Monday, March 24, 2008

#40 Night of the Living Dummy III


#40 Night of the Living Dummy III

Front Tagline: Every dummy has his day-- and his night!
(What, no He's walking a third time, he's stalking a third time...?)
Back Tagline: When Dummies Speak... Everybody Listens!

Official Book Description:
Trina O'Dell's dad used to have a ventriloquist act. That's why he has all those dummies in the attic. He calls it his Dummy Museum. There's a dummy with freckles. And one with a sneer just like Rocky. Trina and her brother, Dan, think the dummies are pretty cool.
But now there are voices in the attic. And dummies keep showing up in the strangest places.
No way those dummies could be alive! Right?

Brief Synopsis:
There were two dummies each in the first two books, but maybe that wasn't enough dummies for you. Maybe you said, "Well, two dummies, that's good enough for some people, but I'm not Some People! No, I'm a guy or girl who demands thirteen dummies in my childrens' literature!" Good news!

Trina's dad used to be a "famous" (which I'm sure is relative-- so to speak) ventriloquist, but now he's retired and works in a camera shop. However, he still collects and refurbishes old ventriloquist dolls in his spare time. He even calls his attic the Dummy Museum. As the book opens, Trina and her younger brother Dan enter the attic and, showing they too regard the room as a museum, neglect to pay the suggested donation. Trina and Dan begin looking at all the creepy dolls, all of which have names, such as Wilbur and Rocky. Rocky is described as dressing like "a tough guy," due to his red and white striped shirt and jeans. Yes, just like that other street punk:



Dan picks up Miss Lucy, the only female dummy in the collection, and begins to threaten Trina via the doll. Since he's only ten years old, it does not take much effort to make his voice feminine, but his gender-bending antics are interrupted by Rocky, who leans forward in his chair from across the attic and also begins threatening Trina. You at home can also threaten Trina, in case you're feeling left out. Just rock your elbow on your knee and pretend your hand is a naked sock puppet.

If you were curious, Rocky did not really come to life, he was operated by Trina's dad, who had snuck up to the attic and could not resist the urge to threaten his daughter via a doll. Once the hilarity of scaring a child had passed, Dad shows his kids his new doll: our old friend, Slappy. He says he found it in the trash (I wonder if the twist to this book is that their father is a raccoon?) and the only thing wrong with it was that his head was split in half. Because of the doll's big grin and also his affinity for A Thousand Acres, Dad calls the new doll Smiley.

The phone rings and while their dad goes downstairs to answer, Trina finds a yellow sheet of paper in the dummy's pocket. She reads the magic words out loud and the doll reaches up and slaps her. This gives Trina the inspiration for an even better name for the doll: Asshole.

Dad comes back and tells the kids that their uncle Cal and cousin Zane are coming to spend the week with them. Trina and Dan hate Zane because he's a total loser. Glass houses, etc. Dad makes everyone promise to not scare Zane, and while the kids agreed, Slappy didn't, so we can't really hold the evil doll accountable for his actions later in the book.

Trina tells the reader about some of the mean tricks she and her brother had played on Zane in the past: they pretended they were ghosts, they borrowed their mom's pantyhose and made him think that they were ghost-legs, and as if that second example wasn't weird enough, they also hid in his closet and made him think his clothes were dancing.

Zane shows up and he's grown. He looks like he works out and begins taking pictures of everything. He tells Trina's dad that he enjoys taking still-lifes and candids. Poor Zane, since Flickr hadn't been created, he has nowhere to let this obnoxious habit flourish. You might be wondering if with this new photography hobby, whether Zane is still a scaredy-cat. Well, shortly after he takes a picture of the banister, he goes upstairs to unpack and screams like a little girl when a doll falls on him. That's how you know.

So, if you liked the part in the last couple books where the dummy did stuff and then the kids got blamed, there's a good eighty more pages of that here. Rocky the dummy shows up in the pictures Zane snaps, Rocky shows up in the middle of a trashed room, etc. Trina and Dan think Zane must be trying to get them back for all their tomfoolery, and so the siblings devise a plan wherein they wait upstairs in the attic to catch Zane retrieving a dummy. They spend quite a long time up there, but eventually they do meet more success than some other pairs of siblings, as they spy Zane retrieving Rocky. They confront him and tell him that just because they made his clothes dance is no reason to play with dolls. Zane promises to quit the funny business, yet the book mercilessly does not end. Rocky keeps showing up and doing things. The dummy ruins a dinner party and smashes Zane's camera, and Trina's parents think she and her brother are responsible. Trina's dad threatens his kids with the promise that they won't be allowed to go to camp, which based on other Goosebumps books, is probably less of a threat than he intended.

Trina and Dan reason that Zane is still responsible for these mild acts of terror, but it's not until Rocky climbs into her bed one night and begins choking her to death that Trina begins to suspect Zane, who isn't a ventriloquist dummy who just tried to choke her to death. Anyways.
Trina and Dan decide to wait up in the attic again, this time armed with a camera to snap Zane in action. Unlike in the sequels to these books, the sequel to this event yields a new discovery: the party responsible for carrying out Rocky this time is Slappy the dummy. Trina calls him Smiley and he corrects her, then punches her in the head. Humanitas Award for RL Stine.

Trina and her brother wrestle the doll to the ground. They carry Slappy outside and dump him in an abandoned well (?!) in their backyard. Job well done. All's well that ends in a well. Well-come Back Mr. Kotter. Well... let's move on.

That night, Trina dreams about Slappy dancing around with Miss Lucy and the other dolls upstairs. Hey, I like dreaming about dancing as much as the next person, but I think a scarier dream would have involved anything else at all.

