There is a legend surrounding homemade horror moviemaker Chester Novell Turner, a legend that may or may not be deserved. For some, his Black Devil Doll from Hell and its anthology companion piece Tales from the QuadeaD Zone are lost artifacts from a time when cinema only required a camcorder, a willing cast, and an idea. Call it the Things era of fright flicks, a cultural point when even the most talent-free individual could load up a Super VHS tape with their most foul, fetid visions, but for many, these bottom of the Mom and Pop video shelf epics deserve preservation and perspective. For others - and sadly, I believe yours truly to be part of this vocal minority - they're junk excuses for entertainment cobbled together by someone without the basic skills for making memorable movies. The new two DVD release by Massacre Video, offering up both films for your viewing "pleasure," may go a long way in managing Turner's myth since it seems so much of it was based on the relative unavailability of his work.
Here's is a brief rundown of each film, and a mandatory score:
Black Devil Doll from Hell (Score: **)
A highly religious young woman (Shirley L. Jones) who is saving herself for marriage decides to stop off at a local thrift store. There, she discovers an unusual doll with braided hair and a suave leisure suit. Desperate to buy it, she is warned by the curse-claiming clerk that the object is "haunted." Paying her no mind, our heroine buys the toy and immediately turns into a nympho. When she's not touching herself in the shower, she's fantasizing about having sex with the puppet. Then the thing comes to life, calls her a "bitch," and puts the booty smackdown on her. The undersized schtupping is so good that our lead just isn't satisfied with other men. Then the doll ends up back in the thrift store, where the price to pay for its this time is steep indeed.
Tales from the QuadeaD Zone (Score: *1/2)
A lonely woman (Shirley L. Jones) believes that her dead son is still alive. When she asks the "child" if he wants her to read him a story, a book magically appears. As she reads it, we see visualizations of the various tales. The first involves a family who are so poor that cannot feed everyone at the table. Over the course of time, their numbers "decrease," often in violent ways. Then a man goes to a funeral home and steals a body. He plans of burying it in his basement and dressing it up in a clown suit as personal payback and humiliation. Then the corpse comes to life and seeks revenge. Finally, the woman's husband comes home and discovers she is reading to her "boy." He beats her, so she stabs him to death.
Wow, what a load of horse hockey we have here. Those who've longed to own these films were either incredibly high when they first saw them or have determined that talent free attempts at competent moviemaking are right up their alley. Turner can be commended for being one of the few artists working within a determined African American dynamic, but the all black casts do nothing for these film. They're just a collection of horror cliches dressed up in a Casio keyboard soundtrack that is Hellbent on grating your last nerves down to a misfiring quick. Every time something happens - Ms. Jones gets naked, the doll goes gozno, the inbred family feuds over food - Turner cranks up his mini-Moog and lets loose with a few single note accents. He then hits the "break" button on the percussion track so that a robotic bit of filler will find its way into the flat 4/4 approach. It's all so surreal, and when it works (which is VERY, VERY, RARELY) you get where people are coming from in their CNT appreciation.
But unlike The Room, or Birdemic, or any number of current crap cult items, both Black Devil Doll from Hell and Tales from the QuadeaD Zone feel like single paragraph ideas that need a lot of fleshing out - and we're not talking about Ms. Jones dropping blou or trou. With the dummy, it's just 50 long minutes until our heroine is humping and then another 30 as she yearns for more...wood and the omnibus of QuadeaD never builds to anything. The three stories play like a 12 year old's interpretation of a Tales from the Crypt comic. These are" so bad they're great." Instead, both Devil Doll and QuadeaD are for the converted only. No one else will be able to stomach their long slog slip into irrelevance.
THE DVD: Devil Doll. Add in some trailers and a couple of still galleries and you've got bonus features which outrank the rotten movies they supplement and support.
Issue number two in the ongoing tally against this release are the transfers. Now, Massacre is to be commended for coming right out and saying "these are bad images of less than stellar VHS copies, so get over it" but the result is an offense to the latest digital technologies. Your flat screen will groan over the latticed and analog flaws in both prints. Devil Doll is worse than QuadeaD, but that's probably because it is rarer. After all, this is the full length director's cut. A previous, more "pristine" version of the film was released before and it is included here as well. Shorn of some significant minutes and looking much better, this is the 1.33:1 full screen experience to enjoy. The others are barely tolerable...and let's not talk about the ear piercing tinniness and distortion present in the Dolby Digital Stereo mix. There are times when the music and the ambient noise drowns out the dialogue and other important exposition.
Listen, for those who've waited forever and refused to pay out the nose for a copy of these films, Massacre Video has made your day. No matter what I feel about these efforts, they are now available to spoil your good mood and ruin your reputation as a thoughtful film fan. Of the two, Black Devil Doll from Hell would rate a RENT IT. Tales from the QuadeaD Zone is pure SKIP IT territory. That renders the boxset on the cusp, and since the DVD package is so questionable, a final score is tough. For the extras alone, a final Rent It will be offered. Again, the legend of Charles Novell Turner may be a reason to revisit these films. Unfortunately, the legend is more interesting than the movies themselves.