Black History Month : Black Devil From Hell / a Review

     Black Devil Doll From Hell or Chester Turners Revenge

  A Review by James Goodridge

“This is bad, very bad … but I love it,” I say to myself while clicking through a cornucopia of videos, reviews, soundtrack music, and other snippets, but not the full-length movie Black Devil Doll From Hell or BDDFH. Now I have a macabre love for B movies be it Sci-Fi or Horror the more absurd (see Scream Baby Scream 1969) or Grind House the better. With some low budget movies watching them you get a sense that they were made for the quick buck, but some have a feel that passion was injected into the movie kind of an Ed Wood radiance.

BDDFH was written, directed, music scored and produced by Chester Turner. Starring Shirley Jones, it was filmed in 1984 in Chicago for under $10,000 using a video camera, a VCR and a Casio organ for soundtrack music.

The ’80s were an era of mobile video freedom for people to create, a challenge to would-be amateur filmmakers. Mr. Turner took up the challenge. The plot surrounds Helen Black(Jones) a God-fearing woman who buys a three-foot doll with Rick James corn rolls from a strange gift shop, not aware that the doll is possessed by the devil. Later in the slow-paced movie, the doll comes to life and attacks her in the shower. For the rest of the movie, we’re tormented by devil doll’s old hustler voice harassing Helen as she has succumbed to his power, going on the prowl to pick up men for sexual gratification. Obie Dunson plays the Preacher in some scenes.

Years later, Turner said he stayed up three days and nights writing the script. Maybe I’m wrong because I had a hard time following parts of the movie and there is barely a plot. Now I must say that the doll itself is creepy, one of those old ventriloquist dummies with the huge eyes and to Turner’s credit you do get a visceral sense of unease.

The Casio droning on in the background makes you wish it would stop. Scenes lingering too long, stiff acting and bad lighting doom this labor of love Chester Turner produced. Selling the movie on VHS from the trunk of his car then making sales pitches in-person to video store owners generated limited profits for Turner and Jones (they were in a relationship at the time) and soon the movie was forgotten with Turner and Jones moving on to create Tales From the Quadead Zone (1987).

Over the decades,  social media has not been kind to BDDFH with would-be reviewers piling on with bad reviews. I came across one reviewer on YouTube using a racial slur when talking about Ms. Jones’s looks. But a documentary Adjust Your Tracking (2013) and a Daily Grind House article in 2013 revived interest in BDDFH. It is now the holy grail when it comes to VHS tape collectors with a tape selling between $ 419 to $1,000 online.  

Internet detective work helped me come across a Q & A segment at the 2013 Austin Film Society Festival featuring Turner and Jones. The movie now in cult status, Turner answered questions with humbleness and grace while Jones is reserved and matter of fact. Both feel vindicated, Turner still has the master copy and was redistributing it on DVD. In 2001

A non-related remake of BDDFH was released on DVD. A soft porn splatter movie mess, the best I can say about it is that… I’ll get back to you a few years from now maybe with some kind words.

At the end of the day Turner and Jones chased their dream with passion.

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