For what happens next, I'm going to refer to RL Stine's Diary entry for October 10, 1995, a copy of which was accessed from the archive of his Xanga before he made it friends only:

[Current Mood: ]
Today was totally boo-ring dudes.
10:02 AM: Woke up, thought I heard a horrible monster in my bed.
10:03 AM: Turns out it was only my sheets.
10:08 AM: Sat down to write new 'Dummy' sequel.
10:12 AM: Opened file NOTL2.wpd.
10:30 AM: Nutter Butter break.
10:48 AM: Finished 'Night of the Living Dummy III,' became terrified at reflection of horrible monster in the computer screen.
10:49 AM: Discovered reflection was of self, vowed to spend some portion of millions on plastic surgery.
(The rest of the entry is just pictures of his feet and song lyrics.)

Yes, if the following sounds familiar, that's because this is now the third time this exact scene has occurred in these books. Not a variation thereof, but the exact scene, quite possibly merely C+Ped. Trina comes downstairs the following morning only to discover a filthy Slappy waiting for her on the breakfast table. A sequel should probably provide the reader with an experience they couldn't get from just rereading the original.

That night during a thunderstorm, Trina and Dan confront Slappy. He gives them the tired spiel about how they're his slaves, yet again fails to give any specific details on what that entails. Also, I guess Ken Russell isn't the only one trying to forget the white worm, as there is no reference to it. There is still the sheet of paper with the magic words on them, and Trina figures that if she can say the words again, he'll stop being a living dummy roman numeral three. Dan holds Slappy down and Trina retrieves the paper. She reads the words but they have no effect on Slappy other than amusement, as he laughs and mocks her for thinking it would work. However, the twelve other dummies in the attic suddenly begin encircling Trina, Dan, and Slappy. Trina thinks they're screwed until the dolls race past the humans and begin savagely beating Slappy. Wow, no one likes this guy. Maybe the reason he wants slaves is he's lonely and needs a friend. Aww, it almost makes you feel sorry for the camera-smashing, art-ruining, vomit-spewing, kitchen table-sitting, child-beating, child-choking, worm-filled son-of-a-bitch.

Zane shows up in the attic for no reason and sees Trina and Dan standing in the middle of a pile of now-lifeless dolls. Zane tells them that he knew they were the ones causing all the trouble and goes to tattle. Trina and Dan get grounded for life, and make your own reference to the sitcom.

But the Twist is:
While saying goodbye to Uncle Cal and Zane, Trina's dad tells Zane he'd like to buy him a new camera to replace the smashed one. Zane tries to suck up and tells her dad that he's not interested in photography anymore, and what he'd really like is a ventriloquist dummy. Trina's dad tells his daughter to run up to the attic and fetch Zane a dummy. Trina, still upset with Zane singling her and her brother out for the crimes they didn't commit, brings down Slappy. She sees the dummy wink as Zane happily escorts the doll into the car.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Trina O'Dell and her younger brother Dan, whose cousin Zane will probably disappear forever halfway through that car ride home.

the Violent Doll-Girl Relationship:
Trina O'Dell and her dad's ventriloquist dummy "Smiley," who makes kissing sounds to her at one point.

Questionable Parenting:
Trina's dad tells his kids that he's "disgusted" by them. Man, when an adult who literally plays with dolls is disgusted by you, you have really strayed.

Oh Burn? Alert:
"Trina, you're about as funny as a wet sponge," he said.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 1/2: A character screams or cries out, in shock or horror
Ch. 4/5: A character screams or cries out, in shock or horror
Ch. 5/6: A character screams or cries out, in shock or horror
Ch. 7/8: A character screams or cries out, in shock or horror
Ch. 8/9: A character screams or cries out, in shock or horror
Ch. 11/12: A character screams or cries out, in shock or horror
Ch. 14/15: A character screams or cries out, in shock or horror
Ch. 16/17: A character screams or cries out, in shock or horror
Ch. 18/19: A character screams or cries out, in shock or horror
Ch. 20/21: A character screams or cries out, in shock or horror
Ch. 25/26: A character screams or cries out, in shock or horror

Great Prose Alert:
Such a bad-news dummy.

Conclusions:
A sequel which originally came only nine months after the previous installment, Night of the Living Dummy III isn't terrible, but that it's more or less the same book as the other two really tried my patience at times.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

#31 Night of the Living Dummy II


#31 Night of the Living Dummy II

Front Tagline: He's still walking. He's still stalking.
Back Tagline: You Can't Teach An Old Dummy New Tricks!

Official Book Description:
Amy's ventriloquist dummy, Dennis, keeps losing his head...for real. So Amy begs her family for a new dummy. That's when her dad finds Slappy in a local pawnshop. Slappy's kind of ugly, but Amy's having fun practicing her new routine.
Then terrible things start happening. Horrible, nasty things. Just like what happened the first time.
Because there's something odd about Slappy. Something not quite right. Something evil...

Brief Synopsis:
When we last left Kris and Lindy, they had just discovered that Lindy's ventriloquist dummy Slappy was alive. Like Mr. Wood, Slappy had some notion that he was able to keep human preteens slaves and the readers of the first book were left breathless with suspense. Hypothetically.

Well Jean Seberg, take a huff because everything you as a reader (or blog reader) had invested in the first book (or the first entry) has been washed away with no explanation at all. I guess it's easier for a ghostwriter to just start over rather than actually read the first book. So what are we left with? The strong, universal theme of children enjoying ventriloquy.

Amy has NPR Parents, so every Thursday the entire family gathers around for Family Sharing Night. Structured much like a talent show only with fewer dance routines by the school sluts, the weekly event requires every member of the family to "share" something tangible with the group. Amy's older sister Sara is a skilled artist, so every week she shares a new painting with the family. Jed, Amy's red-haired younger brother, is a total jerk, so every week he shares things like notes boys wrote to Amy or belches. Dad shares songs and Mom shares stories, which leaves Amy with her sea shell collection and of course her ventriloquist dummy Dennis.

