Friday, April 4, 2008

Satan's Baby Doll (1982): or, Mummies and Nuns and Yet So Little Fun

If I were the sort of cinematic clergyman who was inclined to judge a DVD by its cover, I would immediately give Satan's Baby Doll a 3-double-plus thumbs awesome award based on that poster art alone. I mean, just LOOK at that image and tell me you aren't tempted to have it tattooed full-size on your back. And if I didn't have a morbid fear of back-wax, I'd be right there with you. Unfortunately the old maxim proves true once again, and no amount of tat-worthy cover art can do anything to rescue this film from its status as the Wooden Spoon Award-winner in the Vicar's Satanpalooza Sweepstakes.

The unanswerable question is, how did Satan's Baby Doll (aka La Bimba di Satana) go so horribly wrong? On paper it sounds like it should be the most amazing slice of Satansploitation sleaze ever slapped on celluloid. In fact as you read the highlights following, you may find yourself thinking, "What are you on about, Vicar? This sounds completely awesome!" And to that I would just have to shake my head and sigh. Yes, it does sound awesome. And yet, it's not. How does that happen?

We open not with a black mass this time, but with a family funeral. A blonde, slightly less-than-middle-aged corpse lies on a bier in the middle of a great room, her presumed family hovering around her corpse like vultures. A beautiful young girl, hair blonde and styled just like the deceased woman's (so you know they're related) enters bearing a white carnation as an obvious symbol of her purity. As she stands over the body of the older woman, the corpse suddenly convulses and the girl screams! Freeze frame, start the credits. So far so good!

Unfortunately that's the last point in the movie where we'll have anything like narrative coherency. Over the next few scenes we see the traumatized girl, Miria (the jaw-dropping Jacqueline Dupré), flee to the arms of nun-in-training Sister Solo (Mariangela Giordano) for comfort. Sol is a live-in nurse for Miria's Uncle Ignazio, who is paralyzed at least from the waist down and must be carted everywhere in a wheelchair. Mira's father, Juan Aguilar, intercepts his brother's morphine supply from family friend Dr. Antonio, and kicks it Bela Lugosi-style in his bedroom, presumably while the cripple suffers.

Olivia Newton John's death metal career was mercifully short-lived.

Uncle Ignazio has his own methods of pain management, however, as he manages to lurch along well enough to peek in on Solo while she's getting out of the habit in her cell. As the nearly-nun undresses--showing off Giordano's rockin' bod and excellent high white stockings (she's in the Order of Our Lady Victoria's Secret, apparently)--we see superimposed images from Uncle's naughty imagination, with Solo going solo on top of the covers. The imaginary sister pleasures herself for Uncle's pleasure--for a LOOOOONG TIME--while in another room Daddy Juan is tripping his brains out and getting as paranoid as a recently-widowed junkie with some dark family secrets to hide. Spurred into action by the smack, Juan busts his crippled brother for peeping on Solo and generally behaves horribly to everyone who crosses his path.

Meanwhile, in another room, a dude dressed as a priest is writhing on the ground as if it's the night of the full moon and he's about to get all hairy on our asses. I had no idea who this fellow was supposed to be (I learned through later research some call him "The Butler"), but he's apparently under a lot of stress, which he works out by rolling around on the floor, crying "I'll save you, Miria!" and biting the heads off live chickens! Hey, in the days before Xanax, you did what you could, I guess.

A little later--or maybe the next day or concurrently with the geek show, who knows?--Miria is still convinced that her mother came to life and looked at her. Brooking none of this nonsense, Juan forces his grieving daughter to view Mom's corpse in the family crypt, with Dr. Antonio in tow to confirm his diagnosis of a case of advanced death. This leads to gratuitous matriarchal corpse nudity and extremely suggestive stethoscopy on Dr. Antonio's part. (Seriously, dude, her daughter is RIGHT THERE, lighten up!) After the widower and bereaved girl leave, Antonio goes to embalm Mama, but when she opens her eyes and suddenly transforms into the nude likeness of young Miria, he's had enough of this crap and blows out a massive coronary. Like you do when faced with a supernaturally hot nude 16-year-old; it's only natural.

"Dude, do you mind? I'm trying to have a moment here."

So the family decides to cover up the doc's death, because--ah, I don't know, and it doesn't really matter. Juan tosses the doc into the family crypt, and everything returns to what passes for normal in the Aguilar household.

Part of what constitutes "normal" in this family is Juan being strung out and horrible ALL THE TIME, taking any opportunity to do or say something monstrously inappropriate. For instance, when he runs into Sister Solo walking in the garden, the greasy junkie leers, "Though you're not a nun yet, I've always dreamed of desecrating a temple!" Get in line, brother. Solo shoots him down with extreme prejudice, which he takes as a personal affront and growls that he will make her HIS. A real Don Juan, this guy.

Back in the crypt, crazy-butler-priest dude--who might also be a member of the family somehow, I really don't know--is rearranging the corpses in the crypt for some reason the director felt best left unexplicated. The corpses look more like mummies, but I'm willing to buy that it's just aristocratic grave wrappings and go with it. Meanwhile in her bedroom Miria is having trouble sleeping, and so decides to pass the time by copping a langorous self-feel--like you do--for a long, LOOOOONNNG time. As she's got an even better bod than Solo this is a welcome reprieve from the incoherencies, though the fact that she's meant to be underage makes things a bit iffy in the ethical spanking realm.

