Stephen Graham Jones’ Night of the Mannequins is an homage, a “love letter” as he calls it, to slasher horror movies of the past – and present. It starts with a group of teenagers one of who works at a cinema. Sawyer is the protagonist and our narrator. The group regularly manages to sneak into movies for free thanks to Shanna, their friend working there. But soon they are discovered and blacklisted by those running the venue and Shanna gets into trouble for letting them in.
It is a brilliant idea then, when Sawyer and the rest of the group decide to pull a last prank on Shanna, you know as a thank you for letting them watch movies for free a bunch of times. They pay for tickets this time, and sneak into the cinema an old mannequin they found years ago while playing. They call him, among other things, Manny (yes, the brilliant ideas don’t stop there). Manny has been with them since they were children and Sawyer reminisces countless pranks on people in which Manny is left fully clothes on someone’s yard only to be found by a bemused owner the next day. Sawyer looks fondly back to those memories and suggests that they bring Manny in the theatre and assemble him, dress him and see the look on the face of the manager when he does the ticket control in the dark. It definitely feels like a prank on them in return when not only the ticket control goes without any issues but at the end of the movie Manny gets up and exits the theatre along with rest of the attendees.
Granted, were this to happen to me, I would be reeling as well, but Sawyer – to put it mildly – starts losing it. Just like in many popular slasher movies, the book doesn’t take itself seriously and does not try to pull something more than just entertain and tip the hat to the genre of horror Jones’ is so fond of. As Sawyer spirals out of control and his mind is taken over by delusions that guide his hand, the reader is in on the joke. This is just a short, fun, way-over-the-top novella that is more amusing than scary. The thing is, reading is a more solitary activity. Nonsense, over-exaggerated movies of this kind can be very much entertaining when watched with fun company under the influence of some alcohol. But a book of the slasher genre can only serve the purpose of a pallate cleanser from more serious works. Jones knows that and it is obvious, even among the – again – exaggerated rumblings and speech of a teenager, by well-put sentences that clearly show the intellect of the author:
And, for a while, we were so perfect for him. We were verything to him, weren’t we? He was the perfect toy, until he wasn’t. Until we started groaning when one of us had dressed him up in some hilarious outfit, left him on somebody else’s lawn.