As the book opens, Amy is giving her family a killer ventriloquist routine. It's such a good routine. Like, you're just sitting there, hoping there'll be a pun about how the dummy is made of wood and POW there it is. And asking if that in turn will be followed by a play on how the word "dummy" has multiple meanings is as rhetorical as asking if hipsters love Zooey Deschanel. Before Amy can get to a killer political riff on water-boarding, the head of her dummy falls off. Oh cool I've seen that episode of the Simpsons too.

Sara follows this tough act by sharing something actually good: her new painting. Only that rascal Jed has painted a big yellow smiley face over it. Since this act contains no puns, the family does not laugh at Jed's vandalism. Jed tries to argue that this act was a form of protest against Wal-Mart, but to no avail.

The following day, Amy's dad brings her home a new present from the pawnshop. No, not porn DVDs: Slappy! Amy reads the words off a yellow sheet of paper in Slappy's pocket and then reaches her hand inside the dummy's head and pulls out something sticky. No, not porn DVDs: a rotting sandwich! What. While her dad investigates the doll for more rotting sandwiches, Slappy punches him in the head.

Amy's friend Margot rushes over to tell her that her dad, who owns a restaurant called The Party House, wants Amy to perform her act for a group of three and four year olds. He'll even pay her $20. That may not seem like much, but accounting for inflation, $20 is like $20. What will Margot's dad be paying for exactly? Well allow me to share some of Amy's new routine with you:
Knock Knock.
Who's there?
Jane.
Jane who?
Jane jer clothes, You stink!
Amy knows that joke will kill with three year olds because a three year old had to have written it.

At the next Family Sharing Night, Amy's dad, I kid you not, plays "Maggie's Farm" on his guitar. Between Dylan and VU, I look forward to next week's Nico of the Living Dummy. Amy is enjoying herself when she spots her old ventriloquist doll Dennis crawling along the floor of the living room by himself. Amy freaks out and screams "It's the night of the living dummy roman numeral two!" Her family just starts laughing as Jed redeems himself by revealing that he has swiped Dennis's head. Amy's father praises Jed for being so clever by pretending to be a dummy. Amy starts her knock-knock routine with Slappy. But before Amy can break out the hilarious punchline of "Wayne Wayne go away," Slappy begins viciously insulting her parents. He calls her mom fat and her dad bald. Amy tries to explain that Slappy just calls them as he sees them, but her parents become furious. Then Slappy drops the u-bomb: "Did I mention you are all ugly?"

The next day, Amy comes home with a bad report card and is grounded. She sneaks a phone call to Margot, who is also grounded for bad grades, and they briefly discuss the show at the Party House next week. Then Amy starts working on her report for science class. Once it's typed up, she realizes that it needs a nice drawing on the cover and goes into Sara's room to borrow some markers. This is always a good idea no matter what grade you're in, as even professors love marker drawings of Samuel Richardson's Pamela. A little while later, Sara comes home from the Banana Republic and discovers someone has smeared paint all over the white carpet in her room. The family naturally begins to blame Jed but he claims innocence and points the finger at Amy, who he saw go in earlier. No one believes she didn't do it, even when she shows them the paint on Slappy's shoes.

Amy is double-grounded but still allowed to perform at the Party House. Amy's mom drops her off and she starts preparing for the show. Kid n Play arrive and Margot informs them that they've transposed the address. Backstage, a little girl named Alicia comes up to Amy and asks to be introduced to her doll. Amy smiles at Alicia's mom and exchanges some banter with the little girl. Slappy grabs the little girl's hand and won't let go. The little girl starts crying and screaming but the dummy won't loosen its grip. A group of children gather around and start crying as Alicia's mother pleads with Amy to knock it off. Finally Slappy lets go of the kid. Amy gets fired and takes the bus back home.

Amy tells her mother about the show and as soon as she talks her down, Sara bursts into the kitchen to accuse Amy of vandalizing her room again. Inside Sara's room, someone has taken red paint and written "AMY AMY AMY" all over the walls.

Now would be a good time to examine why this might be the only Goosebumps sequel to eclipse the original. Slappy's antics in this book are not designed to just be weird and "scary" as in the first book. Slappy's increasingly disturbing actions only serve to convince Amy's family that she is literally insane. Amy's mother begins suggesting she see a doctor for "help."

Amy decides to stay up late so she can catch Slappy in the act. As soon as the dummy comes to life, she follows it into Sara's room. She watches as Slappy grabs a paintbrush and then tackles him before he can ruin another painting. Sara wakes up and calls her parents into her room to stop Amy. The next morning, Amy is told she has an appointment with a "shrink." Before she can make that appointment however, Slappy decides to break his silence. He informs her that she's his slave and that until she accepts that, he'll keep vandalizing the house until they lock Amy away. Again with this slave business. Given that his targets have thus far been exclusively female, I can only imagine the situation plays out like this in his head:



Amy decides that violence is the solution and begins wrestling with Slappy. Slappy shares her enthusiasm for violence and punches her in the head, knocking her out. Great, more violence against women, at least the important parts of the first book have been carried over. She comes to and locks Slappy in the closet. He begins ramming the door, trying to break it down. Sara comes into Amy's room and admits that she knows Slappy is alive but wanted her parents to think Amy was crazy because she was jealous of her. This leads to a strange but sweet scene of reconciliation between the sisters as they realize that each was jealous of the other. Admittedly this scene seems to have come from another book, but it contains no werewolves so it's alright.

Slappy bursts out of the closet and the girls tie his arms and legs together and throw him away. But the cat came back the very next day, as Slappy shows up on the kitchen table in a scene that is verbatim lifted from the first book, right down to the Frosted Flakes.

