Monday, June 10, 2024

Demond Doll (1987)

... aka: Doll, The
... aka: Hell Doll
... aka: Infernal Doom
... aka: Joker, The
... aka: Muerte infernal (Infernal Death)

Directed by:
Roberto Guinar (uncredited)
Ronald Wertheim

According to Señor Hernandez over at Trash-Mex, who was able to speak to the film's producer, this ultra-obscure curio was filmed in English in Mexico City in the late 80s. It was released theatrically in the U.S. soon after by Great World Pictures out of Los Angeles. Don't worry, I've never heard of them before either. The poster has an R rating on it which, unless they're lying (wouldn't be the first time), means it had been submitted to the MPAA. After what one can assume was an extremely limited theatrical run, the film was never released on VHS here in the U.S. but did turn up on home video in Mexico in 1992. Without the producer's authorization, someone had gotten their hands on it, re-dubbed it into Spanish and re-titled it Muerte infernal ("Infernal Death"). 

Nearly two decades later, the original English-language version mysteriously surfaced again, this time being hawked on DVD-R by bootleggers under another new title (Hell Doll). This cut also contains extra scenes (including stock footage of bullfighting and Brazilian Carnival dancers) that had been removed from the Mexican VHS version. At around the same time, Guinar uploaded a (rather sloppily put together) two minute trailer for "Hell Doll" to his Youtube page, which can be viewed RIGHT HERE.

While this is currently listed nearly everywhere as a 1992 release under the Muerte infernal title, I'm going to roll with 1987 per the end credits copyright date and use the title on the original U.S. theatrical poster, Demond Doll. And, yes, even having to type out "Demond" irks the hell out of me. I want to call this "Demon Doll" so damn bad. Was it supposed to be "Demondoll," one word, and they accidentally added an extra d? Was it actually supposed to be "Demond" and, if so, what does that even mean? Figuring this was just a word I'd never heard of before, I tried to translate it (nope) and look it up (nada). The only thing I came up with was "a boy's name of American origin that means 'of man'". What am I missing here folks?

Attractive young widow Julia Mercero (Erika Carlsson - THE DRACULA DYNASTY) runs "The House of Dolls" shop out of her home, along with her grown son Lawrence (Benny Corral), who designs creepy masks. Right away, you can tell this isn't your usual mother / son relationship, at least not outside of Appalachia. She longingly watches him as he washes up and parades around the home in a negligee. He's needy, overly sensitive, whines like a young child ("Ma-ma-mommy please!") and can't seem to keep his hands off of her. The two run their fingers through each other's hair and over each other's faces, hug, hold hands, rub noses, kiss on the lips, lie on bed together in each other's arms and do other icky things.

Even though these two clearly share too much already, one thing mom's not ready to divulge is what's really in a large wooden box with holes drilled in it down in the store room. She claims it's a wedding keepsake, "a very special doll," gifted to her from her late husband, who died before Lawrence was even born. When the son asks, "Is he big?" her face lightens up as she responds "He is!" Since he has the maturity level of a young child, Lawrence refuses to STFU about the doll, driving his mum crazy in the process. After she loses it and goes off on him, he has a tantrum and runs away.

Lawrence goes to visit his female friend, Margaret (Sandra Felix), a costume designer, who's been helping him put on weird "theater" performances in the living room for the mom. When Margaret comes on to him, he finds himself unable to have sex with her. He runs back home and starts sobbing, but thankfully his mother is around to comfort him. And, by "comfort," I unfortunately mean making out with him and allowing him to fondle her breasts and crotch (!!) Oh yeah, and the doll is finally allowed out of the box. Said doll, called Yerzo (Aurelio Pérez), is played by a heavily painted-up dwarf in a medieval jester outfit, a pageboy wig and silver sequin gloves (!) that, according to a note left with it, houses the spirit of a man who'd been executed for "sexual atrocities" by a king's court long ago.

