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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

TRILOQUIST -- DVD review by porfle

"Ventriloquist dummy horror" is an interesting sub-genre that's been around for a long time, at least as far back as 1945's DEAD OF NIGHT, which featured Michael Redgrave as a ventriloquist whose personality was taken over by that of his sinister dummy. Cliff Robertson had a go at it in a memorable "Twilight Zone" episode, and in 1978 Anthony Hopkins was in the thrall of his own creepy dummy in MAGIC.

Now, with the DVD release of the comedy-horror thriller TRILOQUIST (2007) on the "Dimension Extreme" label, we get a new take on the subject that's interesting to watch but not nearly as successful. Perky blonde cutie Paydin LoPachin plays Angelina, a homicidal sociopath whose singleminded, self-obsessed, lethally impulsive rampage through life is strewn with dead bodies. Her autistic brother Norbert (Rocky Marquette) looks and dresses like a disturbed Howdy Doody and is never without his grotesque alter-ego, a dummy named Dummy (inherited from their late ventriloquist father), through whom the mute boy speaks (or does he?).

Orphaned when their prostitute mother OD's on heroin, the brother and sister are left in the charge of a perverted uncle. The kids murder him (or does Dummy do it?) and are separated--Angelina to a foster home, Norbert to the loony bin. Years later Angelina springs Norbert and Dummy, and they set off for Vegas where she dreams of her brother becoming a famous "triloquist." Along the way, she gets it in her head that in order to keep their great triloquist name and bloodline from dying out, Norby needs to have a son. So they kidnap a random young woman named Robin (Katie Chonacas) for the reluctant Norbert to impregnate. All the while, their road trip to Vegas is splattered with the blood of their hapless victims.

Dummy looks like a cross between Anthony Hopkins' "Fats" and the infamous Chucky. The difference between those two characters is that Fats is a manifestation of the ventriloquist's own madness, while Chucky is actually alive. With Dummy, however, we're never quite sure what's going on. Sometimes it seems that perhaps Angelina or Norbert is operating him without even realizing it themselves, and at other times we suspect they're only imagining that Dummy is walking and talking. And yet there are scenes in which Dummy is obviously ambulatory and attacking people, or carrying on conversations with outsiders such as Robin. So the usual split personality theme doesn't seem to apply here--or does it? I couldn't figure it out. TRILOQUIST contains all the elements of "ventriloquist dummy horror" film yet is heedless of the genre's conventions.

This indecisiveness regarding Dummy's character makes for a confusing final act. Robin escapes and is chased through the forest by Angelina and Norbert to a deserted shack where the final action takes place. During this time and in some previous scenes, Angelina seems to display actual magical powers, such as the ability to transport herself at will or make solid objects (such as handcuffs) appear or disappear. Norbert appears to be the one making Dummy talk, and yet at one point Angelina claims to be supplying his voice--while all along we continue to see Dummy walking and talking on his own. Just when we think there's been a surprise revelation, it's contradicted moments later. Maybe I was missing something, but I just didn't get it and found the story unsatisfying because of this confusion.

Another thing while I'm thinking of it--for some reason, there are a couple of scenes of Angelina talking to people when suddenly there's a brief sting shot of Dummy lurking behind them. But nothing happens to them and nothing comes of this, so I didn't get that, either.

Technically, the film is very nicely done. The cinematography and lighting give it a colorful candy-coated look, and the direction by Mark Jones (LEPRECHAUN) is brisk and surehanded. I also liked the soundtrack, which features some cool songs, although I started to get tired of the multiple reprises of "Billy Boy" after the terrific main titles arrangement. Paydin LoPachin gives an energetic performance as Angelina, interesting and kinda cute in her own way, but ultimately without much real impact. Rocky Marquette does about as well as an actor can when asked to imitate a deranged marionette, and Katie Chonacas is adequate as the captive Robin. In a smaller role, Brian Krause (SLEEPWALKERS) portrays an ill-fated police officer, while the redoubtable Bruce Weitz supplies the voice of Dummy and seems to have a field day doing so. Another familiar television face pops up as himself in a brief cameo that comes as a delightful surprise.

The DVD comes in matted widescreen format with English Dolby 5.1 sound and Spanish and English subtitles. No extras.

As a really weird variation on NATURAL BORN KILLERS and the previously-noted ventriloquist dummy films, TRILOQUIST is nice to look at, unpredictably eventful, pleasingly perverse, and pretty much fun to watch. (For those keeping score at home, there's also a fair amount of boobage on hand, too.) But there isn't a single scary scene, and most of the violence takes place off-camera, so don't expect a horror film.

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