Who’s Chester Novell Turner? He’s a correspondence-course filmmaker who shot two homemade horror opuses at the height of the home-video revolution: 1984’s Black Devil Doll from Hell and 1987’s Tales from the Quadead Zone. Until recently, these ultra-rare, ultra-obscure titles fetched hundreds of dollars on eBay. I might feel sorry for the poor bastards who shelled out so much money for these movies if not for the shared knowledge that they were void of talent; tracking issues are the least of the flicks’ problems.
That said, Black Devil Doll from Hell is something to see. (Hearing it is another story, what with Turner’s permeating Casio soundtrack, one theme of which is the shrill tone built into battery-operated smoke alarms.)
Helen Black (Shirley L. Jones) is a churchgoing, God-fearing woman whose resemblance to Tyler Perry’s insufferable Madea character is uncanny. One day, she visits an antique shop and is drawn to the titular puppet, which looks like funk singer Rick James, braids and all. Once Helen takes it home, the doll comes to life, exhales a visible cloud of bad breath into her face, ties her up and rapes her.
Heretofore a virgin, Helen finds herself liking being sexually assaulted by a piece of wood. But with the puppet inexplicably vanished, she is forced to seduce a number of men in order to recapture that special feeling. They don’t do a thing for her.
“That was an experience,” says Helen at one post-coital point. Agreed.
If Turner, Jones and everyone else involved weren’t African-Americans, Black Devil Doll from Hell likely would be the most racist movie on the planet. Oh, it still could be considered misogynist — “How you like that, bitch?” is one of the doll’s more print-friendly lines of pillow talk — so it’s not out of the realm of the insensitive and the offensive. (For the record, as stated on the box set’s great documentary that catches up with Turner and Jones today, she still has no qualms about the sex scenes.)
Nonetheless, with its jaw-dropping scenes, amateur-hour performances and pennies-on-the-dollar production values, its cult status is assured. See it with an open mind and an intoxicated bloodstream.
Black Devil Doll from Hell is a model of efficiency compared to Tales from the Quadead Zone, an anthology beginning with a quasi-rap. Although the title suggests four stories, Turner’s tales number three, if one includes the wraparound of a mother (Jones again) reading stories to the ghost of her deceased son, Bobby. The kid is depicted via chroma-key effects and objects moving by strings.
Family is a running theme through all the bits. “Food For?” concerns a vast clan of poverty-stricken rednecks who have so little vittles on the table, they literally must kill to ensure a chance to eat. “The Brothers” is about two siblings who hate one another, even after death. Despite a corpse in a clown suit being involved, this segment drags its feet to the point of being unwatchable.
I never thought I’d say this, but stick to the rapist ventriloquist’s dummy. —Rod Lott