Sunday, September 17, 2017

LIVER BEWARE! You're in for a Drunk Review of Goosebumps #7: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DUMMY

Okay, so does it give anyone else a weird headache that this book is titled as a play on words with Night of the Living Mummy and yet there was actually already a mummy-themed Goosebumps. There's just something about it that boggles me. Also, is there anyone that isn't aware of Slappy the dummy? He seemed to become the unofficial mascot of the series, and appeared in quite a few follow-ups to this book. He's even on the cover of this book, despite the fact that HE'S NOT EVEN THE MAIN DUMMY IN THE STORY. But we'll get to that. First, the drinking. I'm actually treating myself tonight with a mixed drink of two parts bourbon and one part amaretto. It is sweet and good but I have to go slow with it because it is rather strong. So FORWARD!

Seven books in and the series is finally getting around to dealing with sisters. The family dynamics in these stories is always interesting but there are certain relationships that Stine definitely leans on. For example, he loves little brothers. Is he a little brother or something? Does he have one? There have been four pairs of siblings before this one (five if you count the Give Yourself books I've looked at) and of those all but one the main character had a younger brother. The only exception, SAY CHEESE AND DIE! Barely featured the older brother, so that hardly counts. Here we avoid having a younger or older sibling, though, as the sisters, Lindy and Kris, are twins. And oh fuck do they have problems. Now I'm a fraternal twin, so I never got the same kind of experience as identical twins, but I can sympathize with some of what happens in this book.

But right, ahem, let's see. Though both characters get some of the spotlight, the "main" character is definitely Kris. Mostly because it's Lindy who finds a ventriloquist dummy named Slappy in a dumpster and decides that she wants to become a performer. Now, kids are doing rather idiotic things all the time, and picking up a demented dumpster dummy certainly fits the bill, but the book actually throws a curve by having Lindy be good at it. Like, a natural at ventriloquism. And Kris, in turn, becomes jealous. As siblings do. Especially when Lindy starts getting a lot of attention. Kris wants her own dummy, despite the fact that these things are PURE NIGHTMARE FUEL. Their dad caves and soon enough there are two dummies, Slappy and Mr. Wood. Pause now to side-eye those names, because seriously, Slappy and Mr. Wood? Sometimes authors get a little too mad with power and COME ON IF THOSE AREN'T THE NAMES FOR DILDOS THEN I DON'T KNOW WHAT ARE!

But fine, okay, whatever. What I love about the story, though, is that so much of this isn't supernatural at all. It's just brilliant psychological warfare between siblings and it is horrifying and amazing. Because slowly things start going...weird with the dummys. They seem to be out to terrify Kris. Their voices and personalities change and seem to take on a life of their own. They move around at night. They pull out all the food from the refrigerator and leave the rotting pile strewn with Kris' precious fake jewelry collection. Kris becomes convinced that the dummies are alive about out to get her. The horror here builds quite well and it really does seem like that's the direction the book is going. But nope! You see, all of this has just been a game brought to you by the real monster of the story, jealousy. Because just as Kris' mind is on the verge of total fear-annihilation, Lindy drops the bomb. It was her. She was fucking with Kris this entire time because she was pissed that Kris was stealing her identity.

Now I need to pause here. I don't know a sibling who hasn't wanted to prank the fuck out of their brother or sister. But wow, Lindy is sure showing what an evil genius she is here. She's also showing just how good she is at ventriloquism, because she gets Kris to believe that her dummy is talking to her, that her dummy is calling to her from the closet, that her dummy is a living thing. She risks having both dummies taken away in order to carry out her campaign of madness against her sister, and she does it while seeming like a sympathetic ear. In short, LINDY IS A FUCKING BADASS! This is why you should never trust children. An adult would never have thought of this. It would be too ridiculous. But in the mind of a child all things are possible and emotionally scarring. I only wish that I had the skills growing up to convince my brother that the Nintendo was haunted and wanted to kill him so that he'd want it kept in my room and not his. Future therapy bills aside, it's a brilliant coup that Lindy pulls off here and really the rest of the book should be about the sisters learning how to be separate people and talented in their own ways. Because the truth is that Lindy is good at ventriloquism and wants to pursue it, and Kris really is just doing it because she feels left out. If someone would just encourage them to explore what makes them individuals instead of what makes them twins, I think they'd be much happier. But this is Goosebumps so instead there's magic. Buckle up!

As if stuck with where to go from there, the book literally spins its wheels until Kris just-so-happens to find a scrap of ancient paper in Mr. Wood's pocket. It contains some nonsense words that Kris reads because she doesn't realize she's in a book I guess. Well, it turns out that the words were a spell to release the dummy from the curse some old wizard put on him for...reasons. Probably because he's an asshole? It's never really answered if he was a flesh-person and transformed into a dummy or if he was always a living dummy and just spelled to be...inert. But whatever, now that he's awake again he's ALL ABOUT SLAVERY! Kris is now his slave. Her house is now his house, and if she disagrees he will kill all those she cares about. And...okay wow that's pretty messed up. This book came out well after the Child's Play movies really popularized the killer doll trope, but this certainly cashes in on it. But it also remembers that a dummy, even to a twelve year old, isn't a huge physical threat.

