Black Devil Doll from Hell
Chester N. Turner
Chester N. Turner
Reviewing shot-on-video (SOV) films from the 1980’s is a difficult prospect. Just how much to you weigh the technical limitations against what the creators were trying to accomplish? In a film like Sledgehammer (1983) you can see just how much director David Prior pushed back against those limitations. The visuals in a film like Boardinghouse (1982) either destroy or enhance an already loopy script. Film is a visual medium, so cinematography, editing, and design all do matter, but how much? In a film like Black Devil Doll from Hell, I feel the bargain basement look is an inseparable part of how the narrative is perceived. This is a story that couldn't exist on film, it was born for commercial grade VHS.
Helen Black (Shirley L. Jones) is a devout church goer who has little room for anything but religion in her life. After turning down a man selling obviously stolen goods from his car, she then berates a friend for living a sinful life. Helen suddenly decides to go to a junk store and buy a creepy looking doll complete with little white gloves and cornrows. She takes it home and parks it on (where else?) the toilet. The doll comes to life and watches her shower, later it attacks her, ties her to the bed and has its way with her. Helen, now with her inner doll-lust awakened, prowls the streets looking for a man who satisfy her as well as the Devil Doll could.
Make no mistake; Black Devil Doll from Hell is awful. It’s a dully lit mess, with acting that strives for amateurish, and a repetitive Casio keyboard soundtrack that will make you want to jam pencils in your head. If you can stomach this slurry, you’ll find a movie that feels deliciously wrong and raw in way that home video simulacrums like V/H/S (2012) can only hope to achieve.
The subtext of Black Devil Doll from Hell is about repression and the dangers of letting desires consume you, the fact that you have to gather that subtext while watch a puppet grope a woman for twenty minutes through the gritty snuff-film look of commercial grade camcorder equipment only serves to make the moment even more seedy and exploitative. The snuff video look of it, gives the story more edge than you would expect from such an inherently comedic scenario. It’s a story that wouldn’t be totally out of place in an episode of Tales from the Darkside… if Tales from the Darkside had a lengthy graphic scene of a doll licking a naked woman.
It’s a shame the film then squanders this edge by having the now doll-less Helen go on the hunt for a man who can sate her new found carnal lust. It takes too long, nothing particularly surprising happens and the audience is just left waiting for her to try and find the doll again. Once the story finally swings back around in that direction, things pick up again, but the moment is far too brief before the sudden ending.
Black Devil Doll from Hell is a film the definitely leaves an impression. Everyone I’ve had the pleasure of watching it with reacts with enthusiasm, nausea, or often a mixture of both.