managed to find an audience. The IMDb credits two labels that mostly specialized in public domain titles, Hollywood Home Theatre and Budget Video, as putting this into circulation on VHS video. Through word-of-mouth, “Black Devil Doll From Hell” somehow built a small but loyal cult following, and Jones wound up appearing as a guest at a few horror film conventions because of the film’s unlikely cred.
But not everyone is in love with the film. Steve Puchalski, editor and publisher of Shock Cinema magazine, says of this production: “ I can’t imagine an uglier, more unbelievably inept piece of rotgut.” The aforementioned Michael Musto, while stating it was occasionally “quite hilarious,” nonetheless admitted the film was “unbearable, offensive… the whole thing looks like it cost less than two cents and a blow job.”
In 2010, a DVD release of “Black Devil Doll From Hell” was announced by Massacre Video. However, that was placed on indefinite hold; to date, the film remains out of home entertainment release channels. The film can be found on bootleg DVDs made from one of those 1980s VHS videos, and the entire production has been posted without permission on YouTube. But if you can sit through the whole thing without hitting fast-forward, then you deserve a smack across the skull for being the ultimate masochist.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!