BLACK DEVIL DOLL FROM HELL
Color, 1984, 87m.
Directed by Chester Novell Turner
Starring Shirley L. Jones, Rickey Roach, Chester Tankersley, Obie Dunson, Keefe Turner
TALES FROM THE QUADEAD ZONE
Color, 1987, 62m.
Directed by Chester Novell Turner
Starring Shirley L. Jones,
Doug Davenport, Kim Nichols, Larry Jones, Lawrence R. Jones, William Jones, John W. Jones
Massacre Video (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
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. Tucked away in the hidden corners of mom and pop video stores, this foul-mouthed and foul-tempered riff on the most famous segment from Trilogy of Terror was enough to catch the attention of more than a few genre fanzines who had a field day reprinting some of the title character's most memorable one liners (usually beginning or ending with "bitch").
So, what exactly is the black devil doll from hell? It's an evil dummy purchased at a thrift store by Helen Black (Jones), an ultra devout churchgoer. She's informed by the owner that this doll will grant the owner's most heartfelt wish, and as soon as she takes it home, the doll takes on a life of its own. First it scurries around and watches Helen soap herself up in the shower, and then it finally climbs on top of her while she's asleep and, after spewing hellfire smoke out of its mouth, has its way with her in what could very well be the most deliberately ridiculous rape scene ever filmed. Finding herself sexually insatiable in the aftermath of her demonic deflowering, Helen turns into a rampaging bar floozy picking up anonymous men who can't seem to scratch the itch she now craves. As you can imagine, it's all downhill from there.
Love it or hate it, there's no way you'll ever forget Black Devil Doll from Hell. The monotonous (and loud) Casio soundtrack, hallucinatory pacing, profane script, and amateur performances combine to create a DIY video project so far removed from anything remotely resembling normality that most wondered how it ever escaped onto commercial VHS release at all. If ever there was a party tape for the horror home movie crowd, this is it. As word spread about this sick little puppy, fan demand rose dramatically despite the fact that the VHS was very difficult to find by the end of the '80s. Bootlegged copies spread like wildfire, and copies of the commercial VHS release became some of the expensive on the market, ranking alongside titles like Don't Go to Sleep and Dark Night of the Scarecrow (before the latter finally hit DVD and Blu-ray).
Interestingly, the most commonly seen version of Black Devil Doll from Hell courtesy of Hollywood Home Theater was a revised version of Turner's original, tightening the pace by removing 13 minutes (including a lot of showering) and slapping a raucous hard rock track over some newly created credits. The longer director's cut was far more difficult to see, but fortunately that isn't a problem now that Massacre Video has unleashed both cuts as part of their DVD set containing the entire oeuvre of Chester Novell Turner. (That actually amounts to two movies, but more on that in a minute.) The longer cut is the default one on the disc, and as expected, it's in less than pristine shape given the source. You'll see warping and wobbling in the image and other anomalies common with dupey VHS copies, but apparently this is all that exists -- so we'll definitely take it. Also included is the familiar 74-minute Hollywood Home Theatre version in substantially better quality; this is by far the best the film has ever looked, and questionable music alterations aside, this might be the option many fans will prefer to show off to unsuspecting victims. To give you an idea, the two frame grabs to the left of this paragraph are from the Hollywood cut, while the three above are from the director's cut.
In what can only be classified as one of the greatest coups of SOV horror history, Massacre Video also got Turner and Jones to record a full audio commentary for the film, and it's every bit as fun as you might expect. Turner goes more into production details as he explains the mechanics of the doll and how they managed to turn it into a replica of Rick James, while Jones manages to turn this into one of the greatest commentaries of all time by yelling "There's my baby!" when the doll first appears and evaluating her nude shower scene with "That's some big ol' nipples right there." Also included on the disc is the 35-minute featurette "Return to the Quadead Zone," which features Turner and Jones talking about the influence of Universal monster movies, getting the project and its successor off the ground, feeding everyone during the shoot, bouncing between Alabama and Chicago, making up crew names to fill out the credits, not taking themselves too seriously, and making very little money off the end results. Jones calls the doll sex scenes "kinda cool," too. A 55-second still gallery also features some promotional artwork and reviews.
So now you're probably asking, what exactly is a Quadead Zone? That's a reference to Turner's second movie, Tales from the Quadead Zone, which also went straight to VHS in '87 and became an even more elusive collector's item. Though you don't get a potty-mouth rapist demon doll in this one, you do get a horror anthology comprised of three stories introduced by a rap main title sequence that offers a fairly good idea of what's in store. Jones returns as a grieving mom reading a book (entitled Tales from the Quadead Zone, of course) to the ghost of her dead son, starting off with a redneck number called "Food for ?" It's basically the story of some country bumpkins who don't have enough money to feed all eight family members. Every night the dinner table gets more and more tense, leading to a violent finish. Next up is "Brothers," in which successful exec Fred passes away only to leave his jealous janitor brother so upset that he steals the body and plans to deface it by dressing the corpse up as a clown. It gets even weirder from there. Finally in a nod to Asylum (or, err, maybe not), Jones and her ghost kid take center stage for the wraparound / third story in which her husband comes home and everything goes to hell.
A harbinger of all of the Sub Rosa horror anthologies to come in the DVD era, Tales from the Quadead Zone is bargain basement horror filmmaking at its daffiest with plenty of do-it-yourself gore and the same mixture of droning music and arbitrary plotting from Turner's prior epic. The outrage factor is severely toned down, of course, but there's no mistaking the auteur behind the camera here. It also runs just over an hour, which means the film never has a chance to wear out its welcome if you're in the right frame of mind. Much of its production is covered in the featurette on the first disc, but the Massacre Video edition gives the film its own second DVD complete with an additional Turner/Jones commentary covering the film's inception (basically he had a couple of ideas that couldn't justify a full feature on their own) and the reason almost every actor in the film is named Jones. Also included are a brief additional company logo for BC Video from the scarce original VHS release and bonus trailers for 555, Orozco the Embalmer, Junk Films, and Demon Queen. You know you need this.
Reviewed on October 29, 2013.