After reading some of the Fear Street books, I’ve been reminiscing a lot about R. L. Stine’s other popular series, Goosebumps. I was obsessed with the series when I was younger and read a large chunk of the series. I decided to read one of my favorite installments to rediscover what I loved. Surprisingly, this book held up really well! Why not go through this series as well?
Night of the Living Dummy was great because it dealt atmospheric and subtle scares. The dummy didn’t come alive until after more than halfway through the book, and I thought that was an interesting and creative decision. The story relied on the natural creepiness of ventriloquist dummies in the same way that the original Child’s Play made the viewer question if Chucky was really alive.
Alright, let’s take a detailed look at this thing! Like all of my reviews, spoilers are scattered throughout, so avoid this entry if you do not wish to be spoiled.
Many of the Goosebumps books have been re-released in the Classic Goosebumps series with new covers, so I’ll be taking a look at both. The original cover, the cover of the book I first read, is above. The original covers are much simpler than the newer covers, but I like them more. They are creepier. This one, with just a dummy standing in front of a black and green background is effective because of the expression on the dummy’s face. Look at his eyes. Look at his sinister smile. The smile here is creepier than an angry expression would have been. I can almost hear his cackling laugh just looking at this cover.
Tagline: He Walks… He stalks…
I really like the tagline! It suits the cover and the book, and it draws the reader in. It’s creepy.
I think the reason I don’t like the newer covers of the series are because they are more cartoony, which takes the realness away from them. I know R. L. Stine’s stories require a suspension of belief in general, but the new covers make that more difficult for me. It’s like watching a cartoon versus watching a live-action film. The latter are always more scary to me, because they feel like they are really happening.
Anyway, let’s look at this cover on its own without comparing it to the other cover. What I actually like in this cover is the dummy’s pose. I like how he’s slouched in a corner, falling on himself like someone just placed him on the floor. I like that the artist decided to keep the facial expression from the previous cover. I like the light shining on the wall from the window, seemingly illuminating the dummy.
This dummy resembles the dummy from the Goosebumps film. I wasn’t overly impressed with that version of Slappy.
My favorite Slappy was from the Goosebumps TV show. He was the only one that I felt dangled on the line between fun/interesting and scary. The scary thing about Slappy is that kids found him innocuous before he demanded that they be his slaves.
Kris and Lindy are competitive twin sisters who live with their parents, referred to as Mr. and Mrs. Powell in the book, and their family dog, who has possibly the worst, most uncreative name for a dog I have ever
heard read: Barky. Let me guess: he barks a lot. Seriously, the Powells couldn’t come up with a better name for their dog? The book begins with the twins arguing over who could blow a bigger bubble with bubble gum, exasperating their mother. Competitiveness is clearly the personality trait Stine assigned to these characters when he outlined this book; similar arguments occur throughout.
In pre-2000s fashion, Mrs. Powell makes her girls go outside to ride their bikes. I remember being forced out of the house when I was a kid. My caretakers didn’t care what I did outside as long as I wasn’t in the house under them. I hear kids don’t play outside as much anymore. Anyway, they decide to ride next door because the girls are apparently lazy. A new house is being built. Under some of the mess of the construction, Lindy finds a ventriloquist dummy. She names it Slappy, because he slaps, and proceeds to slap Kris across the face with the dummy’s wooden hand.
Lindy takes up ventriloquism and has somewhat of a knack for it. Kids laugh at her jokes, and parents even find her funny and pay her to perform at birthday parties. Kris, who is competitive, if you remember, is naturally jealous and begs her parents for a dummy of her own. Her father surprises her with a dummy she names Mr. Wood. Seriously, these names.
Kris practices a lot with Mr. Wood, and even forces her friend Cody to watch her perform. Alas, she’s not funny. Despite this, she somehow is asked to perform at the beginning of her school’s choir concert. She continues to practice with Mr. Wood, even after horrible things start to happen. She wakes up to find Mr. Wood wearing her Betsey Johnson skirt. She walks in and discovers Mr. Wood on top of Slappy strangling him. She hears Mr. Wood insult her while practicing. She wakes up in the middle of the night and goes downstairs to the kitchen to get water and finds the contents of the refrigerator strewn about, milk poured out all over the floor, and Mr. Wood sitting in the middle of the mess wearing Kris’ fake jewelry.
Lindy follows her down and discovers the mess, and so too does their mother. Mrs. Powell has had it with the dummies and threatens to take both dummies away. She of course doesn’t believe that Mr. Wood made the mess and blames the girls. Lindy and Kris convince their mother to allow them to keep their dummies by volunteering to clean up the mess.