That night, Amy hears Slappy once more sneaking into Sara's room. She follows him in but then another shadowy figure lunges out of the dark at Slappy. The girls flip on the lights and see Dennis, Amy's old dummy, pummeling Slappy. Dennis throws Slappy against the iron bedpost. Slappy's head cracks in half and a large white worm crawls out. What. The worm quickly slides through a crack in the wall.

Amy parents burst out of Sara's closet and clumsily admit to believing Amy's story. Sara and Amy had set the entire thing up, with Jed reprising his role as Dennis.

But the Twist is:
Jed walks in the room and apologizes for oversleeping. But if he wasn't pretending to be Dennis, then who was?>?!!?!>>M!>!!M!>!?>!NJKL:!>

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
N/A

Questionable Parenting:
Rather than investigating on their own, Amy's parents are prompted by Sara to just hide in a closet while their kids wrestle with evil dolls. Nick and Nora they ain't.

Multicultrual Alert:
Amy listens to reggae music. Dad's is an expert at making Chinese food in his wok. Slappy loves the films of Miklos Jancso.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 2/3:
Amy sees a horrible face that looks just like her ventriloquist dummy Dennis. Is it a horrible monster? No, it's her ventriloquist dummy Dennis.

Great Prose Alert:
"Slappy is a baaad dude!"

Conclusions:
A fairly clever take on a type of family not often seen in these books, Night of the Living Dummy II was pretty good, which is surprising given that I literally did not remember a single thing about it from when I read it as a kid until I got to the weird worm ending. Gotta love that non-threatening cover too.

YouTube, Brutus?

If you're a middle class white kid under the age of fourteen, I guess you have a camera and internet access. This is not surprising but I would not have guessed to what extent this demographic loved Slappy. Proof:


Good news if you love the Exorcist theme.


Improv comedy is so funny.


These girls made up a lyrics for the TV theme song. They mention Slappy and werewolves, proving that in three years they will be qualified to ghostwrite for the series.


His grandfather was arrested for spousal abuse in '53. ;_;


The creative team behind this one has disabled embedding. They should have disabled their parents from fighting in the background of one of the scenes.


Minority Alert


Is this a trend I'm unaware of


Les filles fran├žaises et Slappy


No wonder Slappy loves twelve year old girls: he shares their taste in music.


Real update later

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

#07 Night of the Living Dummy


#07 Night of the Living Dummy

Front Tagline: He walks. He stalks...
Back Tagline: He's No Dummy!

Official Book Description:
Lindy names the ventriloquist's dummy she finds Slappy. Slappy is kind of ugly, but he's a lot of fun. Lindy's having a great time learning to make Slappy move and talk.
But Kris is jealous of all the attention her sister is getting. It's no fair. Why does Lindy always have all the luck?
Kris decides to get a dummy of her own. She'll show Kris.
Then weird things begin to happen. Nasty things. Evil things.
No way a dummy can be causing all the trouble.
Or is there?
(That's not a typo up there, Kris is gonna show Kris)

Brief Synopsis:
Twin sisters Lindy and Kris are out riding bikes when they decide to check out the house that's under construction next door. These are some lazy kids if they have to ride their bikes to go next door. Lindy finds a ventriloquist dummy in the dumpster behind the house and decides to call it Slappy. When Kris asks her why, she threatens to slap her. Well, what a quaint little story we have going here.

Kris and Lindy like to compete for everything, so Lindy suddenly finding great success with Slappy makes Kris jealous. In one of the craziest suspensions of disbelief ever attempted in a Goosebumps book, it is revealed that the neighborhood kids love ventriloquism. Lindy is soon being offered $20 to perform at birthday parties and Kris begins to ask her parents for a dummy of her own. Her parents propose the two girls could share the dummy. When Kris attempts to retrieve the doll from Lindy, Slappy tells her she's a moron and then does slap her across the face.

The next day, Mr. Powell brings home another ventriloquist dummy that he bought at a pawn shop. Kris names him Mr. Wood and begins bragging to Lindy that her doll has cooler clothes than Slappy. Reader Beware, You're In For a Who Cares!

Kris tries for several days to practice with Mr. Wood, but she's simply not funny. Lindy comes back every day with more stories of how good she is at talking out of a doll. Lindy also reveals that besides just telling jokes, she and Slappy have a "rap routine." Well, this is the first time I've actually shivered at something from one of these books.

In what is bar-none the most esoteric name-drop in the history of not only Goosebumps but all of childrens literature, Kris is attending a going away party at school the next day and has laid out her Betsey Johnson skirt. I knew what this was but how many eight year old readers know who Betsey Johnson was? (For that matter, how many twelve year old girls own clothing designed by John Cale's ex-wife?) I may have my doubts about the later books, but with such an early entry into the series, I do assume RL Stine actually did write this one. So am I to believe that Stine was once cool enough to name-drop a SoHo BoHo? Mind = Blown. Kris wakes up and Mr. Wood is wearing her skirt and it's all wrinkled. Okay.

A couple days later, Lindy volunteers to help Kris with her ventriloquism, as despite all odds, Kris has sweet-talked a teacher into letting her perform at the school concert. While helping her, Mr. Wood turns his violent rage towards Kris again and beings calling her terrible names. Oh good, so it's not just physical abuse, but verbal as well. Lindy hops over to pull the dummy away from Kris and insists she hasn't done anything, the doll is alive with the sound of nuisance.

Later that night, the sisters walk in on Mr. Wood strangling Slappy. The two girls agree to talk to their mom about the strange occurrences. They walk in on her reading a Stephen King book, which is probably even more embarrassing than being interrupted while masturbating. Their mother tells them to shut up about the dummies and go to bed.

