Production: Twentieth Century Fox, 1997
Running Time: 44 minutes
Trina and Daniel's ventriloquist father brings home Slappy, an antique dummy who becomes self-aware and cackles madly. When scaredy-cat cousin Zane comes to stay, the siblings get blamed for a string of practical jokes involving the dummies. Later, Zane confesses that he staged the pranks to get attention. Thus no one suspects anything supernatural when Slappy begins to destroy the house.
While the parents are out one night, the dummies break into Zane's room, and transform him into one of them. They threaten Trina and Daniel with the same fate. But the brother and sister fight back, appealing to the "family loyalty" of the dummies who share their home. Goosebumps author R.L. Stine puts in an appearance at the end, yet he too is silenced by a look-alike dummy.
Best For Ages:
6-8: Children who are frightened by their own toys in the dark will probably be upset by this video. Kids who appreciate make-believe will enjoy the resourceful young heroes.
9-12: This video improves upon aspects of the books upon which it is based. The play on horror movie techniques will appeal to anyone who accepts the premise of dolls coming to life.
Educational Value: Out to recess. A discussion about the value of antique dummies offers the opportunity for some history of ventriloquism, but the topic is largely ignored. Siblings Trina and Daniel ridicule self-help books though Trina is later seen reading one.
Entertainment Value: A family of practical jokers gets funnier when Dad's dummies get in on the action. The video borrows images from several popular horror films, and the dialogue features lots of witty verbal barbs.
Violence: Dummies kick kids, beat one another up, and breathe green vapors on people to turn them into inanimate dolls. One living dummy is killed by a bolt of lightning that burns him gruesomely.
Frightening Situations: Dad uses dummies to scare his children. Cousin Zane is temporarily turned into a dummy and appears to be possessed by Slappy at the end.
Questionable Behavior: Kids play cruel practical jokes on one another and ridicule a frightened child. Dummies trash the dining room, hang from ceiling fans, and ruin the paintings on the walls.
This installment does a fine job balancing horror conventions with humor, starting with BRIDE OF THE LIVING DUMMY flashbacks and swiping images from stock horror footage: lightning illuminates dark rooms; a creepy night scene unfolds outdoors by a well; and a dummy wears a hockey mask. Nods to Hitchcock will probably be lost on young viewers, but these images help make the video visually interesting.
Trina, Daniel, and Zane are more believable than many "Goosebumps" heroes, in part because the performances in this installment are superior to the amateurish acting in some other videos (like ONE DAY AT HORRORLAND). Trina is convincingly frustrated with her brother and unafraid to stand up to demonic forces in her home. All those dummies in the attic are unnerving, especially given the devilish cackle produced by Dad when he gives them voices.
Children who tend to be scared by clowns or costumed actors will probably be afraid of the dummies. Some of the practical jokes are a little gross--for instance, Dad pretending he cut off his thumb.
But the verbal humor is quite clever: Slappy tells new dummy Zane he looks too wooden, and when asked if she likes dummies, Mom replies, "Look who I married." The menacing dummies are reminiscent of the "cannibal toys" in TOY STORY, which also turn out to be good in the end.
Older fans of this video won't want to miss TWILIGHT ZONE VOLUME 22, which includes an exceptional episode about a ventriloquist, played by Cliff Robertson, and his wooden sidekick who comes to life.