For years, having any experience with Black Devil Doll From Hell or Tales From The Quadead Zone was a secret badge of honor amongst trash-video archaeologists. They only had tiny releases on obscure indie VHS labels and you really had to search to find original copies. It seems inconceivable that such ultra-cult items would ever get a proper commercial release but a new label called Massacre Video has done just that by releasing The Films Of Chester Novell Turner. The results preserve the low-rent charm of these films while shedding some light on how these demented relics of the VHS era came into being.
The Films Of Chester Novell Turner devotes one disc each to Black Devil Doll From Hell and Tales From The Quadead Zone, with transfers taken from Turner’s own video masters for each film. These were shot and edited on pre-digital equipment from the early ‘80s so they look pretty grainy and fuzzy — but that’s exactly how they are supposed to look. The audio on both sticks to the original mixes, preserving all the questionable mixing choices and hissy analog sounds you’d expect from no-budget video productions of this era.
Fans of Black Devil Doll From Hell will be gobsmacked to find out there are not one but two versions the film on that disc: there is Turner’s original “director’s cut” version and the shorter re-edit released by Hollywood Home Video. The latter is how many fans got to know the film so it’s nice to see it preserved here, quasi-hair metal theme music and all — and there is actually a bump in video quality on this version, too.
Massacre Video has also assembled a few extras for this set. Both films feature commentary tracks by Turner and his star/muse/collaborator Shirley Jones. Like the films themselves, the commentaries have a shambolic quality: the participants spend more time reacting to the movie than they do talking about it, though Turner offers the occasional factoid here and there (Tales probably has the better commentary of the two in this respect).
That said, the tracks are amusing if you view them as alternative listening experience instead of commentaries. Jones is particularly amusing on these tracks if you use this mindset: she hoots and hollers during the puppet-rape scene in Black Devil Doll From Hell and sometimes gets caught up in humming/singing with Turner’s musical scores.
Better yet, there is an interview featurette with Turner and Jones entitled “Return To The Quadead Zone” on the Black Devil Doll From Hell disc. It runs just over 34 minutes and features the two answering a series of questions from disc producer Louis Justin that allow them to lay out the story of how these films came together. A ton of issues that have intrigued fans for years are touched upon: the inspirations behind the doll’s looks, the response the film got from locals, how the infamous puppet-rape sequence was filmed and whatever became of Turner and Jones after their flirtation with home-video fame. The finished product is pretty engrossing, due in no small part to the personalities of the subjects: Turner is charmingly humble and enthusiastic while Jones is as vivacious and quirky as you might hope she’d be.
A few smaller extras round the discs out. Both feature brief animated image galleries that include the vintage VHS art plus Jones showing her original artwork for Tales From The Quadead Zone. There is also a quartet of spots for other Massacre Video releases that show their devotion to the outer fringes of VHS-era horror.
All in all, this a fitting tribute to Turner’s one-of-a-kind cinematic legacy. If you are a connoisseur of vintage home video lunacy, you won’t want to pass this set up.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Black Devil Doll From Hell, click here.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Tales From The Quadead Zone, click here.