Later that night, Kris finds Mr. Wood in the kitchen, surrounded by a pile of food from the fridge and also her jewels(?). What a weird book this is. Lindy comes down and sees Kris frozen in shock at the sight and before they can clean it all up, Mrs. Powell comes downstairs. Already grouchy since Mr. Powell is away on business in Portland, she threatens to take away both their dolls if they don't quit pretending that one of their dolls is evil. The two girls talk her out of such punishment by promising to clean everything up. Back upstairs, Lindy diabolically admits she was responsible for all of Mr. Wood's bad behavior.

Kris finds a piece of paper in the Mr. Wood's pocket. She recites the strange foreign words printed on the slip and is astonished to see the dummy blink even though her hand was nowhere near the blinking mechanism.

That night, Mr. and Mrs. Miller stop by for a visit. The parents volunteer their children to perform for the elderly guests. Kris foolishly suggests Lindy go first, and naturally Lindy kills. Kris copes and still figures this will be good practice for her appearance at the concert the next day. Before she can begin her act though, Mr. Wood begins brutally harassing the old couple. Abuse of not just children but the elderly too, how dreamy. Mr. Wood asks if Mr. Miller is growing a mustache or if he simply eating a rat. What. Kris runs away crying and her parents ground her but still allow her to perform at the concert.

The following day, Mrs. Berman leads Kris up to the stage. While the overweight woman adjusts the microphone, Mr. Wood lets fly some real humdingers about her weight. Appalled that a children's doll would have such a foul attitude, the rotund teacher demands an apology. Mr. Wood replies by puking green vomit at her, then turning his open mouth out into the audience, soaking the kids in vomit. Whoops, did Kris accidently bring her GG Allin doll to the concert? Mrs. Berman tells Kris she's suspended for life!

Back at home, Mr. Powell tells Kris her doll is going back to the pawnshop to live peacefully amongst the personal belongings of drug addicts. He tosses the doll in the closet and sternly warns Kris against playing with the horrible vomiting doll that she hates.

Kris tries to drift off to sleep but is awoken by the unmistakable sound of doll feet walking across a carpeted floor. She is startled to find Mr. Wood has come out of the closet and even more shocked when he tells her without a lisp that her and her sister are his slaves. Kris pounces on the dummy and the doll responds by punching her in the stomach. But his name isn't Punchy!

Winded, Kris drops the doll and it starts scampering away into the hall. Kris catches up with the li'l shithead at the top of the stairs and throws herself over the doll like a soldier landing on a grenade. Lindy walks out into the hall and understandably has more than a few questions about why her half-naked sister is sprawled atop a doll. Kris attempts to get up to explain and Mr. Wood slips out from underneath her and starts dry-humping his way down the stairs like a snake. Kris runs down to catch up with him and pins him beneath her foot just as their parents arrive to ask what the deuce is afoot. They tell Kris that the night is for sleeping, not of the living dummy. Kris tries to explain but her parents begin to question her mental well-being and suggest maybe she should see a doctor.

As soon as her befuddled parents disappear back upstairs, the doll comes back to life and tells the girls that they're still his slaves. Lindy and Kris respond by trying to decapitate him, first by pulling off his head, then by twisting it off, and finally by just hacking at it with a pair of scissors. None of these tactics work and Mr. Wood just calmly reminds them that they're his slaves. Well I could really tell who was in charge in this slave-master relationship by the way the two girls held the doll down and started sawing off its head with scissors.

Like many slave-owners, Mr. Wood soon finds himself stuffed into a suitcase by two preteen girls and buried underneath the loose soil of the construction site next door. After digging all night, the two girls collapse into their beds and drift off to sleep.

Kris wakes up early and makes her way downstairs,
When what to her wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature dummy grinning ear to ear.
With a little lip quiver she let out yelp,
and knew in a moment she must call for help.
More rapid than seagulls her family they came,
and she whistled and shouted and called them by name;
Now Lindy! Now Barky! Now Mother and Father!
Oh come now and save me from this 'triloquist bother!
To the knob of the door! they refused to hear more
Her parents they dashed away! dashed away to the store!
As dry leaves will blow when met with the wind,
this book will suck all the way to the end.

Mr. Wood tells the two girls that someone's gonna have to die and then starts choking Barky the family dog. The girls try pulling the doll off the dog but only end up dragging Mr. Wood and the dying dog across the kitchen tile. The doll finally loosens its grasp on the family dog and the two girls run outside and toss Mr. Wood in the path of a steamroller. Right before Mr. Wood's about to be toothpicks, Barky runs into the path of the steamroller and the two girls are forced to let go of Mr. Wood to rescue the dog. Mr. Wood escapes and begins taunting the girls, a taunt that is interrupted by another steamroller which slams into him from behind. A mysterious green gas rises from the smashed corpse of the doll. But since Lindy and Kris are strict conservatives, they refuse to acknowledge the change in the air and immediately begin debunking the visual effect that their house looks green when seen through the fog.

The guy running out of the steamroller starts panicking because he thinks he's run over a child. When the girls start explaining that he only ran over a ventriloquist dummy, he starts panicking because he loves vaudeville. The twin sisters tell him that he can keep the doll's smashed corpse and they walk back home.

But the Twist is:
Once the girls arrive back home, Slappy asks his slaves if they finally got rid of that other guy. And thus a franchise was born.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Though there are a couple male friends sprinkled throughout, this is admirably a very female-driven story. Less admirable is the fact that one of these girls repeatedly gets the shit beat out of her, immediately nulling any praise I might have been tempted to dole out.

Questionable Parenting:
Mr. Powell begins crying while peeling onions. Since I passed third grade science, I can tell you that it's cutting, not peeling, an onion which prompts tears. Mr. Powell must have some serious emotional stuff going on that drove him to Portland. This of course is all explored in RL Stine's soul-searching series of books for adults, Grownups. "Reader Beware, You're Over Forty Years Old!"

