It’s a fact that the late
Ray Dennis Steckler made some good
movies in his day, but this soft core horror-art film isn’t one of them.
It does have an appealingly hallucinatory vibe, however, and the kind of
schizophrenic genre-hopping only Steckler could provide.
SINTHIA THE DEVIL’S DOLL (1970) was one of several
seventies era no-budgeters Ray Dennis Steckler directed pseudonymously.
SINTHIA is further noteworthy because it was scripted by the late Herb
Robins, an exploitation movie staple who acted in several films directed
by Steckler, Ted V. Mikels and others, and wrote and directed THE WORM
EATERS (1977) and THE BRAINSUCKER (1988).
SINTHIA, FYI, is now out on DVD from Something Weird
Video, together the 1970 documentary
SATANIS, THE DEVIL’S MASS.
Sinthia suffers from horrific nightmares, having
murdered her parents and burned down her family home as a teenager. In
the here-and-now a sympathetic shrink is encouraging Sinthia, now a
twentyish young woman, to explore her tormented inner world.
This Sinthia does, finding herself adrift in a dark
netherworld of fornicating bodies. But then things get freak(ier), with
all the participants dividing up and chanting “Sinthia loves her
father!” She comes to realize she’s in Hell, and the surrounding people
are tortured souls who (like Sinthia) have killed their parents.
Sinthia wakes up on a beachside road. There she’s
accosted by a mysterious woman who takes her back to her home, inviting
Sinthia to “enter into my world, where all is peaceful.” The woman shows
Sinthia her vast collection of modern art and gives her a tarot card
reading. As you might guess, the cards don’t portend anything good!
Sinthia has a lesbian tryst with the woman and later poses for Lenny,
the artist responsible for the paintings on the woman’s wall. Throughout
it all Sinthia can’t seem to get the thought of her father out of her
head, and even has a dream-within-a-dream that she marries her father
(actually Lenny, who she mistakes for her father).
Sinthia comes to in her shrink’s office. He informs her
that she has a “very deep feeling of guilt” about killing her parents,
and so “therefore your subconscious has produced these terrible
nightmares.” His solution? Commit suicide in her dreams! Specifically,
she’ll have to be hypnotized to believe she’s back in her childhood
home, where she’ll have to die along with her parents.
The problem is that when hypnotized Sinthia winds up
back with Lenny (who she can’t seem to keep from mistaking for her
father) and the mystery woman, who don’t want her to do as her shrink
has advised. From there all is confusion, for Sinthia and the viewer.
SINTHIA, THE DEVIL’S DOLL was credited to “Sven
Christian” and is overall not one of Ray Dennis Steckler’s best films
(far from it) being essentially in the same league as other
hallucinatory sexploiters of the period like BACCHANALE (1970) and
BEYOND LOVE AND
Nearly all of Steckler’s trademarks are here: the
amateurish performances, cheap sets, meandering narrative and
schizophrenic genre splicing that makes the viewer constantly feel like
he’s watching an entirely different movie. That tendency manifests
itself here in what appears to have been intended as a straightforward
sexploiter. Indeed that’s how SINTHIA generally plays, but the
proceedings, with Steckler’s colorful lighting and disjointed editing,
constantly wander into art film territory.
It’s clear that Steckler incorporated a lot of stock
footage in SINTHIA, and filmed in a highly improvisatory manner. This
explains why (for instance) Steckler cuts from an intense torture
sequence to a contemplative scene of Sinthia pondering the motion of
waves on a beach. It’s all just as cut-rate and silly as it sounds, but
is a must for those who (like me) get a guilty pleasure-kick out of
pretentious psychedelic silliness.
SINTHIA, THE DEVIL’S DOLL
Sun Art Enterprises
Director: “Sven Christian” (Ray Dennis Steckler)
Producer: Dorothy K. Sonney
Screenplay: Herb Robins
Cinematography: Ray Dennis Steckler
Cast: Shula Roan, Boris Balachoff, Bret Zeller, Gary Kent, Maria Lease,
Diane Webber, Herb Robbins, Lynn Levin