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:

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

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."

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.


Anonymous said...

Oh, God. That was the best write-up ever. I know I've said that so many times that it doesn't matter but... BEST WRITE-UP EVER. They should have just gotten rid of him ala Steve Buscemi in Fargo. I still don't understand how hard it is to get rid of a dummy. Honestly, just throw it in some flames. Why are these Goosebumps protagnists so lazy? They're almost as lazy as R.L. Stine's imagination. Lord help us if we ever got a Goosebumps character as lazy as that.

The Stephen King bit was gold! Gold, Jerry, gold!

Anonymous said...

This one was actually pretty scary. Mostly because Mr. Wood was so freaking violent. Did they really need to have him strangle a dog? And yet Slappy gets all the praise.

Also, I love the cover art.

Kristin said...

I actually remembered the "Kris decides to get a dummy of her own. She'll show Kris" mixup on the back cover.

It was literally the only thing I remembered about this book.

Unknown said...

One of your best reviews, looking forward to Dummy II. And I agree with q & t, how come the protagonists didn't just bust a cap into the dummy's mouth and teach it a lesson.

Anonymous said...

that was epic. i'm so glad i never read the dummy books when was younger.

do you think this book was the inspiration for the aqua teen hunger force episode that was on sunday night?


although there was nothing about slaves...

Anonymous said...

But how embarrassing must it be to be caught reading Goosebumps?

"I have a derogatory Goosebumps review blog!"

Anonymous said...

I'm ashamed to admit that I remember this book actually freaking me out when I was little. Stupid ventriliquist dummies.
I swear, Joss Whedon based that episode of Buffy on this book.

Anonymous said...

Great write-up (one of your best!) for a particularly wacky book/

troy steele said...

The reprinted version of this book de-cants the cover's image of Slappy. As if the redesign wasn't already bad enough, they gotta mess with the art too.
I maintain, and I'll get into this in some depth once I start tackling the terminally ugly Series 2000 books, that a great deal of the appeal of the series when I was a kid was based on the appearance of the books themselves: not just the artwork but the color schemes and template used. The "updated" versions of the Goosebumps books reprinted for modern readers are just ugly, kids today are getting shafted.

Unknown said...

I feel the same way too about the new editions of Goosebumps. The way the old Goosebumps books looked played a large part in my enjoyment of them. It gave the books a certain aura and feel that carried its way into the reading experience. The new versions don't even have the little bumps on the cover anymore. It just isn't the same.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of redesigns, what do you think of HorrorLand-edition Slappy?
He got off lucky. Monster Blood and the Haunted Mask really are awful now.

troy steele said...

The most terrifying thing about those books is the promise of "Special bonus features"-- one of my loyal readers should take one for the team and pick one of the new books up and let us/me know what the new features (What a weird phrasing, is this supposed to appeal to the DVD market?) are and if they are worth me covering here.

Anonymous said...

I believe the new features are - according to Scholastic's Goosebumps page - "Behind the Screams" author interviews, and, that ever-ominous phrase, "more." And there are going to be ten of those reissues. Reader beware indeed.

Unknown said...

I'm going to get the first two books when they come out so I'll let you know what's up.

Anonymous said...

I have the first two books. I haven't gotten around to reading them yet, but I bought them. I flipped through it and as far as I can tell the features would be:

*A couple of pages that lead us to the websites set up for the books
*A map of horror that looks like it was drawn by a 4 year old, but I really, really hope Stine did it.
*A checklist of stuff to do at horrorland
*And a look at the cover of yet another re-issue of Night of the Living Dummy.

So in other words, not much. That map is worth a good laugh though. And by scanning over the contents of the two new books it looks like they are about 90 pages of a normal Goosebumps book (It pages are still wasted on dreams I'll be pissed) and then 20 pages of Horrorland stuff. Then like 10 Fear File pages, which is the bonus feature stuff I described.

Anonymous said...

Troy, are you planning to do Bride of the Living Dummy and Slappy's Nightmare after II and III, or are you gonna wait until you get to the other 2000 books?

Anonymous said...

I love how there happened to be not one, but TWO steamrollers coming down their street at that VERY moment.

troy steele said...

