ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn
Shot on video in real Chicago locations over several years for a reported total of $10,000, Black Devil Doll from Hell is one of the most famous SOV movies ever made, preceding the more successful Chicago-based Child’s Play by four years.
The story concerns a religious woman named Helen Black (Shirley L. Jones) in a constant struggle to remain abstinent in a society filled with temptation. It turns out, as with most religious zealots, she’s really just as horny as the rest of us. A fact revealed when she buys a puppet resembling Rick James in is “cocaine is a helluva drug” phase in a local thrift store. The sales woman warns Helen that the puppet is said to grant its owner their one greatest wish before returning to the shop on its own. Turns out Helen’s greatest wish is to get tied up and assaulted by a Rick James puppet while a stuffed bunny with a whistle in its mouth watches. <Insert Superfreak joke here>
The next day, the puppet returns himself to the shop as predicted. Helen throws away all her bibles and seduces several locals including a thief (Rickey Roach) who, upon hearing her story exclaims, “You were raped by a puppet? I’ve heard better stories than this before!” Really?? That’s a movie I’d like to see!
Of course, no human can satisfy Helen like the puppet and she returns to the shop to buy it again. When the puppet refuses to make love to her, she threatens it. The puppet gets angry, the rabbit comes to life and Helen dies of a seizure. The film ends with yet another customer bringing the puppet home.
Puppet porn and cheesy dialogue aside, this movie is a gem of a time capsule, filled with décor, locations and technology of the dawn of the SOV age. The opening titles and end credits, which add up to a total running time of over 7 minutes, appear to have been made on an Amiga Video Toaster. The footage is dark, blurry and grainy. The score, written and performed by director Chester Novell Turner, is a concerted effort to replicate any or all of John Carpenter’s themes with what sounds like a Casio keyboard recorded directly onto the boom box we see at 6:51 using the built-in mic. Ahhh, memories.
The wall-mounted phone on the breakfast nook wall…the big-ass alarm clock with the annoying buzzer…it all brought back memories of a time when struggling indie filmmakers, even those armed with cutting edge 1984 tech, had to overcome many obstacles just to get their humble puppet porn finished.
The tracking lines at the top of the frame made me long for the days of a 2-mile walk down to my local video store (housed in a barn) to rent a movie I was too young to watch, and buy a bag of Tato Skins and a Mandarin Orange Slice for later using the money I earned from babysitting and mowing lawns.
My favorite thing (besides the foul-mouthed devil doll himself) is Helen’s lovely sofa she keeps covered in a thick sheet of plastic. If you grew up in the ‘70s or ‘80s in a working-class environment, you either knew or had in your own family an aunt or grandma who had a plastic-covered couch to “keep you kids from messing it up.”
It’s not often modern audiences get to see a horror film like this one. There’s no CGI, and no pretentious storyline about familial trauma like the ones we get in so-called elevated horror films. It’s an evil puppet with beaded braids, a naked lady, a camcorder and a Casio keyboard. That’s pretty much it. Hey, they did the best they could, okay? It’s a miracle Chester Turner finished this film let alone sold it. Further kudos to the Turner for reportedly paying everyone involved. That’s generally not something you see in the SOV world. Especially in movies with devil dolls from hell with mad love-making skills.
If you’re curious, you can seek out the Massacre DVD release from 2013 or watch the extended cut here:
Hilariously on-point review!