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)
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 onlyGoosebumps 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.
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!"
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:
"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:
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...