Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #5: "The Dummy"

The Twilight Zone excelled in telling tales of terror, exploring the darkest aspects of human existence in myriad ways. To celebrate the Halloween season, we’re counting down the 31 most frightening and unsettling moments from The Twilight Zone, one for each day of October. We’ll be revisiting some of the episodes we’ve already covered and looking ahead to episodes from the final three seasons of the series. -JP

We move into our top 5 most frightening moments!

#5 - Willy Takes Over, from “The Dummy,” season three, episode 98
Written by Rod Serling, directed by Abner Biberman, starring Cliff Robertson

Rod Serling’s “The Dummy” is a highly effective horror story inspired by a frequently used motif: the relationship between a ventriloquist and his dummy. Before sound film and the advent of television, live performance was a preferred form of entertainment. Among live performers, ventriloquists were a popular attraction. Writers were quick to capitalize on the inherent creepiness of a person throwing their voice to imbue a wise-cracking wooden dummy with life. Serling’s take on the theme follows an established formula: the tortured performer who believes his dummy is alive and malevolent. What elevates “The Dummy” above other stories of its type is the manic performance of Cliff Robertson, the disorienting, dreamlike camera work of director Abner Biberman and photographer George T. Clemens, and the harrowing final sequence. Serling was influenced by the final segment of the 1945 horror anthology film Dead of Night, from Britain’s Ealing Studio. In this segment Michael Redgrave stars as a man who believes his dummy, Hugo, is trying to take over his mind and body. Serling takes this concept a step further and delivers one of the most disturbing endings in the entire series as Willy, the dummy, assumes human form and Jerry, the ventriloquist, is transformed into a wooden dummy. The effect is startling as makeup transforms actor George Murdock into Willy and a dummy was created bearing a caricature of Cliff Robertson’s face. The reveal of the horrible switch is another moment of uniformly excellent camera work in the episode, which perfectly captures the grimy nightclub world of stage lights, cocktails, and cigarette smoke.

-“The Ventriloquist," or "The Ventriloquist’s Dummy,” segment of Dead of Night was itself inspired by two sources: the 1929 film The Great Gabbo, starring Eric von Stroheim, based on Ben Hecht’s 1928 short story “The Rival Dummy,” and Gerald Kersh’s 1939 short story “The Extraordinarily Horrible Dummy.” Read our full review of Dead of Night here.
-Both the original Willy dummy (created in the 1940s by puppeteer Revello Petee) and the Cliff Robertson dummy created for the episode are housed in magician David Copperfield’s private collection known as the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts.  


  1. The link to coverage of Dead of Night appears to be missing. Good choice for the top 5!

  2. Copperfield’s wife shared a pic of herself in the museum with the Dummy, so there is your source.