Apr 14, 2011
What can be said about Black Devil Doll from Hell that hasn't been exorcised in the form of spittle from drooling cult film fanatics? Chester N. Turner's shot-on-video cult classic even went as far to inspire Jonathan Lewis, to a modest extent, to create Black Devil Doll, now arguably Rotten Cotton's mascot of sorts. Black Devil Doll from Hell yields a remarkable hold over most others populating its very specific niche of actual trash, and not just replicating trash. A very special aspect of the legend of Black Devil Doll from Hell is the mystery behind the "auteur" director, Chester Novell Turner. Vanishing after two feature films, the above mentioned and Tales from the Quadead Zone, Turner evaporated as quickly as he came, picking up notoriety with VHS cassette tapes that inflated in value. It has been revealed after many fans sacrificed lonely nights, slamming away at keyboards on various forums, that Mr. Turner allegedly passed away in a car accident in 1996, as was told by close friend and star of Black Devil ... Hell, Shirley Jones, during a horror convention. I can imagine this being a shock to most who simply guessed that he existed, far from the fringes of cinema, trying to cope with having made such bizarre and dubious films. After all, Chester Turner's Black Devil Doll from Hell remains one of the very limited examples of an African-American directing African-American cinema. As you may know, blaxploitation was a genre that was littered with the byproducts of whites and Jewish folk after the release of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Needless to say, Turner's aggravated Black expressionism tainted Black Devil Doll from Hell with a rebel authenticity and disregard for cinematic procedures, thus creating this fetid wreck of a film.
The version of which I am reviewing is a re-edited version assembled by David Ichikawa. Trimming the unnecessary long shots and editing a rock-oriented tune into the credits, this version of Black Devil Doll from Hell is unanimously referred to as the smoother cut. Painfully religious from the very start, Black Devil Doll from Hell's lead heroine - if you can stoop that low as to label her such - is a god-fearing woman named Helen Black. After telling her fellow church-going honeys that she is not interested in sex until marriage, Helen is accosted on the street by a dusty hustler taking her to his trunk, offering quality coats and color televisions (typical). This goes on with him lauding her as "mama" until she gets frustrated with his sins and denies his stifled advances. Following this scene is the introduction to Chester N. Turner's exquisite lo-fi casio-funk/sleaze score that resembles what would befall a song composed by a 4 year old if given periods of brief silence before each note, as if Chester Turner paused to remember which key to hit next. After a scene in which Chester Turner trails off on a tangent with his camera, detailing various artifacts to remind us of Helen's unwavering love for god, as if we forgot; she then leaves her house and enters a thrift store run by a Nigerian dwarf whose enthusiasm for Kwanzaa bleeds through the visually starched film. Scanning the shelves, Helen is drawn to a ventriloquist dummy with painted Negro skin and braids that have forever left a shadow of Rick James burned onto its reputation. While being warned by the grotesque shop owner, Chester N. Turner holds down a single note that subsequently wails over the voice track, drowning her warning.
The puppet is first given life on screen during a repulsive shower sequence in which Shirley Jones suds her naturally sagging breasts for what must be minutes. Giving into the strange demonic aura that must permeate through the shower curtains from the doll's gaze, Helen gives into her tribal desires and mimics a prototype of an Herbal Essences commercial before hamming it up with a "Oh God, what am I doing to myself?". From here on out is where Chester N. Turner's masterpiece dips into the deep end - puppet rape. What must be along the same fetishistic line that Nekromantik crossed with a makeshift phallic piece, Black Devil Doll from Hell also crosses with what begins as a rape scene with a black puppet; to her eventual succumbing to her primitive carnality and casting out the ruminations of a higher power. After the puppet disappears as the troll from Ghana foretold, Helen transcends into that ever-popular whore archetype and begins bedding down random Johns in a desperate attempt to rekindle that flame she once experienced (against her will but not actually). It just so happens that science has confirmed a staggering amount of women secretly are aroused by the idea of forceful, non-consensual intercourse. "Results indicated that 62% of women have had a rape fantasy...the median frequency of these fantasies was about 4 times per year, with 14% of participants reporting that they had rape fantasies at least once a week." I welcome such common truths in cinema and their unwillingness to shy away from "harsh" depictions of behaviors that are more common than good taste would let on. Besides from this certain point of Black Devil Doll from Hell; the film is utter garbage. Entertaining garbage - yes - but ultimately and undeniably detestable in every other regard.
Chester N. Turner's premature passing is a small stain on the hearts of few. Granted, had he continued living, his legacy would have most likely dwindled into obscurity. There would have been no reason for him to return to filmmaking - as his youthful fiery spirit towards creating cinematic abominations had already been long extinguished. Surely, family would be the only dominant current in his life (if he even had one), had he settled down. Not much is known about Chester N. Turner other than he was, in fact, a custodian of shit. I'm rather relieved he didn't live to see the state of horror and cult icons, traveling from convention to the next, offering no insight into films other than cheap DV dreams and a hefty price-tag on ink and laminate. Black Devil Doll from Hell is a film that I find myself torn between loving/hating. On one hand, I loathe the film's very creation - a gnarled root stemming from the VHS format; nothing of quality this considerably low should be worth so much. On the other hand, I laughed aloud on many unintentionally hilarious occasions and thoroughly enjoyed the experience and look forward to re-watching the flick with a group of friends. Instantly comparable to my personal favorite Don't Play With Me Part 2, the lot of shot-on-and-edited-on-cassette films are strangely fascinating to me. By no means a classic, but by everyone means digestible. Even if you despise its creation, even if it spoils an otherwise good mood; Black Devil Doll from Hell is, and will always be, fun to mock and bitch about.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 6:33 PM
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