Night of the Living Dummy III
Series number: 40
Number of pages: 125
Release date: February 1996
Tagline: Every dummy has his day…and night!
Did I Read It as a Child?: No
The Story On the Back
When dummies speak . . . everybody listens! Trina O’Dell’s dad used to have a ventriloquist act. That’s why he has all those dummies in the attic. He calls it his Dummy Museum. There’s a dummy with freckles. And one with a sneer just like Rocky. Trina and her brother, Dan, think the dummies are pretty cool. But now there are voices in the attic. And dummies keep showing up in the strangest places. No way those dummies could be alive! Right?
The Story On the Pages
Well, here we are again. Slappy the ventriloquist dummy coming to life and terrorizing children. This is the last we’ll see of Slappy in the original Goosebumps series, but this is the first time you’ll meet Slappy in this definitive ranked dissection because Night of the Living Dummy III is not scary and is lower than the first two stories. I know right, what a shocker that the third of a trilogy is played out and uninteresting!
Let’s get into this, shall we?
We open Night of the Living Dummy III with twelve year old Trina and ten year old Dan, our two protagonists. They’re in the attic of their house playing with their dad’s dummy collection. Their father used to be a ventriloquist but had to quit because he wasn’t funny. Finally, a white man that understands his limitations!
Even though he doesn’t perform with the dummies anymore, he likes to collect them in the attic as a sort of museum. A freaky, distressing museum that couldn’t get patrons if it was free admission, but a museum nonetheless.
There’s a lady dummy named Lucy, a tough looking dummy named Rocky, and the latest dummy for the collection? You guessed it: Slappy, fresh from the garbage can that his last terrified owners chucked him in.
But these people don’t yet know the horror that is Slappy the dummy. Because no one has read the spell that will awaken him. Oh, never mind, Trina just found the little slip of paper in his pocket and has read it aloud. If you never read any of the Night of the Living Dummy books, in each previous title, Slappy is woken up with a spell that’s tucked inside his jacket pocket. Now, this is the third time it’s happened, so I’m forced to ask, why do people keep putting that spell back in his pocket?! Burn the little slip of paper, the only known copy of the spell, and be done with him forever! But no, as soon as one twelve year old deals with Slappy, he goes in a trash can with the slip of paper included so any trash picking weirdo with a thing for dummies can help themselves to an unnecessary sequel!
Trina is the lucky twelve year old that gets to deal with Slappy this time around! After reading the spell out loud, Slappy begins his reign of terror! It starts out with small things, seemingly pranks that Dan and Trina are playing on their visiting cowardly cousin Zane. The whole first half of the book is actually a red herring because it turns out Zane was pranking Dan and Trina to get back at them for always scaring him.
After a truce is called and the cousins begin an uneasy friendship with each other, the real dummy destruction begins. Slappy trashes the guest room, smashes Zane’s beloved camera, and completely tears apart the dining room while everyone is distracted during a dinner party. What ties all the crimes together is the fact that a dummy is always found grinning nearby.
Trina and Dan are blamed for it all because the dad thinks they’re just out to scare Zane, but they know different. Zane was pulling the pranks last time, so he must be doing it again. The two of them hide in the attic to catch him in the act. But they don’t see Zane moving through the shadows, they see one of the dummies. The dummy that their dad rescued out of a trash can and that Trina read the spell over.
The dummy introduces himself formally as Slappy and then tells the two kids that they are now his slaves for life. FYI, that’s his thing. For whatever reason, when he’s brought to life via the incantation he is pure evil and wants to use little girls as slaves.
Trina and Dan aren’t having any of that though. Swifter than Kris (Night of the Living Dummy) and Amy (Night of the Living Dummy II) before her, Trina ties Slappy’s legs into a knot and her and Dan chuck him down a well in their backyard. Because that always works out.
This plan works out about as competently as Kris burying him in a suitcase and Amy chucking him in a trash can miles from her house. Which is to say that it doesn’t work at all. Slappy is back the next day, grinning at Trina and Dan from the kitchen table. The pair are ordered to take him back upstairs where the awful little dummy tells them again how they’re his slave. He then makes kissing sounds at Trina and I am so not okay with that!
So what is it that saves them from lifelong servitude to the pervy Slappy? The twelve other dummies in the attic come to life, pin Slappy to the ground and… well, it’s a little ambiguous what exactly they do to stop him. In the first Night of the Living Dummy and its sequel, the evil spirit that possesses Slappy is defeated via brute force and a breaking of the shell (the dummy itself). The other dummies in the collection seem to… I don’t know, let’s say they swallow his soul, Evil Dead II style.
