Ginger Nuts of Horror
"If awful were a zen art, you are witnessing it in action for 90 minutes here."
Dir. Chester Novell Turner, USA, 91 min
Now, I was roughly aware of what I was getting myself into with this movie. It's featured on a huge range of worst horror films ever made, and has even ranked highly among lists of the worst movies made in any genre. I was under no illusions there was a chance of this being a sleeper hit, or a low-budget film that far exceeded expectations with great writing, plotting and acting. This was and could only be awful.
Yet somehow Black Devil Doll from Hell feels like a movie in its own category of awful. If awful were a zen art, you are witnessing it in action for 90 minutes here.
Let's cover the essentials before we dig a bit deeper – Black Devil Doll From Hell follows the story of Miss Helen Black, a young, god-fearing, churchgoing lady determined to retain her virginity until she gets married. She leads a simple and lonely life until she heads into a local antique store and discovers a large doll, which she is immediately drawn to. In a grand horror tradition, the shopkeeper tells her that the doll is supposed to give you your most heartfelt desire, but that it has been bought four times and always returned to the store. Helen decides to buy the doll anyway, despite this dire warning, and it's not long before it's in her house doing creepy doll stuff, moving around the house of its own volition, moving its head and opening its eyes to watch her in the shower. You know, creepy doll stuff. Then it goes even further by given Helen her most heartfelt wish – taking her virginity in what is probably the weirdest rape scene you're ever liable to see, not helped by the bonkers cartoonish voice of the doll itself. This creepy-as-hell incident sparks off a sexual awakening in Helen, who tries to find a man to satisfy her, but nothing can make her terrifying wooden companion – who has of course wound its way back to the antique store to await its next unsuspecting victim...
Now that plot may not sounds great, but that summary doesn't do justice to how far it misses 'great'. It moves slowly and ponderously, there are huge scenes where remarkably little happens and you suspect any film editor worth their salt would be looking to move through things at a much better pace. The editing that does exist is choppy and messy, cutting to another scene or a different angle seemingly at random, or as though it was a surprise to the person involved.
To diagnose everything wrong with this movie would take a long time, so I'll try and give some of the highlights here. The opening credits are nothing but a list of names that run for nearly seven minutes over a soundtrack literally played on an 80's Casio keyboard – and that is what makes up the majority of the soundtrack, often overly loud and grating. To top that of, it's shot on an old VHS camcorder and nobody seems to have sorted out the tracking issues before putting this movie out!
And from that opening you are deeply into 'what the hell' territory – almost everything about this movie defies belief. The acting is atrocious, the direction is terrible and the story meanders around, spending most of its time going nowhere, the soundtrack is monotonous and irritating, the effects are laughable – when you do see the doll walk around it's obviously a kid in a costume, and there is one scene where you can literally see the arm of the puppet operator – and the whole thing is generally a trainwreck.
Despite all of the above, or perhaps because of all the above, this movie remains a firm cult favourite and has an audience that loves it to this day – it's not that long since it had a DVD release with the director's other movie, Tales From The Quadead Zone. In the vein of Troll 2 or Manos: The Hands of Fate, by getting everything wrong in a perfect storm of lousiness it has retained a place in film history. This will probably last even longer in the collective consciousness than many good or OK films from its era, mainly because of people's bad movie nights and the presence of a good many beers. Watching it alone of a quiet afternoon as I did is probably entirely the wrong arena in which to enjoy this movie, I'm happy to admit that. But even then there was a certain appeal – this is a miracle of bad filmmaking and you can't help but marvel at the terrible decisions that made it be. And if you're out there trying to make a film, there is literally no way you could do it worse than this.
RATING: 4/10. This movie is terrible, don't get me wrong. But there is a certain degree of entertainment to be had in watching Black Devil Doll From Hell because it somehow gets literally everything wrong. And in that respect it is spectacular. It'll have you shaking your head, it'll have you cringing, and it'll probably have you laughing at the most horribly inappropriate moments with its direness. I've never much subscribed to the 'so bad it's good' theory, so for me this is more 'so bad it has to be seen to be believed.' It gets 4/10 because other movies have bored me more, and there were chuckles there, just probably not where anybody meant them to be...