In 1978, a movie was released that was utterly terrifying. Like Halloween, it proved you didn’t have to taller than four feet to commit murder. You also didn’t have to be human although Dr. Loomis would make it quite clear that Michael Myers wasn’t human either. Unlike Myers, Fats, the ventriloquist dummy was often time quite humorous. Enter the world of Magic starring Ann Margaret, Burgess Meredith and Anthony Hopkins. Some people are afraid of clowns irrationally. Some people are afraid of insects, maybe somewhat more rationally. Others are afraid of pieces of wood that talk. I am of that ilk.
This might not be our cup of tea. It’s more psychological thriller than ultimately true horror tale. You won’t find any hardcore gore. You will see Ann Margaret in her unmentionables. You won’t find any masked killers. You will find clever one liners that might put a certain man of your nightmares to shame.
“Magician's assistant Corky performs disastrously at his first solo appearance. He is given a ventriloquist dummy called Fats to improve his act and within a few years Corky is at the height of fame. However, Fats has developed a mind of his own and wants to control his master.”
Now this idea that Hopkins as Corky loses control of his mind to Fats, the dummy does not in itself scare me. It’s the god damn dummy itself. Fats is one creepy lookin’ motherfucker. Strangely shaped head with oversized features… something like Lilly Tomlin after a thousand bee stings. As you may remember, I have a certain hatred of the V-Dummies. Ever since I owned a Charlie McCarthy replica and watched “The Dummy” episode of the Twilight Zone I’ve pretty much kept a firm distance from their type of humor. Let me recant, shall I?
When I was a young man I humbly requested of Santa Claus one dummy used in the art of ventriloquism, or the art of throwing your voice to an inanimate doll specially designed to perform the motions of speech. This dummy was based on the image of Charlie McCarthy who was the dummy of Edgar Bergen. While I had never owned one previous to my sighting of Mr. McCarthy in the Macy’s big holiday catalog, I was certain he was for me. Strange looking. Monocle. Top Hat. Cute.
Edgar Bergen and Charlie (Terrify Me!):
On Christmas morning I received a very welcome surprise, Charlie. He was perfect although the felt top hat would soon lose its form and the monocle wouldn’t stay in the groove designed to hold it in place. I didn’t quite know what to do with him, but tried my best to perform acts of ventriloquism. My attempts were probably much like you would see on any sitcom where the bratty kid ask for the doll of his dreams only to find that he hasn’t a clue as how to disguise his mouth from moving. Needless to say I quickly grew apart from Charlie. He lay on my floor among the other misfit, stuffed animals.
Until I started to have dreams that Charlie was chasing me. He would chase me down the stairs and move of his own volition. He had a creepy voice. Nasally, and that was before I saw The Dummy. That was before I saw Magic. I guess to accurately mimic a person’s voice you might have to use a little more nose than usual. My nightmares were vivid, and I began to imagine that some of them actually took place during the day. One fateful day, just before dinner time, I was lying on my bed upside down and playing the way kids do. I stared at McCarthy. He stared back. And he opened his mouth and spoke. Now this is where I can’t tell reality from the fantasy. Did Charlie speak? I have not a clue. I’d like to believe that dummies like Charlie don’t speak. I like to believe I was dreaming again, but I can honestly say that I wasn’t. Charlie said a few words on his own. I can’t remember what he said, but it wasn’t anything of merit. It was just a few words.
Immediately following this episode, Charlie ended up gagged and duct tapped in my dresser drawer. I found a friend who had a similar problem independent of my own problem and we commiserated about the state of our entrapment by living doll. Eventually, Charlie would say goodbye at the tail end of a garage sale.
Now I realize that this story doesn’t quite mesh with the plot of Magic, but I think it illustrates quite clearly why you should fear the ventriloquist doll. Who knows what words you putting in its mouth. As for Magic itself, sure the dummy is a total creep out, but supported with some great acting by Hopkins and Meredith you being to believe Corky’s torment. You lose the boundary between fantasy and reality not unlike I did and, unfortunately for our protagonist, Fats wins the day. Murder. Sexual promiscuity. Disproportionate fake little people.
Here’s what I want you to do… go on down to Toys R Us, buy a ventriloquist doll and sit down with a double feature of Magic and the Dummy episode from the Twilight Zone. Maybe throw in Poltergeist for good measure and to complete the image. Then sit the dummy across from you at bed time. Sleep if you dare.