So instead of the story being about Lindy and Kris coming to terms with their complex web of feelings and finding a way to forgive each other and move on, it becomes about them needing to team up in order to destroy an evil dummy who wants to enslave them both. Cool. Now, to circle around briefly back to the parents, who through all of this refuse to believe that anything is going on and that Kris is just acting out for attention. I talked about belief before and here it is again, and again with a young female protagonist. I'm guessing it's more just unconscious bias at work rather than trying to deconstruct this trope, but it's interesting how it keeps showing up in these books. And oh yeah, because the parents won't get involved, the kids have to fight an evil dummy and try to rip his head off. Then cut it off. These girls do not mess around. Of course, it doesn't really work, as he's magic or some such, and so they have to think of another plan. Oh, how about...RUNNING THAT FUCK OVER WITH A STEAMROLLER?!

Yeah, sounds like a good plan. But where to find a steamroller in suburbia? Well, it turns out there's a house under construction right nearby and for some reason they have a steamroller. So out they go to try and get him all murdered up. The thing is, he just runs away before the roller can do its biz. Luckily for everyone, though, this is the suburbs and they have all the money to spend on TWO STEAMROLLERS and just as the little bastard thinks he's out of danger he runs right into the path of roller #2 and it's crisis averted! Except, you know, that the driver of the steamroller how has some serious shit to work out because he's pretty sure he killed a kid because the dummy was, you know, running and talking when he crunched it. But whatever, not our problem. MR. WOOD IS DEAD!

And here's where the book would end for reals, only this is Goosebumps so there's got to be a twist. And this one is that the girls return only to find that Slappy, the dummy who hasn't really done anything this entire book, is alive as well! What a twist! This, however, only opens the door for ALL THE QUESTIONS. And you know what, fuck, CONSPIRACY TIME!

All dummies are alive and have been spelled by a single heroic wizard into a state of inertness, forever trapped to see but never to speak with their own voices. I imagine that these vicious dummies used to be part of a ruling class in a period of time erased from the historical record. Their abuses were many and they had a legion of enormous constructs to keep their words law. Only through a daring rebellion of magic and steel were the centurion dummies destroyed and the ruling dummies defeated. There are no new ventriloquist dummies. They are all ancient and evil and just waiting for their time to return. Without their brawny counterparts they don't pose too much of a threat, but they are still resilient, difficult to hurt, and pure evil.

That doesn't really answer the question of why Slappy is on the cover of the book, except that he has the more unique look, what with his suit and bow tie and everything. Mr. Wood looks pretty ridiculous, and while that also makes him a bit more demented, it just doesn't have the sophisticated evil feel of a true villain. So he is dispatched and Slappy remains, to return later. I guess. I'm not really sure where Lindy and Kris go from there, but I guess we'll find out when that book comes up. For now, let's look at this installment by the numbers!

On the "Would I write fanfiction scale of greatness": 2/5 (the fanfiction here is pretty limited to Slappy/Mr. Wood slash, and while that is a nightmarish and brutal pairing, I have a feeling that it wouldn't work out too well. They're just too similar, without a whole lot to differentiate them. So while I think the word play would be AMAZING, I'm not entirely inspired by anything this one brought to the table)

On the "Is this actually good scale of more trying to be objective": 3/5 (this isn't actually a bad read. It's dark and interesting and it builds nicely. The dynamic between Kris and Lindy is very complex and that so much of the book is free from any magic or real living dummies is a mark in its favor for me. The two girls are dealing with their identity in relation to each other and Lindy is actually very talented in this and feels hurt when Kris tries to copy her and does it much more poorly. That part of the book is solid, even if things do go completely off the rails with the introduction of real magic. After that it loses any sort of message it might have had and becomes about making Slappy into a vehicle for merchandising. Which it does pretty well, I guess)

On the "Yeah but this is Goosebumps scale of relative wonderment": 4/5 (I was prepared to not like this book because it is one of the more popular ones and I never really liked Slappy. I mean, the recent movie just rather ruins him as a character, but whatever. For all that, it's a very solid installment into the series and brings back the ridiculous "explanations" that don't really explain anything. We've got children not being believed, siblings trying to mutilate a sentient being, and a twist that leaves things open for more weirdness to come. As far as the series goes, this is one of the best so far)

So there we are! After a rather dismal few books this one does pick things up! I can only hope that the trend continues as we move onto next month's book, Goosebumps #8: THE GIRL WHO CRIED MONSTER.

No comments:

Post a Comment