Terror Mannequin: Douglas Hackle
Reviewed by Ben Walker
Mannequin was a semi-popular 80’s movie starring Kim Cattrall as a mannequin which Andrew McCarthy wanted to fuck. By contrast, Terror Mannequin by Douglas Hackle is about a mannequin which wants to fuck people up. Both are very much of their time, and very bizarre. We won’t talk about the Kim Cattrall movie beyond this point, suffice to say that it had a much better soundtrack.
Terror Mannequin goes much further than a certain unnamed doll-diddling movie in terms of bizarreness, with frequent fourth-wall-breaking, satirical jabs and some incredibly weird imagery. The most enduring image is handily painted out for you on that awesome cover by Hauke Vagt; the image of the terror mannequin itself, an odd creature which is essentially a human centipede of evil. Or Toulon’s dolls from Puppet Master stuck in a rather intimate conga line. This horrid collection of moving parts is used sparingly but it’s easily the best thing here, a lurching, near-invulnerable supernatural force which takes down quite a few poor souls with its telekinetic abilities.
Contending with this segmented sack of scares is the book’s kind-of hero, a rakish, sullen man by the name of Glont, who suffers an office job lousy with hipsters and bad management to support his ageing, horny mother and two nephews, who read like rejects from an Addams Family reboot. In a good way. One Hallowe’en night he takes his nephews out and encounters more than just candy and costumes.
This is the kind of bizarro tale which revelled far more in its setups and gags than it does the plot, so if you’ve read the blurb, you might expect the book to rattle quickly towards Glont & Co’s encounter with the titular puppet. If that’s the case, then you’re in for something of a long wait. It’s only by the halfway point that the shit gets even remotely close to hitting the fan, and it doesn’t happen in the way you think it might. It’s well worth going in cold to get the most out of this story, as I’ll admit to having read the blurb and then twiddling my fingers waiting for the plot to catch up with what had been promised.
That’s not to say I was bored, just impatient. Luckily, there are plenty of gags and self-aware digs at the horror genre, as well as various writing tropes, to keep you interested along the way. There’s a great moment when the author caught me out, with a description of a lascivious co-worker that starts out as one of those twitter threads about male authors failing at writing female characters, before turning into a cheeky page-long satire of those same sexist depictions. There are a few subversive setups here, like an episode of Night Vale written and directed by Lloyd Kaufman.
Along with various takedowns of societal peculiarities and workplace culture, there’s a human heart nestled away in all the weirdness, as Glont looks out for his weird siblings and has a somewhat moving arc of his own. This really picks up in an extremely satisfying final third, which delivers an ending both bittersweet and amusingly cheeky, before giving way to a massive middle finger of an epilogue.
Hackle isn’t afraid to get you clutching your seat with fear only to have you giggling in the next sentence, and vice versa. And because what you’re reading is so unapologetically peculiar, none of it feels out of place. The story leans into comedy a lot more than it does horror, but when it veers into scary territory, it’s pretty effective in a B-movie kind of way. That means not only shock but gore, some of it wince-inducing and pretty inventive along with it. Oh, and there are emojis too, which I guess are pretty wince-inducing all on their own when you see them in a book, but I digress.
In all, Terror Mannequin was an unexpected treat. Well worth a look (only don’t look at the jack-in-the-box…).
KR: You can read an excerpt from Terror Mannequin on Kendall Reviews HERE
Forty-year-old Glont Lamont is a longtime employee of Fun 4-Life Corporation, where he gets paid good money to play videos games, watch TV, get drunk, get high, devour pizza, ride the company roller coaster, take long-ass naps, and toss off like a madman in an insane asylum. There’s only one problem: Glont’s sick of his job! Nowadays, all he really wants to do is work long, grueling shifts 7-days-a-week doing any sort of awful, backbreaking, tedious, demoralizing, soul-crushing, severely under-compensated labor.
But with Halloween just a few days away, Glont has more important things to worry about than his workplace woes. Namely, he must take his two “freak” nephews out reverse trick-or-treating, which is a form of annual ritualistic tribute whereby the cruel townspeople force his nephews to walk door-to-door on Halloween night to hand out candy to people instead of receiving candy themselves.
And this year, the last stop on the trio’s reverse trick-or-treating itinerary is Fallingwater—built on a natural waterfall, Frank Lloyd Wright’s world-famous architectural masterpiece is now closed to the public and allegedly haunted by an evil supernatural entity known as TERROR MANNEQUIN…
Ben got a taste for terror after sneaking downstairs to watch The Thing from behind the sofa at age 9. He’s a big fan of extreme & bizarre horror and well as more psychological frights, and most things in between. When he’s not reading, he’s writing, and when he’s not writing he’s on twitter @BensNotWriting or reviewing books on his YouTube channel, BLURB.