Questionable Teaching:
Don't schools have "three strikes" programs? Mr. Wood would have to vomit on her twice more before Kris could be suspended for life. Oh God, tell me that's not the plot of the next two Dummy books.

Early 90s Cultural References:
Ventriloquism

R.L. Stine Shows He is Down With the Kids:
Ventriloquism

Multicultural Alert:
"We're doing all these Russian and Yugoslavian songs," Kris said. "They're all so sad. They're about sheep or something. We don't really know what they're about. There's no translation."
(Okay, I admit it, that's funny.)

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 4/5:
Kris feels Slappy grab her wrist. When she looks down in terror, she sees it's only her sister, who had crouched down by the foot of her bed to prank her. Wrist-cut-it-outers: A Love Story. See, a "joke" that bad is how you can tell it's it's 2AM on a Monday night.

Great Prose Alert:
"All that sawdust. It smells so piney."

Conclusions:
Oh I guess Night of the Living Dummy is actually fairly well-written if somewhat slight. As a franchise-starter though, I don't recall clamoring for a sequel as a kid and I'm certainly not looking forward to what is essentially a supporting character's spin-off now-- especially considering that the Dummy books are less Frasier and more Flo.
Rest assured I will be tackling the rest regardless, as I know they have their fans. Speaking of fans...



Seacrest out.

Monday, March 03, 2008

#45 Ghost Camp


#45 Ghost Camp

Front Tagline: Be all that you can't see!
Back Tagline: The Joke's On Them!

Official Book Description:
Harry and his brother, Alex, are dying to fit in at Camp Spirit Moon. But the camp has so many weird traditions. Like the goody camp salute. The odd camp greeting. And the way the old campers love to play jokes on the new campers.
Then the jokes start to get really serious. Really creepy. Really scary.
First a girl sticks her arm in the campfire. Then a boy jams a pole through his foot.
Still, they're just jokes...right?

Brief Synopsis:
Siblings Harry and Alex are the sole occupants of the bus to Camp Spirit Moon. Alex starts to get carsick and Harry being the helpful older brother tells him to take his mind off it by singing. Well, that's a new one. Alex has a beautiful singing voice and so he takes his brother's advice and starts singing a Beatles song. We're not told which, perhaps "Can't Bus Me Love"? It's a good thing characters can't read these entries because I'm sure that joke would have only induced more vomiting.

Alex's voice is so good that he was supposed to go to music camp for the summer, but because their parents enrolled them both so late in the summer, the only camp that was available was Camp Spirit Moon.

Their bus driver lacks the verbal skill of Busdriver, as the blonde surfer-type simply punctuates every comment to the kids with "dude." He pours on the "dudes" after stopping in the middle of nowhere and telling the kids to follow the trail into the woods by themselves. He tells them it's not too far to the camp and I can't help but feel let down that Stine missed the opportunity to actually work "Boo, dude" into one of these books.

The two kids lug their luggage through the woods on the shady path. Once they arrive at camp, they find the place deserted. Harry insists that their fellow campers must be somewhere on the camp grounds, and while searching the eerily empty grounds they do spot a soccer field and an archery setup-- great, sports and camp, there's a proven combo for this series. Finally an older teenager stumbles out of the woods and tells the two kids that the entire camp has left, only he can't get through it without laughing. He tells the kids that it's a traditional Camp Spirit Moon joke to trick the new campers into thinking the camp is abandoned. That seems like an awfully inefficient prank, wouldn't it have been easier to just like turn the garden hose on them?

Uncle Marv, the head counselor, races out from hiding and greets the two kids by nearly knocking them over from the force of his high fives. Uncle Marv teaches the kids the Spirit Moon Greeting, which consists of yelling out "Yohhhhhhhh Spirits!" and then extending your left hand to your nose and then pushing it up into the air. Harry thinks the salute looks stupid, and he's right, but he still politely repeats it for Uncle Marv, as does Alex. Uncle Marv tell them they did a good job, though I'm not sure there was ever any danger of them screwing up a salute that simple.

Uncle Marv drops the kids off at their cabin, which is also abandoned. As they're deciding who sleeps on top and who sleeps on bottom, Harry steps in a sticky blue puddle of liquid. There are several blue puddles inside the cabin and Harry is shocked to discover the liquid is cool to the touch-- shocked because he thought the substance might have been someone's leftover Gak, and of course Gak was never cool.

Uncle Marv comes back to collect Harry and Alex for the Welcoming Campfire. The brothers follow Uncle Marv in the dusky night until they arrive at a huge bonfire. All the other kids from the camp are gathered around the large fire and everyone but the two brothers are wearing Camp Spirit Moon uniforms. The other campers seem very friendly and inviting. While waiting in line for food, Harry looks behind him and sees that Alex has already made friends with a short blonde kid. When he makes it to the front of the line, he has trouble finding a hot dog roasting stick until a cute girl reads his mind and directs him to the pile. Her name is Lucy and her beautiful pale features and dark hair cause Harry to start crushing on her immediately. Lucy and Harry watch as some kid shoves an entire hot dog into his mouth, which causes Lucy to lead Harry away so they can be alone. Hmm.

Lucy and Harry lean-in close to the fire and start cooking their dogs. Harry's hot dog falls off the stick into the fire and Lucy reaches her hand into the flames to retrieve it. She calmly hands him back his charred hot dog and then, almost as an afterthought, starts wailing about how hot the fire was. Before Harry can protest too much, Lucy grabs him by the arm and leads him to the chip table.

Lucy and Harry run into Alex, who is still hanging around with the blonde kid. Alex introduces him:

"His name is Elvis. Do you believe it? Elvis McGraw."

No.

Unfortunately for Harry, while he was talking with Alex and Elvis, some of Lucy's friends found her and carried her off. Alex tells Harry that he and Elvis are going to try out for the camp talent show and and the camp musical.