Initially I was going to do all of the Dummy books in a row, but now I'm positive I'm only covering the first three now and then the other two in sequential order with the Series 2000 books and the stage show adaptation at some point between.

Unknown said...

And don't forget the tv show. A YouTube user uploaded most of the Goosebumps episodes. Maybe you could review an episode in between reviewing books.

Anonymous said...

Or You could review the TV books.
There just liite books that describe the tv version.
But i gotta warn you,the tv version of Monster blood is worse than the book version,and there is any extra eppy called More Monster blood which wasn't based of a book

Brodie said...

Surely it's Tuesday in America by now, so the new update should be there...

Anonymous said...

Late again. Your mother and I are very disappointed in you, young man. :|

purplemoo said...

I have to admit this actually creeped me out a fair bit. I mean the dummy freakin projectile vomited on stage! It's so gross and demonic...

Anonymous said...

Hi Troy:

I'm sorry to say that I only discovered your excellent blog a few days ago. I've read about ten or fifteen of your reviews so far but this one is by far my favourite of the bunch. It's just so brilliant.

Man, this brings back memories. I never really figured out WHY I read the Goosebumps series; I didn't want to be grossed out, and I didn't find them particularly scary either. The only one I remember with any clarity is HOW I LEARNED TO FLY, the first review I read on your site. I remember feeling really sorry for Jack because he kept getting his ass kicked; I think I empathized with him :(

I remember reading the old GIVE YOURSELF GOOSEBUMPS series, specifically the Carnival of Horrors and this one I can't remember the name of where you're playing a VR game. I remember it required a test of GOOSEBUMPS knowledge and it pissed me off because I hadn't read any of the GOOSEBUMPS books it was talking about. So I just did it through trial and error.

Are you gonna review those anytime soon? You could just list all the endings, because if I remember they were all awesomely bad :)

Keep it up man!

troy steele said...

Noah, I do plan to do at least one Give Yourself Goosebumps book, plotting out each and every possible outcome. But I've been threatening this since I started the blog 2 1/2 years ago, so who knows when it will happen!

Groggy Dundee said...

This is probably the best Goosebumps book. It's not really scary (well, the cover art freaks me out quite a bit) but it's pretty well-written by Goosebumps standards. The Ghost Next Door is the only one that I'd put in the same league.

Nice review, I loved the Stephen King joke in particular. I agree with the above poster who asked why it's so hard to kill a dummy?

Anonymous said...

this was like a PG version of Chucky,
it scared me. lol
i read the book not too long ago out of boredom,
and because i saw the TV episode [still bored].

the television episodes of Goosebumps are better than the books.
this one was DEFINETLY better than the book,
and it did not need sequels. lol
[just like Monster Blood, or the Haunted Mask!]

i love the blog!! it makes me question my childhood reading choices though... "/

Anonymous said...

Moxie, the puppet episode was in Angel, not Buffy, unless you're talking about the episode with Sid the Dummy, which I thought was more reminiscent of Child's Play (especially the whole trying to become human again-- also, have you noticed the not-so-subtle similarities between Slappy and Chucky? For instance, they have many more sequels than necessary, serving to dilute the better beginning, they both have had brides... I'm watching out for Seed of Slappy!).

Anonymous said...

Thomas, you described the new HorrorLand books, and not the reprints. Moron.

Anonymous said...

I don't know but did they write a night of the living dummy 4? if so it should be about mr.wood coming back to life. marri odonna so on and so on!

King Fan said...


Why are we suddenly insulting Stephen King?

Otherwise, I fucking adore your website.

Sexy Sadie said...

I know what the problem was. Somebody set Mr. Wood to "evil".

Joel said...

This was too hilarious. Especially from the paragraph that described the doll as the L'il shithead. Oh God how I laughed.

John Deering said...

All right, man. Just one question. For this "Night of the Living Dummy 1" entry, when you got into the rhyming poem part, was that an attempt to imitate Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes poems? Because, somehow, I got that vibe from it. But I won't be able to sleep until getting an answer. :-/

troy steele said...

