What is it about ventriloquist dummies that seem to scare people so? Is it their dwarfish human-like bodies, their wooden ligaments grotesquely moving in a mockery of life? Is it the cruel turn of their painted lips, the gleam of their wide, staring eyes? Or is it the fact that their purpose is to sit in one’s lap, granting them the perfect opportunity to wrap their cold, hard fingers around your throat… laughing all the while?
I know I’m not the only one with this affliction. I’ve seen a few Traumafessions here already dedicated to the topic of those firewood automatons. So, why then, do people seem to cringe and shudder at the sight of those ghastly puppets sitting in faux innocence on a shelf or under a stage light’s glare? To be honest, I couldn’t tell you. What I can tell you is that they’ve terrified me all my life. And they show no sign of stopping.
I believe my first memory of animated marionettes came to me while watching television with the family one afternoon. There was a clip from what I believed for the longest time was MAGIC, but later discovered to be the cheapie British chiller THE DEVIL DOLL. I distinctly remember seeing that little bastard Hugo in crackling black and white, his beady little eyes narrowed with murderous intent and a dagger in his crafted hand. “No, Hugo!” his master commanded. Slowly, the dummy withdrew his weapon and I withdrew into the cushions of the couch. If I hadn’t been officially traumatized before then, I was now.
My elementary school library was not any help at all. During this time the GOOSEBUMPS series was all the rage, and it was these that helped foster my love for horror fiction. But though I could easily brave the horrors of MONSTER BLOOD and even face down the REVENGE OF THE LAWN GNOMES, there was one that I simply would not touch. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DUMMY. Or as I thought of it, NIGHT OF THE SLEEPLESS BOY. Slappy the Dummy sealed the deal for me, and the cover of his respective volume was enough to scare me when picking it off the shelf, let alone considering reading the damn thing.
Full-on evil was manifested in that diabolically grinning face, his blood-red lips lining pearly oak teeth that I knew would eagerly chomp at my fingers and toes if I wasn’t careful reaching into dark closets or getting out of bed. As cheated as I might have felt to discover that the actual book only contained a cameo appearance by the demonic dummy at the very end (?!), that cover was enough to tell me all the horrible stories I needed.
It didn’t stop there. I was continuously haunted by these monsters, and even a peaceful lunch of PB&J couldn’t stop the shivery horrors of “The Dummy” episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE from descending upon me. This was my first full viewing of a living-dummy story and I can never forget it. Even in the gleaming sunshine I was cold with terror, jumping every time that ringing, acidic cackle of the mischievous Willy erupted in Cliff Robertson’s, and my own, paranoid mind.
Seeing Willy’s eerie silhouette on the wall was a looming threat, a threat that I could hear lil’ Willy himself whispering in my ear, “I know you see me, Jose. I want to let you know that I see you too. But you won’t see me. Not at night, when I come to find you.”
And still they persisted me. Even a film as unfortunately flawed as DEAD SILENCE can still get to me, still send waves of goosebumps down my arms. Walking down corridors, I can’t help but wonder if that groaning creak I just heard was a stressed floorboard… or perhaps the sound of a dummy’s foot stalking my shadow.
Who is it this time? Is it MICHAEL REDGRAVE’s homicidal familiar from DEAD OF NIGHT (1945)? Is it the knife-wielding fiend from THE DUMMY ? Whatever foul creature it may be, they still bring on the trauma in me with the glint of their ceaseless smiles and the nod of their oiled throats. When I see them, I hear a sound, one that chills the marrow in my bones and makes me want to curl up in a sweating, terrified ball.
It’s the sound of laughter in the dark.
UNK SEZ: Thanks Jose for sharing this ultimate ventriloquist dummy traumafesion! Folks, as long as you don’t happen to be an animated ventriloquist dummy you are welcome to join Jose over at his main haunt MEPHISTO’S CASTLE as often as you please HERE! Tell ’em “Slappy” sent you!