Unless otherwise noted in the post title, these are not
reviews, per se. They are articles for people who have already seen the film or read the book in question--meaning that there will be spoilers. If you're already familiar with the material being covered, or don't mind the plot being spoiled, please read on and leave a comment.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

[Automatonophobia] Tales From The Crypt: The Ventriloquist's Dummy (1990)

Tales From The Crypt: The Ventriloquist's Dummy - Title Screen
Title Screen
Ever since he was a young boy, Billy Goldman has only wanted to be a ventriloquist. On the verge of making his first public appearance, Billy seeks out his hero Mr. Ingles, hoping that the elder ventriloquist will watch his show and offer up some career advice. Ingles is not quite the same man that he used to be, though. After losing his hand in a fire fifteen years ago (a fire that Billy himself witnessed), Ingalls has not been able to perform. He has become a morphine-addicted recluse, fiercely protective of his privacy...and of his dummy Morty.

After some cajoling, Billy convinces Ingles to attend the show, which Billy promptly bombs. Ingles tells him to give up on his dream and find another career path. Dejected, Billy leaves the club and stumbles upon a crime scene. A young woman has been murdered, her corpse doused in gasoline, but her killer was interrupted before he had the chance to set her on fire. Billy, remembering the fire from 15 years ago, somehow deduces that the culprit is none other than his childhood hero. Maybe Billy should have been pursuing a career in law enforcement. Anyway, he confronts Ingles about his crimes, but the ventriloquist insists that it wasn't was Morty. Morty hates women, he shouts, because he's never been able to have one.

Tales From The Crypt: The Ventriloquist's Dummy - Billy & His Friend
Billy & His Friend
Now at this point in the story, anybody who has ever watched a deadly dummy movie knows that there are only two possible explanations here: either Ingles is something of a nut, and his fractured psyche has taken on the role of his dummy; or the dummy truly is alive, possessed by some sort of malevolent entity.

And that's why this episode is really so astounding. You know a twist is coming, but you are not even remotely prepared for what that twist is.

Billy pulls Morty's trunk down from the shelf in order to prove to Ingles that he's not alive, and finds only a dummy's body and a tiny wooden mask. Ingles unwraps the bandage from his supposedly fire-ravaged hand to expose the truth: Morty is Ingles' deformed conjoined twin brother, little more than a head and tentacle-like appendages, attached to his wrist!

Morty begins to belittle Ingles, barking orders to kill Billy now that he knows their secret. After a few attempts, Ingles opts instead to free himself from his twisted brother once and for all, severing their ties with a meat cleaver. Only it's not Ingles that has been set free, it is Morty. Morty murders his brother and then sets his sights on Billy, but Billy turns the tables by shoving the mutant freak into a meat grinder (uttering the timeless line, "I'm making an asshole casserole!"). Looking to save his own life, Morty makes a bargain with Billy.

Cut to a short time down the road, and Billy is onstage, really raking in the laughter, with little Morty perched on his knee. The laughter abruptly stops when Billy cries out in pain. The audience flees in terror as the facade falls away, and we see Morty somehow grafting himself to Billy's hand, ensuring that the new act stays together.

This episode was definitely over-the-top, but in a good way, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. The special effects were a little shoddy, but that only adds to the overall splatter film feel of the episode, and shouldn't be held against it. It's difficult to take this serious as straight horror, but some of the best cult genre films are dark comedies with horrific elements (or vice versa),and viewed in this way, I think it works quite well.

“The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” was the tenth episode from season two of this HBO anthology series, originally airing on June 5, 1990. It was based on a story by William Gaines that originally appeared in the TALES FROM THE CRYPT comic book series. It was adapted by Frank Darabont, who has worked almost exclusively in genre films. He got his start in 1983 with the short film THE WOMAN IN THE ROOM, which was an adaptation of a Stephen King story. Darabont went on to script other acclaimed King adaptations, as well, with THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994), THE GREEN MILE (1999), and THE MIST (2007). He was one of four writers credited with the script of fan-favorite A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987), worked on the YOUNG INDIANA JONES franchise, and was instrumental in the development of THE WALKING DEAD television show. This was one of two scripts that he contributed to the series.
Tales From The Crypt: The Ventriloquist's Dummy - Morty Revealed
Morty Revealed

Director Richard Donner started off in television in the 1960s, working on series such as THE LORETTA YOUNG SHOW and WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, but found real fame with movies like THE OMEN (1976), SUPERMAN (1978), THE GOONIES (1985), and all four of the LETHAL WEAPON films (1987-1998). He also directed six episodes of the original TWILIGHT ZONE, and this was one of three episodes he would direct for TALES FROM THE CRYPT.

Don Rickles was perfectly cast as the ventriloquist Mr. Ingles, a routinely-grouchy comedian with a tendency to incorporate insults directed toward the audience into his act. Although this was his only appearance in the series, he was no stranger to the genre. He appeared in THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1961), the movie X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES (1963), THE ADDAMS FAMILY (1964) and THE MUNSTERS (1965), and the John Landis film INNOCENT BLOOD (1992). Children are probably aware of him, too, without even knowing it, as he supplied the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the TOY STORY franchise.

Bobcat Goldthwait (Billy) is, well, Bobcat Goldthwait. He was a pretty big deal back in the 1980s when stand-up comedians who yelled a lot were all the rage. Most people remember him fondly as Zed from the POLICE ACADEMY series of films, but he has more than 80 other screen credits to his name, as well. Though he still acts, he has recently been "reborn" behind the camera, directing an impressive number of episodes of JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE, as well as CHAPPELLE'S SHOW, IMPORTANT THINGS WITH DEMETRI MARTIN, and his divisive 2011 movie GOD BLESS AMERICA. This was one of two appearances he would make in the series.

The writer-director team of Darabont and Donner teamed up for a second episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, 1992's "Showdown", which was later edited into the anthology film TWO-FISTED TALES the same year. Donner and Goldthwait met up twice more over the course of their careers, once again in this series with the episode "The Third Pig" (1996), and another in the holiday favorite SCROOGED, starring Bill Murray (1988).

Many fans have fuzzy, gooey memories of this episode, and for good reason. It takes the best of horror comics, the best of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, and the best of genre cinema and shoves them all into one pastiche-laden morsel. It’s like those food pills that they used to swallow on THE JETSONS, only instead of keeping you full and nourished, it keeps you entertained and gives you nightmares! Despite the few genre credits to the man's name, this doesn't feel like a Richard Donner flick. Instead, it feels like something that Frank Henenlotter would have thrown together during his heyday. They should have skipped over the last TALES FROM THE CRYPT movie and just let Henenlotter adapt this into feature-length, instead. Lord knows I would have bought a ticket.


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