[DVD Review] Massacre Video Resurrects the ‘Films of Chester Novell Turner’

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Anyone who’s a SOV horror fan knows the name Chester Novell Turner. Back in the mid-80s, Turner wrote and directed two no-budget films that have gone on to become somewhat renowned in the underground. Black Devil Doll From Hell (1984), about a good-natured woman molested by a jive-talking ventriloquist’s dummy, and Tales From the QuadeaD Zone (1987), an anthology featuring a family of starving hillbillies and a killer clown, became infamous essentially through word of mouth and bootlegs. One VHS copy of QuadeaD Zone sold for $700 on eBay and recently, that same copy was sold for $1,300. Someday that copy may end up in the Smithsonian, but for now, there’s thankfully the more affordable DVD box set.

Despite having a cult following, Turner himself had been silent about his films. Even during this information age we’re living in, finding any information on the filmmaker was nearly impossible. Rumors even circulated online that he had died in a car accident. Then Louis Justin of Massacre Video managed to track him down in Chicago and the filmmaker (now in his 70s) agreed to sell him the rights to his two films. Now the films are touring select theaters and a 2-disc box set packed with features is available on the cheap.

By any traditional standards they’re not good films. They’re poorly edited and feature some inept acting (in QuadeaD Zone, Turner’s brother Keefe delivers one of the most painful fits of laughter I’ve ever seen). But whether or not you like the films, there’s no denying the conviction behind them. Turner made these films because he wanted to, not because he expected to make money or go to the Oscars someday. He and star Shirley L. Jones state frequently in the DVD’s documentary that it was all for fun – they had a blast making movies so that’s what they did. Call it trash, but ya gotta admire that enthusiasm.

Black Devil Doll is an uncomfortable riot featuring puppet-on-human sex, a disturbing child stand-in, and some of the filthiest dirty talk ever spoken from the mouth of a Rick James-lookalike dummy. It’s absolutely ridiculous, but completely self-aware. People looking for a so-bad-it’s-good fix should look elsewhere because Turner is totally in on the joke as the sleazy puppet has “marvelous” sex with Jones. The ending is so perfect too, like a slasher franchise icon refusing to die, the devil doll’s dick can’t be stopped!

Three years later Turner made the anthology Tales from the QuadeaD Zone. Like Black Devil Doll this is a no-budget, SOV labor of mad love. The wraparound story involves a mother (Jones) reading the stories to her son – who is a ghost. When the ghost son communicates with her, her hair blows like she’s pointing a blow-dryer at herself (this is actually how the effect was most likely pulled off) and she seems like she’s getting off on it. It’s funny the first few times, then pretty awkward. He’s your son, stop looking all sexy when he ghost-talks to you.

The first tale, “Food For,” is about a poor family who turns on each other at the dinner table. It’s only about three minutes long and SO weird. The second tale, “The Brother,” is a mean little story of supernatural revenge. A spiteful man steals his brother’s corpse from the funeral home and dresses him up like a clown. This has got to be one of the weirdest acts of revenge ever. When the brother is reanimated (somehow), there’s an effect on his voice that makes him almost impossible to understand. The film then goes back to the wraparound story, which has it’s own brutal ending!

Black Devil Doll From Hell is a far more entertaining experience than QuadeaD Zone, but they both have their merits and charm. QuadeaD Zone has been impossibly rare for so long that fans of SOV horror will definitely want to snatch this set up. The special features are great too, so don’t sleep on this release.

A/V

The source is a VHS tape, so it is what it is. Both films are completely watchable though.

Special Features

Both films feature commentary from Turner and Jones, who both look back fondly on their experiences. Like I mentioned earlier, it was all about having fun for them. There’s no remorse over wasted money or time. Jones even refers to the films as “her babies” at one point. A lot of what they discuss in the commentary is also covered in the half hour documentary.

The documentary is mainly Turner and Jones talking about the films – particularly how they made them. It’s a fun feature, with some old photos and posters enriching the interviews.

Massacre Video also threw in the alternate version of Black Devil Doll From Hell, which was cut by Turner’s distributor, Hollywood Home Video. They edited out 70 minutes (in hopes of getting it shown on television) and switched out Turner’s own Casio-heavy score for some excruciatingly cheesy ’80s metal.

Stills gallery and trailers.

 

Official Score