When they go back to bed, Kris puts Mr. Wood in the closet and hears him yelling to let him out. She admits to Lindy that she’s scared, at which point Lindy confesses to being responsible for everything. She thinks it’s hilarious that Kris thought the dummy was alive, and brags, saying, “Gotcha again.”
What the hell? The other pranks I can see, but emptying the contents of the family refrigerator is a tad extreme just for a laugh, don’t you think? Lindy has issues.
Sometime after this, while practicing with Mr. Wood, Kris finds a slip of paper in Mr. Woods’ pocket. She clearly has never watched a horror movie, because she decides to read the foreign words printed on the slip. Mr. Wood blinks, or was it Kris’ imagination? Uh oh.
We’re about 60% through the book now, and this is where the horror really begins.
Her parents are entertaining the Millers, their next door neighbors one night and call for Kris and Lindy to come down and perform their ventriloquist acts. Lindy goes first and slays, of course. Kris sits down with Mr. Wood to begin her routine, but before she can begin, Mr. Wood starts talking on his own, insulting the old couple. He picks on Mr. Miller’s mustache, the couples’ dentures, and their age. Ageist. The Millers and Powells are shocked. Kris cries, saying she didn’t say those things, and flees the room. Lindy follows her, and Kris tries to convince Lindy that Mr. Wood was alive and talking on his own. Lindy calls her a copycat, because she’s already done that joke.
Kris is grounded for two weeks, but is still allowed to perform at the concert. I don’t know about you, but if I had seen my dummy do what Mr. Wood did, my ventriloquism career would be over. I definitely would not take the same dummy on stage at a concert to do the same thing again. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, well, you know. Kris does just that, however.
Mr. Wood insults her overweight teacher, and then throws up green liquid all over her teacher and then the front row of the audience. Kris is suspended for life.
The Powells are furious. Mr. Powell puts Mr. Wood in the girls’ closet and vows to take him back to the pawn shop Monday morning.
After the girls fall asleep, Kris wakes up to the sound of tiny footsteps. She follows them and finds Mr. Wood walking down the hall. She grips his shoulder, and he tries to escape. He threatens to throw her down the stairs if she doesn’t let go of him. (What kind of book is this?) She decides to lock him up in a suitcase and tackles him. He retaliates by punching her in the stomach. (Seriously.)
Lindy and their parents come out to see what all the commotion is, and finding Kris on top of the dummy, insisting he is alive, suggest she may need psychiatric help. They go back to bed, leaving the girls with the dummy. Mr. Wood starts moving again, demanding to be let go and calling the girls his slaves. They try to destroy him by decapitation, first by trying to pull of his head, and then by trying to cut it off with scissors. They fail. Mr. Wood says they can’t kill him because he has powers. They decide to stuff Mr. Wood in a suitcase and bury him in the neighboring construction mess. Mr. Wood says they will be punished for what they are doing to him, but if they let him out, their punishment won’t be that severe. The girls bury the living dummy.
The next morning, the girls feel like survivors of a horror movie, giddy that they survived and conquered the evil that plagued them. They walk downstairs to find Mr. Wood sitting at the dining room table covered in dirt, and worse, their angry mother. She doesn’t have energy or patience for her twins or their dummy antics, and leaves with their father to the gardening store.
Mr. Wood turns to the girls and tells them that now they will be punished. He grabs their dog, Barky, by the neck and chokes him, deciding a dead dog will be their just desserts. Kris and Lindy struggle with Mr. Wood but eventually free the dog from the dummy’s grasp. They run outside and put Mr. Wood in front of a steamroller at the construction site next door. Barky decides now is a good time to play, so he runs out in front of the steamroller himself, forcing the girls to let go of the dummy to rescue their dog.
Mr. Wood shouts, “I’m free!” which is an interesting thing for a slave owner to say, and begins to run from the girls …right into the path of another steamroller. He is rolled over, splatted, and a green gassy cloud leaves his body.
After quelling the fear of the construction worker who thought he ran over a kid, not a dummy, the girls go inside. Once they get to their room, Kris finds their window open and rain pouring in, and reaching to shut it, a hand grabs her arm. Lindy’s dummy, Slappy, says, “Hey slave, is that other guy gone? I thought he’d never leave!” Of course.
As a kid, the Night of the Living Dummy books were some of the scariest. Today, this one was just funny. Like I wrote above, I enjoyed the atmospheric and subtle scares of the first 60% of the book before the dummy actually came alive. The rest, especially the beating up of Kris, was mostly disturbing. I wonder if I would have felt better about it had Kris been a male character. Reading about a girl being beat up by the dummy was just unsettling.
Despite these issues, the book was well-written and enjoyable. I will read Night of the Living Dummy 2 eventually, but for now, how about another scare? What were your favorite Goosebumps books?