After word gets round about Lawrence's impotence, two bullies berate him and throw both him and his bicycle into a fountain. He responds to that by riding off the edge of a bridge and ends up on suicide watch at a nuthouse under the care of doctors Emmanuel Richter (Roger Cudney) and Holly O'Hara (Yria Bazegui). Per hospital rules, he's not allowed any visitors, including his mother, but they do allow him some things from home, including Yerzo, who comes in handy when a nympho nurse ("Hellen Goyas" / Ellen Gollas) sneaks into his room and tries to molest him. Instead, she ends up getting her clothes ripped off and bludgeoned with a puppet head by the "doll."

The plot starts to sputter a bit after Lawrence escapes the institution and disappears from most of the rest of the film. Focus then mostly swings over to the two doctors and their relationship, which seems like an excuse to squeeze in an awkward sex scene. After the male half dies of a heart attack because someone put a skeleton at his front door (!), the female doctor attempts to help Julia, while the Margaret character comes back into the picture and tries to befriend her. Whatever they were trying to do here, it doesn't really work.

Occasionally this will cut to the son and the doll laughing maniacally, wagging their tongues and making strange noises. A despondent-looking Lawrence is briefly seen sitting on the patio wearing a short cami dress (!) while the dwarf attempts to sexually assault Dr. O'Hara and then attacks her with a knife while she runs around her home topless and screaming. The ending suggests that not everything is what it seems, but it's too muddled to really tell for sure.

Though obviously low budget and highly flawed, this is saved to an extent because it just does its own trashy, outrageous, bizarre thing and becomes a kind of singular warped vision in the process. Parts of it are genuinely creepy and disturbing while others are clearly played for laughs or downright dumb. One thing it's generally not, is predictable.

There's some decent camerawork prowling around the home looking at creepy dolls and masks, plus two very bizarre original songs ("The Joker" and "Hungerin'") written by the director and featuring the vocals of leads Corral (who does some spoken word thing) and Carlsson (who actually sings). I had to settle for watching the cut Spanish dubbed version since I couldn't find the English one. In the process I did miss a flashback scene showing the dwarf slicing off a woman's breast while wearing a powdered wig.

So who actually directed this thing? Mex-Trash refers to Roberto Guinar as the "writer, producer and co-director." However, he's only listed as the producer on the poster, and is only listed in the on-screen credits as producer and actor (for a cameo appearance as a delivery man). The actual credited director and writer is Ronald Wertheim, who has a filmography of soft and hardcore porn stretching all the way back the late 60s. He wrote classic era adult films like Memories Within Miss Aggie (1974) and Through the Looking Glass (1976) and was the production manager (and also appears in) Deep Throat (1972). In an interview with Rialto Report, a former associate described Wertheim as being "clearly mentally unstable."

Credited with the "original idea" is Alfred Salazar, who I have no doubt in my mind is actually the prolific  Alfredo Salazar, a man who had his hand in all kinds of Mexican films as far back as the late 1940s. He wrote the AZTEC MUMMY (1957) series, the Jekyll & Hyde inspired THE MAN AND THE MONSTER (1959), lots of wrestling movies starring Las Luchadoras or Santo and, fittingly enough, CURSE OF THE DOLL PEOPLE (1961). Salazar also directed a handful of films, including the weird THE RIDER OF THE SKULLS (1965), the pervy A RAT IN THE DARKNESS (1979) and Diabolical Inheritance (1993), which is yet another dwarf-playing-a-killer-doll flick that also happens to star Guinar. I guess Salazar could be considered the Mexican answer to Charles Band with his doll fetish.

Also quite interesting that Carlsson, Corral, Cudney and Gollas all appeared in the Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi hit Total Recall a few years later. There really has to be some kind of interesting story there. Corral would go on to become one of the top music video directors in Latin America and has worked with Mark Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Julio Iglesias and many others over the years. Considering how most people who make it in show business like to hide their association with films like this later on, Corral amusingly lists this film twice on his resume, first as a 1989 film called "The Jocker" (sic) and directed by Wertheim, and then under the 1992 Muerte infernal title and directed by Guinar.


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