Don't lose sleep, it's one of my occasional line-for-line parodies (which I suspect no one but me enjoys), this time of the Night Before Christmas

Anonymous said...

To quote Buffy "Dummies give me the wiggins" but after this they just seem kinda lame....

Anonymous said...

That's not a typo up there, she'll show Chris! LOL!!!! Excellent observation!!!! :DDDD

Anonymous said...

benny here. this one was weird. especally the green fog part.i didnt understand it. maybe because i was nine or a better answer was because they really didnt talk about thats why it confused me. 5/10 (weird and creepy cover)

John A. Deering said...

First: I am glad to see that somebody agrees with me about the Goosebumps reprints. For me it was not the same.

Goosebumps was about more than just the stories, the written words. That was the heart and soul of it, yeah - AFTER you got hooked in, in the first place, by the amazing cover art. Every month, same template (I could not think of the word!), but different colors every time, and always two colors. One month it's blue and purple. Another time it's green and dark green. Another time it's red and yellow. Stine always has a way of keeping you on your toes.

I should also add, the artwork itself by T. Jacobus was truly amazing. Look at "The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb", "The Girl Who Cried Monster", and "Be Careful What You Wish For", and you would think it's so realistic that, at a casual glance, the cover art could be mistaken for a photograph.

The reprints have the ugly change of shape. Maybe it just throws me off because I was there in the 90's, and the reprints are meant to introduce Goosebumps to the kids OF the original readers. I just can't stand the childish Easter-colors look that most of the reprinted covers have. Plus: there is no distinction at all for what order the stories came out in. It's just ABC order, with "Attack of the Jack-O-Lanterns" coming first, and "Welcome to Dead House" and "Werewolf Skin" side-by-side near the end. Maybe it was just in my head, that the chronological order was somehow important - that it was a large part of all the magic.

Finding the ORIGINAL originals, at a secondhand bookstore or whatever these things are called, made me feel better: it placed me back into the 1990's, and back into my elementary school years.

Now there's also "Classic Goosebumps" reprints, but the cover art is, in a way, BETTER THAN EVER.

John A. Deering said...

Night of the Living Dummy 1 involves Mr. Wood getting crushed and "a green fog" coming out of his body which smells like rotten eggs.

Part 2 involves Slappy's head getting smashed against an iron bedpost and a worm crawling out of his head. This, after there had been a sandwich inside. (Maybe the worm was eating the sandwich.) Wait, how did they not discover the worm earlier, then?

Part 2 in the TV version involves Slappy getting his head smashed open and . . . HIS SOUL COMING OUT and floating out the window.

I was in shock as a kid, and in even bigger shock watching it again as an adult, that they went there - they showed Slappy's soul!!! In hindsight, maybe they were trying to say "a foul-smelling green gas", but it definitely looked like a soul to me, because of how souls look in Mortal Kombat.

Remember that one thing that inspired Mr. Wood and Slappy is probably Chucky, the killer doll, and maybe also Tina the killer doll from the Twilight Zone. (There was also a manipulative wooden dummy somewhere in the Twilight Zone.) Chucky was the result of a human soul, the soul of a killer, being summoned into the body of a doll. Does Slappy have a human soul inside him?

It really seems more like he is a wooden dummy brought to life. Jed asks, in the second book, "So who taught him how to spell?" If he is a human soul, that would explain it.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of that Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode. The same one anti-laci mentioned. The one with "KILL KILL KILLL KILLKILLKILLL KIIIILLLLLLL" Although there was nothing about slaves.

The Wiz said...

"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."

Okay, so at the risk of sounding like some kind of men's rights activist (lol), why is this specifically an issue for you? In many Goosebumps books, the main (boy) character gets beat up--the one I think of off the top of my head is Monster Blood III, in which seemingly every major event ends with Evan getting beat up by a bully. So how is violence against girl protagonists "less admirable than violence against boy protagonists?

Not to mention the fact that the girl in this story gets beaten by AN EVIL DOLL, which is way more Goosebumps-justifiable than, say, getting beaten by another person. The doll's supposed to be an asshole, and I'd say he (it?) is successful on that front.