WARNING: ADULTS ONLY
Since interviewing Jonathan and Shawn Lewis back in late 2007, I’ve been waiting in anticipation for their outrageously sleazy exploitation flick Black Devil Doll. The story tells of a sexy young woman whose fooling with an Ouija board results in the spirit of a black militant leader finding its way into a smooth pimp daddy of a ventriloquist doll.
Directed by Jonathan Lewis and co-scripted by his brother Shawn, Black Devil Doll is set to become an instant cult favourite.
A novelization will be upon us on August 3, courtesy of Lowest Common Denominator Entertainment LLC, and Retro Slashers got the 411 from author Stephen Romano…
How did you first become involved with Black Devil Doll and were you already familiar with the notoriety that the film had been generating?
“Oh sure, I’ve been a member of Team Black Devil Doll since the beginning. Back when Shawn and Jon first finished shooting, they needed a kick-ass retro-style movie poster to promote at conventions and the guy they originally wanted to use was getting cold feet. I think he was scared that the film wouldn’t be good, or maybe the pornographic/race angle was embarrassing or something. I was finishing my book Shock Festival during that time and had gone through a year of teaching myself how to paint and design really authentic 70s style movie posters. Shawn liked what he saw and hired me. It was the first pro job I ever did as an artist. And I jumped in with both feet on the offensive subject matter, man. I actually coined the phrase “FILMED IN NEGROSCOPE” . . . and they picked up on the idea and eventually did a few new scenes in the final film in . . . “Negroscope!” How wild is that? I ended up doing all the print materials for the film. I even designed the ads that are running in Rue Morgue and Fango, and the DVD packaging and stuff. The logo for the film and for Lowest Common Denominator Entertainment are mine, too. (They forgot to give me a credit for that in the film, the fuckers!) Any time you see something in print . . . a flyer, a poster, whatever . . . it’s my work. My main gig is screenwriting and doing books, though. I’ve done a few with Shawn before, so he tapped me to do the novelization. It was really fun. I just finished writing the other day. I did the whole thing in one week! I think there’s probably something really, really wrong with me.”
What was it about the concept that intrigued you so much and were you dubious about adapting such controversial material?
“Well, what really intrigued me was that Shawn Lewis paid me an obscene amount of money to write this fucking thing! That’s a joke. Funny. Hah hah. (Or not.) And, no, I wasn’t afraid of the racy stuff at all. In fact, the book is even more offensive. It’s a comedy, and is not designed to have any sort of redeeming social value whatsoever, so I just ran with that. I’ve never done a straight-up, no-holds-barred work of humor before. Something that people can just have a lot of fun with and get grossed out by and such. Real Team America/Blazing Saddles humor. My books have had some pretty outrageous moments in the past—but those were “serious” works at the end of the day. Even Shock Festival is a drama about human beings, though it’s also a sort of parody. This new book is just raunchy, low-blowing nonsense. I made a rule that there had to be an average of ten good laughs on every page. (That way, if you don’t laugh at THIS joke, well hang on, I have a few more you might like.) Actually, come to think of it . . . there IS some social value here, and that may be the real reason I enjoy getting in people’s faces with stuff like this. (Beyond, of course, my general philosophy that writers are not put on this earth to be nice—we’re here to inconvenience people.) The overriding “message” of Black Devil Doll is this: lighten the hell up. We live in a very double-blind and shamefully hypocritical age right now in America. How fucked-up is it that you can’t say the word “nigger” in jest or in an important work of art without getting a funny look from someone—usually from a white liberal—and meanwhile we’re waging one of the bloodiest, most dirty-pool wars in the history of mankind, and NOBODY EVEN REALIZES how bloody it is because the media lies to us and withholds the nasty pictures every single day. This country used to have a conscience. You saw the bodies on national TV. Walter Cronkite told us the truth, more or less. That was in the seventies: when blaxpoloitation films were being made, too. There was a raw honesty about “us versus them” in those movies. They represented something really angry and polarized about our culture. We needed to see films like The Legend of Nigger Charley. We needed to see the bodies. We needed heroes. And we needed guys like Mel Brooks, who were just fucking fearless. Blazing Saddles is one of the most amazing comedies ever made because it transforms one of the hottest potatoes in art—the race card—into a hilarious string of raunchy jokes. So lighten up and laugh a little. Chances are, you’ll live longer and be a lot happier when you croak.”
Did you have access to a completed cut of the movie before you commenced writing or did you work from a script?