Down in the crypt Butler is molesting the mummies, again rambling about "saving Miria," though how his necrophilia is supposed to help is anyone's guess. Finally the possession plot comes into full swing, as masturbating Miria hears Mom's voice from beyond the grave, saying "Come, Miria! Kill, Miria! It is your mother who orders you!" Talk about a mood killer. Miria heads down to the crypt, re-animates one of the mummies and puts an end to Butler's nonsensical suffering. The gist of it is, Mom has possessed Miria, presumably through satanic and/or witchy powers--though we haven't heard anything about her being a Satanist or a witch before her death. I'm extrapolating here.

Portly Pajama-Man vs. the Aztec Mummy

Back in Uncle Ignazio's room, it's time for his sponge bath! While Sister Sol soaps him up--including several flashes of graphic flaccid peen bath happening--he dreams of more nun-fun, which looks like the same footage we saw before. (Not that I'm complaining.) Juan poops the party once again, barging in to molest Sol in front of his brother, the paralyzed man stop him!

Blah blah blah, Juan has withdrawal, we learn that the Uncle had an affair with Mamma Maria before his accident, which led Juan to retaliate, causing his brother's paralysis. Paranoid Juan leaves his brother to starve in the crypt, but possessed Miria comes to the rescue--or to the fondle, as it were, in a typically nonsensical scene. I think the brother dies here, but honestly, it all fuzzes together.

So it comes out that Mamma and Solo had an affair too, and in his jealousy Juan throws Sister Sol into the crypt (that's your answer for everything!) before Maria appears to Juan--nude, of course--to take her final revenge on him for poisoning her before the opening credits. Maria comes on to Juan hard, and then just as he's succumbing to the seduction, she turns back into Miria for a nice icky incest vibe. The horrified, horrible man runs madly away from his daughter--clearly-seen peen swingin' in the breeze--and takes a header off the balcony to his death.

With Sol the only person left alive, you think it's all over--but for some reason the sister goes down to say goodbye to Maria's corpse, which possesses Miria again and teases with some lesbonic beyond-the-grave action. Then Sol is pushed down on Maria's (actual) body, the corpse embraces her, crushing the life from her and effectively ending the movie.

Now, if you can go through all that and tell me WTF it was supposed to be about, by all means, feel free.

"Read my lips: I. CAN'T. FUCKING. FLY."

The nearest I can figure, Satan's Baby Doll is like one of those 80s body-switch comedies, except here the older person possessing the younger wants bloody revenge instead of a chance to dance the Charleston one more time. But without George Burns's buoyant personality and amazing dance steps, this one falls flat on its face. There's absolutely NO Satan on display here, possibly (but not necessarily) witchcraft, but pretty much it's just weird things happening for no good or well-defined reason. And while the lurid scenes described above might sound pretty good on their own, the long stretches of boring pointlessness rob them of their punch, and in the end even the imaginary nunsterbation and Miria's gorgeous nekkidity can't salvage it. And there's little-to-no gore either, which is just one more strike against it.

Unfortunately, and despite its great poster, Satan's Baby Doll was a very anticlimactic end to the Satanpalooza. If I had it to do again, I'd watch them in reverse order, building slowly through this one to the better blasphemies of Satan's Slave and ending up with the brain-battering evil of Satan's Blood. But on whichever end I watched Satan's Baby Doll, the judgement would be the same: 1 thumb, fast forward to the nudie parts and the mummy attack and skip the rest. You'll be glad you did.

Nota bene: According to my sources, Satan's Baby Doll is a remake of the wonderfully titled Malabimba, the Malicious Whore (1972), which also saw a mother's spirit possessing her young nubile daughter, but this time with hardcore inserts to keep the viewer engaged. I can totally see how this would improve things.


Karswell said...

So the lesson learned: You want Satanic Sinema? Come to Karswell.

BC said...

Hey you won the Day of the Dead DVD... email me (contact is on the top right of my page) your address and I will try to send it out this week. Grats!

(you won because you enjoyed the Night remake, which I have always really liked and think it gets a bum rap)

sukcab said...

I just watched this movie last night. Tonight I found this review and it summed it up perfectly. Sum clarity and more selective use of nudity could have made this interesting. Add better writing to the concept and there could be a gem. But the real question this movie raises is, what ever happened to Jacqueline Dupré? she did a good job emoting (almost no duologue) and was gorgeous. It is a shame this is all she did.

Gene Phillips said...

Ignacio does get killed, but apparently just because the director needed another death at that point. Miria indirectly causes that death, though she has no reason to be pissed at him that I could see.

The Vicar of VHS said...

Thanks for clearing that up, Gene--like I said, I kind of got lost in a haze of not caring by that point. :) I definitely got the "this is only happening because the director wants it to and not for any compelling story-telling reason" several times in my viewing, though.

Thanks for stopping by--hope you hang around!

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