Blaxploitation History Month: Black Devil Doll from Hell (1984)

Stranger things have happened—but that does not stop this from being pure weird! Chester Novell Turner cannot be stopped either. The future was still beckoning him into Tales from the Quadead Zone when he decided to start work on Black Devil Doll from Hell—a bizarrely ordinary story of corruption, death, and puppetry. Wholly fascinating and ironically irresistible, Black Devil Doll is supremely hated—but why?

Helen Black (Quadead Zone‘s Shirley L. Jones) is a God-fearing Christian who decides to buy a puppet from a thrift store. Little does she know that it contains the evil spirit of an East Indian magician, and is thus the Black Devil Doll from Hell! The Black Devil Doll grants the heart-felt wish of its owner, and in Helen’s case it turns out all that God stuff was bull, and she just wanted to get laid! So the Doll hilariously and freakishly abuses her into an orgasm, with lines like, “Now that you have smelt the foulness of my breath…you can taste the sweetness of my tongue!” His dialogue is interspersed with copious uses of the word “bitch”, as well, which doesn’t really add any horror, much less eroticism. Like he has before with his previous owners, he abandons Helen while she sleeps, and she realizes that she needs more. So she sleeps with a bunch of guys, though none that can satisfy her. She returns to the shop to pick up the doll again, but when she gets bitchy about him not screwing her, he kills her by giving her a nosebleed. Of course, he may live to screw again! Dun, dun…dun?

The mental implications presented by Black Devil Doll from Hell are intriguing. Certainly we’ve got anti-religious subtext present from Helen’s humble beginnings as a celibate Christian—who is corrupted not by flesh but by wood, something natural and yet not as close to God at flesh. She is being corrupted on a deeper and lower scale. That she can only find satisfaction with this seemingly-unliving thing may indicate some sort of necrophiliac ambition. What is more is that her tale of “falling” into a sexual lifestyle after being asexual for years is heavily mirrored in the course of puberty. Shirley’s puberty is delayed and that is why it has such a violent end—all those built up orgones just explode out of her head. The path she takes also mirrors that of fertility vs. impotence. We see that she has a large stuffed rabbit in her room—a fertility symbol in many cultures throughout the ages. Certainly the basis of Easter. The rabbit we later learn in animatronic, but it only turns on when the puppet gives Shirley the ax. Turns on…like an orgasm. The rabbit is fertile but the fertility activates upon Shirley’s death. It’s finality in death, totality in Thanatos—the infinite equation. Death and life, or perhaps, as Sons of Satan once said…“Life force to life force”.

Well played, Mister Turner. I get the impression you may not have known that putting death and fucking into a film together makes said film ripe for psychoanalysis. I’m glad you were busy with other things. For example, the film is aptly named, being a purely black space. Caucasians do not appear, nor do they seem welcome; the dialogue is written purely laced with that elegant Blaxploitation touch. White people can get lost, because there’s no way they can get away with the lines Turner inserts. I’ve yet to see someone of my own race master the proper way to call someone a bitch, in the way that this movie accomplishes. Bravo.

I do not consider myself a connoisseur of Blaxploitation cinema, but I am a trashophile, and this film satisfies me on a trash scale. The blips in the tape, the shallow sound, the Casio soundtrack—they all fit. It’s a “been there, done that” sort of affair, honestly, but the Blaxploitation elements, suited to ’80s suburban black culture, help out the film. There’s a distinct feel of casualness settled in the exploitation, too, that helps it pack the punch it does., Black Devil Doll from Hell does have the power to sustain itself and keeps it head above water, and it is epically weird, but it is relatively infamous as a plain bad film. I found it to have more life and more sentient psychology that Tales from the Quadead Zone, however, and that is a plus. So I’ll just say…screw it! Track it down and make a day of it.