My (spoilery) notes on Triloquist (2008).Writer/director/producer Mark Jones kicked off a franchise with his video rental classic Leprechaun, threw out another ‘little person’ horror with Rumpelstiltskin, and then built a movie around a ventriloquist’s dummy – which suggests he was as hung up on pint-sized creatures as Charles Band was in the 1980s. Like Dead Silence, it gets points for not simply trotting out the ‘dummy comes to life’ plot used in most other films in this tiny sub-genre. Jones takes cues from nouveau grindhouse items like Freeway or The Devil’s Rejects as he mixes a kiddie show score (heavy on songs like ‘Charming Billy’, ‘Mockingbird’ and ‘Beautiful Dreamer’), a perkily psychotic blonde menace (Paydin LoPachin) and odd touches of whimsy (like Toy Story, it dresses its main prop in singing cowboy duds wildly out of step with anything like pop culture) with over-the-top sleaze, near torture porn ordeals (yet again, someone bleats ‘why are you doing this to me?’), nonstop crude talk from the dummy (voiced at a snarl by Bruce Weitz) and the antiheroine and traditional gory violence (the old blowjob castration gambit gets a variation as the killer chomps down with the dummy’s jaws). It’s a ragged, repetitive film with as many dead spots as highlights, but whenever the interest fades it springs something unusual and arresting enough to get briefly back on track.
It opens with a washed-up vent (the scarily-lipped Dagmar Peterson) dying of a heroin overdose in a seedy LA motel, leaving behind her disturbed children, Norbert and Angelina, and the Dummy. As teenagers, Angelina (LoPachin) and Norbert (Rocky Marquette) go trick or treating with Dummy – Norbert weirdly dresses like the dummy, while Angelina cheerfully tells a candy-dispensing mother that she’s dressed as a cowgirl who was savagely raped by Indians and now gives blowjobs in the saloon (‘I like to create backstories for my Halloween costumes’). Some obnoxious little kids hassle the weirdoes and wind up dead – Angelina tells the cops that Norbert, who never talks, is claiming the Dummy did it. Later, after the killer babe and her dummy have offed a strip-club manager who was unimpressed by their audition, they break Norbert out of the asylum and go on a road trip to Vegas, where she says Norbert will get to do his great ‘triloquist’ act. Along the way, she murders Larry Manetti (the former Magnum PI regular) to steal a car, and Angelina snaps a cheery shot of herself with the corpse. Angelina gets it into her head that the family line needs to continue so their magic secrets can be passed on and they kidnap Robin (Katie Chonocas, in a thankless role), who is as confused about who is actually doing the talking and torturing as everyone else.
The exact set-up is fluid. Most characters in the film assume that the autistic Norbert is speaking through the Dummy, but there are sequences where Angelina is obviously in control and others which unambiguously show the puppet as having independent life. Dummy often tries to persuade Norbert to ditch his dangerous sister – and, in the coda, Angelina dies giving birth to its wooden baby. Various unlucky folk get in the way and wind up dead, as every possible rescuer or police intervention fails to end Robin’s ordeal and, in fact, makes things worse for her. A neat gimmick (taken perhaps from Killer Klowns From Outer Space) has Robin crawl to help a wounded cop only to find he’s dead and Angelina is working him like a puppet by sticking her hand into the hole in the back of his head. LoPachin’s performance is so out there that the film gets past low-rent production values and too-familiar misanthropy to deliver laugh-out-loud moments and a couple of proper shocks – it falters, perhaps, when it tries to work up much psycho pathos, since the triloquist trio are so flamboyantly horrible that it’s difficult to eke out any sympathy for them. However, the wind-up is an unusual and effective spin on the killer-vanishes-in-case-there’s-a-sequel schtick as, after Norbert is killed and Robin rescued, Angelina gets away with (most of) Dummy, but can’t function without whatever portion of her personality she shared with her brother and becomes a listless, depressed junkie whore on the streets of Vegas before dying in childbirth.