Uncle Marv swoops in and drags Harry and Alex off to sit in the middle of the large circle of kids. Harry spies Lucy sitting with a bunch of girls but doesn't have time to get her attention as Uncle Marv starts leading the camp in an incredibly-involved camp anthem that has more verses than a Joanna Newsom song.

Somewhere around the thirtieth verse, Harry sneaks out of the circle and away from the fire. Lucy sneaks up behind him at the outskirts of the woods and implores him to help her. Before he can ask her what she means, Uncle Marv stops the song and tells Harry and Lucy that there's no sneaking off into the woods. The other kids laugh and can this really be the first (and only?) Goosebumps book where kids making-out is approached even half-way? Lucy and Harry head back into the circle and Uncle Marv makes a few more jokes at their expense, which causes Harry to blush. Aww, just like a real uncle.

Uncle Marv announces to the group that he's going to tell the "two ghost stories." Everyone quiets down and some even gasp. Uncle Marv explains that the two Camp Spirit Moon ghost stories he's about to tell have been passed down from generation to generation. He turns to Lucy and asks why everyone's so spooked. She asks him if he's afraid of ghosts, to which he replies with his best Ray Parker Jr impression. Lucy leans in close and ominously warns him that after tonite, he just might.
HARRY, THAT'S WHEN YOU GO FOR THE KISS.

Uncle Marv spins the first yarn. I won't try to do it justice, but the basic idea is that a counselor leads his troop deeper and deeper into the woods. The campers keep hearing a thumping sound coming from the ground. Finally the counselor realizes they had ventured too far into the woods and the ground they were sleeping on is actually the skin of a monster. The monster's vast head then appears and it opens its mouth, handily eating all the campers in one bite. Well, that's not a ghost story.

Harry tries to get Lucy or Elvis to agree with him that it was a silly story but he finds the other campers very much disturbed by the tale. Uncle Marv pauses while the counselors add wood to the fire and then begins the second (first?) ghost story, the story of the Ghost Camp. Oh I'm already reading that one Marv, don't spoil it for me!

Uncle Marv's story of the Ghost Camp is a little more disturbing. Uncle Marv describes a night much like that night, when campers were all gathered around a campfire, listening to a ghost stories. A thick dark fog fell from the sky and enveloped the campers. It was so thick that they couldn't even see the huge fire that was only a few feet away. When the fog lifted, the entire population of the camp lay motionless on the ground. The fog had killed every child, teenager, and adult in the camp. The ghosts of the campers then glumly rose up and made their way back to the cabins, knowing they'd never leave Ghost Camp.

Harry is a little more receptive to this story. He turns to ask Alex what he thought but Alex is staring in horror at the sky, where a thick fog has become visible in the moonlight and is descending towards the camp. Uncle Marv smiles and steps back into the darkness of the woods as the whisps of the fog begin to snake their way down into the campgrounds from above. Harry tries to calm Alex by reminding him that they don't believe in ghost stories and that the fog appearing is only a coincidence. Uncle Marv reappears and tells the campers to all rise and begin singing the Camp Spirit Moon song. The other campers begin but slowly their voices are drowned out by the fog. When the the fog finally lifts, the two boys realize they're standing alone in the center of the circle. The camp grounds are silent and empty. Harry tries to be the good big brother and tries to convince Alex and himself that it's still only a joke, that the fog was fake and this is just another big trick like when they arrived.

Harry and Alex walk back towards the cabins and sure enough, once they approach their bunk, the other campers all come out of hiding, laughing uproariously. It was a joke. Is this the most needlessly complicated joke in the history of camps or what? You know what would have been easier? Coming up behind them and yelling "Boo!" Or "Boo, Dude!" Or "Boo, Dude! Goosebumps Is On TV! See your local TV listings for details."

Uncle Marv tells the camp that it's lights-out. After dark, Harry spots another puddle of blue goo and since Tobias Funke isn't around, he looks around the room for what could be causing it. He doesn't get an answer but he sure raises an interesting new question as he spies Joey, one of their bunkmates hovering over their bed several feet in the air.

The next morning Harry is hanging out with Joey and Sam, another bunkmate. They're playing around with some camping equipment in front of the stage where Alex and Elvis are auditioning for the talent show. Alex wows the crowd with his beautiful voice, but Elvis fails to live up the sound of his namesake (I'm of course referring to the chanteuse critic Elvis Mitchell). Alex gets into the talent show and is cast as the lead in the camp musical. Elvis is also given a position in the play, that of stage hand. Not content with not being given anything, Sam gives himself a critical wound by piercing a metal tent-pole through his foot, pinning it to the ground. When he notices Harry's shock, he calmly pulls the pole out of the ground and says that it just missed his toes. Yes, missed them on the way to plunging into the rest of his foot!

As if that wasn't weird enough, at dinner, Joey takes a fork and shoves it into his neck. He insists it's a trick but both Harry and Alex are more than a little weirded-out. Uncle Marv wanders over to their table and tells Joey to stop horsing around. He reminds them that they should conserve their energy for the big B vs G soccer game that night. On the way to the field, Lucy waves at Alex but before he can wander over to her Sam and Joey lead him off in the opposite direction.

As the camp plays the massive soccer game in the dark, aided only by two massive floodlights, Harry sees another fog roll in. He steps off the field and runs into Alex. Harry tells Alex about the tent-pole incident and Alex trumps him by telling an even creepier story. After his audition, Alex had gone out to the lake for free swim. The weather was so nice and the water was so clear that he floated out past the shore and decided to look beneath the surface. When he dunked his head under, he spotted a girl at the bottom of the lake. Not swimming, just sitting on the floor underneath the water. Not knowing if there was time to swim all the way back to get a counselor, Alex dived down to rescue her, hoping he wasn't too late. She surprisingly didn't weigh much and once he reached the surface, he swam back towards the shore with her under his arm. As he neared the shore, he began to hear the girl laughing. When he reached the shore, she turned around under his arm and spit water into his face. She freed herself and began floating back in the water away from the shore. Alex called out to her as she floated away how she was able to do that, and she ominously replies that she can hold her breath a long, long time.