Our last (original) encounter with Slappy ends with Zane wrapping up his visit with Trina and Dan. Our two protagonists aren’t exactly happy with Zane since he never saw the possessed dummy doing the damage and blamed them, which has put them in deep shit. They get their sweet revenge when Zane says he wants one of the dummies in the attic. Only too happy to get rid of him, Trina hands over Slappy.
What’s the revenge in all this? Turns out Slappy wasn’t killed. The evil spirit is still in him. The other dummies just seemed to subdue him. Now that Zane’s got him, he’s free to cause whatever destruction he wants.
As Zane carries Slappy away over his shoulder, the dummy raises his head and winks at Trina.
So who are we dealing with in Night of the Living Dummy III? Trina is our twelve year old POV. She’s average. We don’t get really anything on her to tell us otherwise, so she’s average. A very neutral Goosebumps lead. I’m not even sure if we get her hair colour, which is a Stine staple in getting character information out quickly. Name, hair colour, and any siblings they have, that’s the triforce of Stine character development.
Speaking of siblings, there’s Dan, the younger brother. Unlike 90% of all other Stine siblings, Trina and Dan get along pretty well. They’re not insufferable to watch interact. Which I heartily approve of, especially in a Night of the Living Dummy book since the last two stories had awful siblings in them.
The antagonists of the story are Slappy and, I’m saying it, cousin Zane. Slappy is obvious. He’s an evil dummy that destroys shit and wants children to be his slaves. Zane is antagonistic in an entirely different way. A way that we can all relate to because we all have a cousin that we hate.
Other Goosebump books give us siblings to hate (I’m looking at you The Cuckoo Clock of Doom!) but a cousin to hate is a little more interesting. Does anyone have cousins that they legitimately love? I can’t be the only sociopath that doesn’t give a shit about people I’m related to through my parents’ siblings? Like, I honestly just don’t care. And based on every cousin interaction I’ve ever witnessed, they are literally the worst, so no one should care.
Anyways, enter Zane. The son of Trina’s father’s brother. He’s a huge whining crybaby that’s too easy to scare and, because his father feels entitled to his brother’s things, Zane feels entitled to his stuff too. Hence why he wants a dummy when he leaves. He’s also a horrible tattletale and I have no sympathy for him at all. Especially when he pulls the initial pranks that get Trina and Dan in trouble throughout the rest of the story.
Honestly I feel like if you cut out Slappy of this story entirely, Zane could have had a more interesting (albeit super frustrating) arc as the story’s villain.
Spooks and Scares
Is Slappy an interesting enough concept to keep bringing him back? If you can find the right angle, anything can be entertaining to write a book about. The problem isn’t Slappy, it’s how every time Slappy’s brought out, he does exactly the same thing
The Goosebump books have a pretty strict formula to follow. The age group these are marketed at demands it. There can’t be too much “shocking” content because the audience is too young. There also can’t be too much development with a character that has more than one book because the audience might be reading the books out order.
This has Slappy in this weird limbo where he never gets to develop. Every book has to keep him the same as every other and ends up following this exact pattern: Slappy is brought into a house, the twelve year old of the house brings him to life via the spell, destruction ensues, but the first bit of destruction is a red herring. When the red herring is exposed and Slappy actually comes to the forefront with his demands of slaves, the twelve year old tries to deal with him, he comes back, and then they find a way to deal with him permanently.
Seriously, read the three books back to back and tell me this isn’t exactly how they each work!
By the third book, the routine is a little tiresome and not anywhere near scary. Sequels should come around when the original story has a significant amount that’s left to say. Sequels shouldn’t be used to rehash the same story with different characters/locations.
Slappy isn’t the only spooky thing Stine brought back. Within the sixty-two books of the original series, Stine brings back either objects or characters multiple times. The creepy camera of Say Cheese and Die got a double feature, and Billy from Deep Trouble got to go on two spooky adventures. Both offer different tales with a connective tissue in either object or character.
Slappy doesn’t get that. Slappy’s stories are told through the kids that bring him to life, we don’t get his story. So it’s always – more or less – an origin story.
This little dummy would be so much scarier if we didn’t know why he was alive. But instead we get three books explaining exactly that and giving us nothing more. Like Trina and Dan’s father, it’s time to retire the ventriloquist act, Stine. No one likes a dummy.