Private Parts

Dolls can't hurt you
Paul Bartel
Ayn Ruymen, Lucille Benson, John Ventantonio, Laurie Main
The Setup: 
Young woman stays at L.A. boarding house where strange things are happening, to say the least.

I saw a rave review of this, then one of my readers suggested it to me a few days later, so up it went to the top of my list. This is directed by Paul Bartel, famed for Eating Raoul and Death Race 2000, although this movie predates either of those. We open with a nice credit sequence that shows photos of people having sex against a black background. The final couple fades into real footage of two people having sex while another girl watches. The watcher is Cheryl, who is immediately found out and berated for “peeping again” by her friend Judy. Cheryl came from Ohio to stay with Judy, but is now kicked out with hilarious venom by the seething Judy. So she takes to wandering the streets of L.A. clutching her teddy bear.

She stands in front of a hotel and smears eye shadow on, then goes in to meet her long-lost Aunt Martha, asking if she can stay. Martha assumes that she is a whore and tells her she can stay a day or two, but not to go wandering around. We soon meet the Reverend Moon, who is waiting for a male hustler who will identify himself as a repairman. Soon Cheryl’s hunky boyfriend shows up and encounters the professor, who comes on to him like crazy and suggests that he “come to my room.”

Things are spooky in Cheryl’s room. She is haunted by music from next door, and she just feels a little creepy. I should mention that throughout, Cheryl’s name is bizarrely pronounced “Chair-ill,” and that I found her to be pretty much the most repugnant creature on the planet. She perfectly projects that air of immature and idiotic defiance as she runs around having fits about her independence in her annoying whiny voice. She also starts receiving mysterious notes asking “How do you find it so far, Cheryl?” She takes these to be from a secret admirer, the mysterious George, a photographer who lives next door. She has been repeatedly warned to stay away from him.

So Cheryl sees the keys to all the rooms in the kitchen. She also let’s Martha’s precious white rat out, who goes straight to the keys and discovers, upon death, that they are electrified. Cheryl puts the rat down the sink disposal without a second thought. Easy cleanup! She then takes the keys and goes exploring. Soon she finds that there are huge peepholes looking in to her room and bathroom. I mean, HUGE peepholes, making one wonder how she possibly couldn’t have noticed them, but like I said, she doesn’t seem all that bright. And, rather than being freaked out that she is being watched, she is turned on, and more interested in meeting this elusive George in the flesh.

Judy comes by the hotel and quickly gets it. Then the pleasantly plump Reverend Moon is met going out in full leather—hilarious—and Cheryl meets a guy at the key store who offers to take her to a “rock concert with real great rock groups.”

But what of this George? He’s a big, strange guy who looks a bit like Lindsay Buckingham and has large photos of people on his walls—including the girl who mysteriously vanished at the hotel before the movie began. He makes his living by taking pictures of couples screwing in the park and selling them as pornography. Cheryl follows him into a porn store one day, as blaxploitation-type music plays on the soundtrack. He is later advised by Martha against congress with real women, told that “dolls can’t hurt you or you them.” Speaking of dolls, he happens to have a clear plastic blow-up doll that he affixes a photo of Cheryl’s face to. Then he fills it with blood.

But Cheryl has been becoming more enamored of George as a secret admirer, one who leaves lingerie for her to wear as she takes her bath, him watching from behind the wall. All of this turns her on. She sanctimoniously dumps the key store clerk on their way to the rock concert that features great rock groups, and goes home to George. However, Martha knows that something is afoot and advises her “If you know what’s good for you, you’d better take the first bus home tomorrow.”

I’m not going to spoil the ending for you, but suffice to say the psycho-sexual weirdness reaches a suitable off-the-wall climax. And there’s the casual comment from a black cop, upon seeing key store clerk beat up: “Jesus Christ, Kid, if you’re going to get physical with a girl, at least make sure you’re bigger than she is.”

Well, maybe I’m old and jaded, or maybe I expected all this weirdness and thus it was not a delightful surprise, and I was amused without being moved. Or that interested. A lot of the comedy is strange and off-the-wall, and maybe if you see fewer movies than I do you’ll appreciate it more. I also found Cheryl to be genuinely repulsive and not amusingly repulsive [like the vicious Judy], and have written in my notes “It’s to the point I just want to strangle her.” Her fascination with George is so obviously stupid and her inane rebelliousness was just so immature… I just didn’t find it amusing. It started strong but by the end I just wanted it to be over with. Though as I said, if you only see a few genuinely weird movies this one would definitely stand out and be much more welcome.

Should you watch it: 

Yes, it’s a good, weird movie with lots of bizarre psychosexual touches… it was just one too many for me.


I thought she was HOT! The actress wasn't in much, but I want to track down her TV movie "Go Ask Alice".

This movie will always stand out for me for its outrageous doll scene: the clear plastic filling up with water (clearly suggesting tumescence), the orgasmic spurts of blood from the syringe, the pasted-on face photo of Cheryl crumpled to express dismay as the blood infuses the doll from below. I recall the short blurb in a family magazine about the movie that described it as a "well-made takeoff on sex and horror movies. Not recommended." Which made me want to see it, for sure.