Harry tries to approach Alex's story as just another camp prank, that maybe all of these things they've experienced are just more traditions meant to spook them. As Harry's making his case, the two boys watch as an arrant soccer ball whizzes towards the net, hitting the girl's goalie in the head. The ball was kicked with such force that it knocked the girl's head off, which fell down to the ground next to the soccer ball. Harry races over to help, only to see that he was only imaging things. The other kids mock him and he runs away from the game. Alex catches up with him and tells him he saw the same thing: her head really did fall off. Harry reminds Alex that they don't believe in ghosts and that there's got to be some logical explanation. They consult Marion Cotillard, who gives them some pamphlets about the faulty wiring at the camp.

The two siblings try to participate in normal camp activities to take their mind off all the weirdness, and things more or less go on uneventfully for a couple days. One night though, right before lights-out, Harry is stopped on the way to his cabin by Lucy. She grabs him around the waist with both arms and pulls him into the woods. She tells him again that he has to help her. Naturally he's inclined to do so, and he swallows hard and asks what wrong. She tells him he's right, that everyone at the camp is a ghost. Even her.

Harry tries to tell himself that he doesn't believe in ghosts, not even cute ones, but he realizes she's telling the truth. Turns out Uncle Marv's second ghost story was Based on True Events. Harry sympathetically takes Lucy's ice-cold hand and tells her he believes her. They have a pretty somber discussion of what it's like to be a ghost and Lucy reveals that the blue puddles all around the camp are protoplasm (add that one to the word list, readers) that materializes and collects every time the ghosts make themselves visible. Lucy pleads with Harry to help her by allowing her to take over his mind and body. Harry is willing to go to third base tops, so he turns her down. She begs him and promises that once they leave the camp grounds she'll leave his body. The only way for a ghost to escape the camp grounds is to take over a live human body. Harry won't go that far and he starts to back away from Lucy. The fog starts encircling the two and Lucy begins floating in the air in front of him, emotionally bargaining with him to let her take over his mind and body.

He turns to run and is stopped by an icy feeling around his head. He can feel Lucy's hands and body entering into his head and his mind. The freezing feeling begins to envelop Harry's entire body as he tearfully tries to talk Lucy out of taking over his body. He tries very hard to resist her invasion but gradually begins to give way to her assault. He starts yelling out loud and angrily resists her. He figures that if he can't reason with Lucy, he'll reason with himself: he can stop her. He keeps yelling and howling into the night, and fights the urge to just lay down and go to sleep. Suddenly he feels the weight lifted from his body. Harry quickly rushes towards the camp to retrieve his brother.

Harry bursts into the bunk, waking everyone. Ignoring his bunkmates, who don't yet know that he knows, he throws his brother his clothes and shoes and tells him to get dressed . Once he's laced-up, Harry drags Alex out of the cabin and tells him to run as fast as he can. The two boys run until Alex collapses from exhaustion. Afraid that they're not far enough away from the camp, Harry pushes Alex to keep running when the two boys hear the same thumping sound from the first "ghost" story. The smooth ground beneath their feet begins to shake with the thumps. Alex cries out that they're standing on the monster, just like in the story. Harry is in disbelief until the monster's head appears. Harry thinks quickly as the creature pushes the two boys into its mouth. He tells his brother that they don't believe in ghosts and they don't believe in monsters and this just can't exist. He forces Alex to admit that monsters can't exist. The vast monster swallows the two boys and they land safely on the ground. By believing the monster can't exist, they proved it didn't!

The two brothers cheerfully embrace in the clearing, only to be interrupted by Uncle Marv. Uncle Marv commands the other campers to capture the two boys-- remember when Marv only wanted to capture one boy? Harry and Alex close their eyes and begin chanting that the ghosts can't exist. When Harry opens his eyes, Lucy's face is directly in front of his. She taunts him that he can't escape and then pins him to the ground. Harry sees Elvis doing the same to Alex and he feels the icy sensation of Lucy entering his body.

Just as Harry submits to his fate, another camper knocks Lucy off his body. Lucy is furious at the boy, who tries to get into Harry's body first, as Uncle Marv had promised her she was the next to leave. The other ghosts soon join in and begin fighting with each other as all the counselors and even Uncle Marv get caught up in the swirling ghost-fight. They spin faster and faster until they just disappear into a flash of blinding white light. Harry helps his brother up off the ground and the two head towards the highway to flag down a car.

But the Twist is:
Harry and Alex walk away from the camp silently. Alex breaks the quiet by humming a song, but the humming is off-key. Harry stops and asks if Elvis is inside his brother. Alex speaks in Elvis's voice and begs Harry not to tell anyone.

the Phantasmagoric Boy-Girl Relationship:
Harry Altman and Lucy, who disappears into Harry three-fourths of the way thru the novel.

Questionable Parenting:
So, the safety camp for their kids after music camp is horrible murdered children camp?

Early 60s Cultural References:
the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Elvis Presley

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
I never thought I'd type these words, but there isn't a chapter transition worth mocking.

Great Prose Alert:
Why does he want to enter the talent show when he sounds like a squealing dog?

Conclusions:
Slightly scarier than Ernest Scared Stupid though still not as frightening as Ernest Goes to Camp, Ghost Camp is a new reference point for quality in the series. I can't believe I'm typing these words either, but: I can't wait to read the sequel-- which won't be for a while gang, it's a Series 2000 book.


Well guys and gals, thanks for reading and don't be a dummy and miss next week's update!