One of the most hot­ly debat­ed films in the schlock world dur­ing 2009 was Black Devil Doll.  This pseudo-remake of an infa­mous shot-on-VHS hor­ror cheap­ie from the 1980’s act­ed as a line in the sand, polar­iz­ing the exploita­tion flick-lov­ing faith­ful.  Reviews from were always even divid­ed: either Black Devil Doll was the sec­ond com­ing of exploita­tion cin­e­ma or it was an aggres­sive­ly-pitched hype that seduced the eas­i­ly-duped true believ­ers.  As usu­al, the truth lies some­where in the mid­dle.

Black Devil Doll starts by intro­duc­ing us to Heather (Heather Murphy), a bux­om but sim­ple­mind­ed good time girl.  One night, she fools around with a Ouija board that zaps the evil spir­it of an exe­cut­ed African-American mass mur­der­er into her ven­tril­o­quist dum­my.  In short order, the dum­my seduces her and she falls for the now jive-talk­ing hunk of plas­tic.  Unfortunately, one sex part­ner isn’t enough for the doll so he gets her to invite over some friends for a sleep­over.  This is when the doll’s oth­er need — a need for bloody car­nage — takes over…

It’s a solid setup for low­brow laughs & thrills and, on a pure con­tent lev­el, Black Devil Doll deliv­ers the exploita­tive goods.  There are acres of bare flesh, a decent amount of car­toon­ish gore and a steady onslaught of raunchy humor.  It knows no shame (rape and racism are the major sources of its humor) and aggres­sive­ly goes for the gus­to in a way that grind­house fans will adore.  Unfortunately, Black Devil Doll can’t quite sus­tain its run­ning time.  After about a half hour, it becomes obvi­ous that the film­mak­ers had about 30 to 40 min­utes worth of actu­al sto­ry mate­ri­al and decid­ed to pad out the rest of the run­ning time with skits and riffs on what­ev­er came to mind.

As a result, Black Devil Doll mean­ders when it should be tight­en­ing up, with the plot act­ing as a loose thread on which sev­er­al digres­sions are hung.  Some pay off nice­ly: the best is a scene of Heather’s pals wash­ing a car that becomes an over-the-top par­o­dy of over­sexed hip-hop videos.  When the digres­sions don’t work, you get numb­ing excur­sions into poop jokes and extend­ed takes of strip­pers soap­ing up their sil­i­cone-bom­bard­ed breasts.  Black Devil Doll also boasts the longest end-cred­its scene in recent mem­o­ry, built around in-jokey gags that aren’t as fun­ny as the film­mak­ers thought they were.

It doesn’t help that the per­for­mances are most­ly awful.  Granted, no sen­si­ble per­son should expect Shakespearean act­ing in a film like this but is it too much ask for a lit­tle charis­ma?  Heather and her pals are all inter­change­able, none show­ing a trace of per­son­al­i­ty beyond gener­ic sexbomb man­ner­isms.  In fair­ness, Martin Boone does score a few chuck­les as White-T, a faux gangsta, but the liveli­est, wit­ti­est work comes from the doll him­self, who basi­cal­ly car­ries the flick on his lit­tle plas­tic shoul­ders.

However, Black Devil Doll does sur­prise with its unex­pect­ed lev­el of tech­ni­cal pol­ish.  The James Bond-par­o­dy title sequence and a few oth­er visu­al effects boast above-aver­age CGI work for a no-bud­get pro­duc­tion.  There’s also a cer­tain sophis­ti­ca­tion to the edit­ing, includ­ing some inspired use of mov­ing, mul­ti-split screen effects (kudos to John Osteen, who served as CGI design­er, co-edi­tor and cin­e­matog­ra­pher).  The end result has a slick­er, more visu­al­ly imag­i­na­tive style than most films at this bud­getary lev­el ever have.  Your Humble Reviewer was left feel­ing there is tal­ent here but, cre­ative­ly speak­ing, it’s just tak­ing the eas­i­est way out.

In short, the folks behind Black Devil Doll have more tech­ni­cal skill and poten­tial than their detrac­tors are will­ing to admit but their admir­ers are over­look­ing  their lack of focus and weak sto­ry­telling chops.  Hopefully, next time the Lewis broth­ers will try to com­pete with the best exam­ples of the grind­house era instead of its worst and invest more effort in the conceptual/script phase of their project.

General Audiences” Trailer — But Still Pretty Much Not Safe For Work: