“We all have our personal horror stories to tell.
May yours never be as devastating as Miss Helen Black’s.”
Well, as long as I don’t live a repressed life and pick up a random Rick James puppet from a thrift store, I think I’ll be good!
Seriously though, this is another one of those films you hear about on “so bad it’s good” lists or by word of mouth from friends that like oddball, low-budget films. And I can definitely declare that Chester N. Turner’s Black Devil Doll From Hell falls into both categories for me.
Released in 1984 after being filmed over several years on a budget of about $10,000, this felt like a labor of love to me on some levels. In comparison to stuff like Birdemic that is just so bad it’s truly bad, you get the impression that the folks behind this were actually trying to give it their best effort with what they had available. Turner even took a correspondence course on film making before starting this production. Originally intended to be part of an anthology film (Tales From The Quadead Zone, Turner’s only other film), the script ended up being too big to be just a short. So why not whip out the camcorder and the Casio keyboard (what better way to write and perform your own score and soundtrack) and make a feature-length film out of it?
Our story is that of Miss Helen Black, a devout and pure woman saving herself for marriage. One day she enters an antique shop and notices a ventriloquist dummy sporting impressive cornrow braids (which actually were inspired by Rick James). The shopkeeper warns her that the dummy’s original owner was “an East Indian” and that the doll grants the owner’s “most heartfelt desire”. She also tells Helen that she has sold the doll 4 times already, but each time the doll somehow finds its way back to the shop.
After purchasing the doll and getting home with it, Helen takes a shower with the doll sitting on the toilet. That’s when the puppet wakes and uses its apparently telekinetic powers to slowly slide open the shower curtain and get a gander at a wet, soapy, and suddenly aroused Helen!
Confused by these feelings, Helen decides to sleep on it, only to have some rather dark erotic dreams featuring the puppet. After a bit of “How’d you get over there?!?” with the puppet moving around on its own, it jumps her after another shower (just like in the dream!) and knocks her out cold. Waking up later, confused and tied to the bed, Helen is raped by the puppet. The effect this assault has on her is to awaken her repressed sexual desires to the point of her begging to be fucked by the puppet. (Funny outtake: The puppet’s head popped off during the filming of the sex scenes. Talk about getting a little head!)
The next day, the puppet is nowhere to be found. Cue a montage of Helen cleaning her house for the next several minutes. Sure, she can clean her house, but she can never clean this stain upon her soul. In wanton desperation to satisfy her new-found lust, she invites in a street hustler she had ignored and rebuked the day before. But even his mighty and sweaty hip action cannot satisfy her. This bit made me think Turner was probably influenced some by the classic adult film The Devil In Miss Jones, where a repressed virgin is introduced to sex and depravity after death and is eventually condemned to a Hell where she cannot get any sexual gratification, no matter how much she pleads or begs. Following the disappointing sex and Helen telling him, “Just finish up, and get the hell out”, we are given the most terrifying moment of the movie: A full-frame close-up of the street hustler giving us his “O” face. **shudder**
As with any possessed doll movie, you know things ain’t gonna end well for Helen. Granted the real life happy ending for Shirley L. Jones, who played Helen, is that she ended up marrying the director after the production was completed.
The cut I watched was just over 90 minutes on Shudder. There is a VHS cut out there that was butchered down to 70 minutes by Hollywood Home Video without Turner’s input after they had picked it up for distribution. Granted, I can see where many things could be trimmed here and there throughout, but it’s still kinda shitty to cut a person’s film without them. There remains the look and feel of having just popped in a much-loved videotape, complete with tracking distortions and warbles throughout. Given the content of the movie, by the end I felt like someone had meant to give me their home movie but accidentally gave me one of their home-made soft core fetish porn tapes instead!
Until next time, Fright Fans, keep it weird and keep watching!