“Both, really. As I mentioned, the book was just finished a few days ago, so I had the film, along with all the deleted scenes . . . and I took a look at the screenplay, too, which was written in crayon on dirty cocktail napkins. I was actually the first “civilian” to view the completed version of the film, and I wrote the first review, which appeared on Dread Central just a couple of days before the big theatrical premiere. I had nothing at all to do with actually making the movie—and so my enthusiasm about it is very real. I mean, Shawn and Jon and Mitch are my friends, sure . . . but I never bullshit my friends. I think Black Devil Doll is a great achievement—and Shawn has made his little guttertrash no-budget shitstorm into a real success. They took it to Cannes and got a great international distribution deal. It played in theatres all over the country. People really pick up on the fearless quality of the humor and have a great time. Just disgusting, hilarious stuff. Shawn is really proud of it . . . and Jon . . . well, he’s sort of still in shock from the whole thing. That’s another irony people need to be aware of: Jonathan Lewis is literally one of the sweetest, most laid back artisans you could ever hope to share a beer with. There isn’t a racist bone in his body. He’s BRILLIANT and just wants to make cool movies. And he’s Shawn’s BROTHER, too. Shawn is a white cat from California who grew up in an extended multi-racial family. He has a wife and two kids. He’s a stand-up guy, believe it or not. He’s a family man, for fuck’s sake! Black Devil Doll is a work of fiction created by dedicated dudes who just want us to let it all hang out and have some fun on the weekend. It’s a tribute to Blaxploitation films, Chester Turner and a parody of race issues in America . . . but even that is looking too deep into the whole thing. I mean, how seriously are you supposed to take a movie or a book about a two-foot-tall puppet with a 27-inch long dick?”
How much input did Shawn and Jonathan Lewis have as you were writing the novel and were there any new subplots of characters that you introduced as you were developing the story?
“They left me alone to do whatever I felt like doing with the story, but we were always on the same page. I let Shawn and Mitch know what I was up to as I was hashing out my approach. I wanted to remain really true to what was in the film, but do it up with lots of new angles and a unique narrative voice that would make it very different from the movie, but in a way that would please the fans. I wrote the liner notes for the DVD release when I designed the packaging last year, and I did it all in the style of a really snooty, overcompensating college professor with a PhD, who just goes on and on about how great this film is and stuff. It was funny and the “boys” liked it a lot. So I thought I could do the book in that style, too. It’s written by the same guy. So there are great rambling descriptions of things, tons of fifty-dollar words, an entire chapter detailing how this college professor became the author of the book. It’s designed to be the ultimate read-it-on-the-shitter book, one that will perhaps follow you out of the bathroom and stay on you like bad stink. Or something like that. And yes, there are a few new characters and LOTS of subplots and back-story. The movie is very short, so to fill a whole book, I had to develop diarrhea of the word processor pretty fast. You get to see Mubia Abdul-Jama in hell and find out about the deal he cut down there. There’s a couple of silly cops. Natasha Talonz and the girls are given some extra business. It’s all really shameless and over the top. White-T was a character I liked a lot, so I have some strange shit happening to him in extra scenes. Also, I designed and painted the cover of the book, too, and did it in a really cool retro pulp style. A great buy for just 13 bucks. Be sure to get TEN COPIES. It makes a great gift.”
How long did the process of researching and writing the novel take and was this an enjoyable experience for you? Is this the first movie that you have adapted into a novel and how would you compare it to writing an original story?
“I didn’t really do any research, besides looking at the movie over and over and memorizing the dialogue. I scribbled out a little outline, which took about three seconds. I wrote the book in just seven days. I have a lot of . . . umm, energy, I guess? It’s kind of a short book, though. (Shawn and Mitch wrote the screenplay in, like, two hours.) It usually takes me a few months to get a first draft of a novel done—I average about 10 to 2 thousand words a day when I really get going. And, yes, it was very fun, obviously. Just jumped right in. My editor is having a field day with it right now. It’s not the same as doing your own thing, but I have a long-standing love affair with movie novels. I have over two thousand in my collection—it fills one entire wall in my house! And the best ones are written by guys that take the bullshit dead seriously—like Denis Etchison’s great “Jack Martin” books for the Halloween films and The Fog and Videodrome. Or Bob Martin’s novel of Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage. Fucking cool books. I really love them. So I treated this with a sort of reverence and also managed to make it my own. Shawn thinks it stands alone. I haven’t heard from Mitch Mayes yet. He’s reading it now. I took a lot of detours and extrapolated on a lot of stuff, added dialogue, adapted scenes. There’s a new ending, in addition to the one you know and love. I expanded the character of Chicken Shawn. Also, I hope to get into the Guinness Book Of World Records with what I believe to be the longest list of illegal drug slang ever assembled in one volume. (Thank my editor Teighlor Darr for that one.) And, no, this wasn’t my first movie book. I’ve actually done a lot of projects with Shawn over the past fifteen years or so—we go way back—and two of them were graphic novel adaptations of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie and The Beyond. We did The Beyond when the film was released in America in 1998 under Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures banner. Shawn used that project as a yardstick when telling me what he wanted for his film. We think alike about a lotta stuff. Jesus, that scares me . . .”
If Black Devil Doll becomes a success would you consider writing a sequel, or at least adapting one into a novel, if the filmmakers approached you again, and what message do you have for the fans out there?
“I left the book wide open on a number of levels for not just one sequel—but several. And there is a follow-up film in the works now—it’s called Black Devil Doll in Space, and I’m sure I’ll be doing a novelization of that one, too. It’ll be pretty interesting to see how the first one goes over with my usual fan base—that is to say, all five guys out there who actually follow my pathetic career—and with readers in general. I was describing some of the foulness in the book at a party last week and one of my friends said “man, you better think about taking a pen name on this one” but I was, like, “fuck that, let them crucify me—I’ve got nothing to lose, I’m well-armed and I know where the bodies are buried.” Bring on the angry mob, man.
MESSAGE TO THE FANS: Buy twenty copies of my book! It makes a great gift!”