Welcome to our Killer Dolls series! Creepy dolls are a classic horror movie trope. Whether it’s a supposedly real-life haunted doll (one highlighted in our Cursed Art post), a mannequin, a ventriloquist dummy, or a weird Hostess cupcakes commercial, they’re all terrifying residents of the Uncanny Valley. But some dolls aren’t just creepy—they’re killers.
Today, we bring you a weird, cringe-tastic voyage back to the 1970s, where a young (and by young we mean “in his 40s”) Anthony Hopkins is best pals with a puppet. Yep, Hannibal Lector himself is committing murder with a puppet, everyone. Strap in.
Plot / Commentary
The opening score is an accordion, so you know this tale isn’t going to end well.
An aged former-magician, Merlin, reclines in his drab apartment. The walls are covered in old-timey vaudeville show posters. He’s soon joined by his protégé, Corky, played by a young Anthony Hopkins. …‘young’ being highly relative, as Anthony Hopkins was 41 in 1978. That man is immortal. Yet throughout the film, Merlin and others refer to this middle-aged, Shakespearean-trained actor as “kid.” And it is laugh out loud silly every single time.
Corky has been studying and practicing card tricks, and is now back from his very first amateur night stage show. He tries to regale his definitely-dying-soon mentor with how well the show went. However, flashbacks reveal that Corky is much better at making stuff up than he is at performing. Even his British accent cannot save him.
It’s surreal to see Anthony Hopkins in a role where he’s openly sweaty and anxious. His entire career in the last 3 decades has been to appear the exact opposite—the coolest, most confident older guy you could ever have playing an evil pope, an evil robot maker, an evil film director, etc.
We see via flashback that as Corky fails to entertain the sparsely populated, drunk club audience, he proceeds to lose his shit on stage. We don’t hear exactly what he yells, but I have seen far worse in my day.
Corky screaming at the audience in a rage is our first, literally neon-lit sign that “WE HAVE A PROBLEM HERE.”
Merlin interrupts Corky’s bogus tale of success, pressing, “Did you use your charm?”
Oh, poor Merlin. Corky here has as much charm as a wet paper bag.
A year later — which the film doesn’t specify, so it’s really confusing—there’s a huge line of people to see Corky’s improved and very successful magic show.
An NBC exec has come to scout the show. He meets with Corky’s agent, Ben Greene, who is played by the fantastic Burgess Meredith. Meredith lives and breathes this character. Ben Greene is every Hollywood super-agent stereotype—always has a cigar on hand and his sunglasses on, whether indoors or not. He drives a Rolls Royce and sometimes generously takes clients out to a nice lunch—all paid for by the very clients he’s “treating.”
Ben praises his client to the NBC exec, saying “There’s never been a magician like him.”
The NBC exec, who apparently enjoys taking limos to performances he knows nothing about, is annoyed about being schmoozed into seeing a magic act. I mean…fair.
The show starts. While Corky’s stage presence has improved, it’s still several bars lower than the most mediocre American Idol contestant. How could Corky have gotten so successful with this act?
Suddenly, a heckler bubbles up from the back of the club. Corky and the unseen heckler have a back and forth until Corky charges into the audience. He reemerges carrying a ventriloquist dummy.
Meet Fats, Corky’s key to success. And yes, I am still roiling that this movie was not titled Fats instead of Magic. I want a whole Fats franchise. 2 Fat. Fats Returns. Fats Forever. Finding Fats. Live Free or Die Fats.
So imagine you are in this audience. First, you’re in a magic show, so you’re already checking your watch. But then you find out that this show involves a ventriloquist dummy. Surely, now is when you dart for the nearest exit, right?
But no. Here is the most unrealistic part of the movie—more than 41-year-old Anthony Hopkins being called “kid,” more than a ventriloquist having murderous conversations with his dummy (spoiler!): everyone is immediately charmed by Fats at all times. No one is ever creeped out by this deeply disturbing dummy.
The design of Fats is so troubling that the original trailer for the film had to be pulled because of how much the dummy scared kids. Even worse: Anthony Hopkins brought the dummy home to do scenes with it (because he is a professional, damn it!). But Hopkins, Hannibal Fucking Lecter himself, got so creeped out by the puppet that he demanded production come pick it up or he was going to destroy it.
Fats is about 2’5” feet tall. He has a large head, larger even than Hopkins—and have you seen that guy’s big ass head? He also has big round eyes, lips curved into a perpetual smile, and teeth that are way too big. Everything about Fats is way too big for anyone’s safety or sanity.
He’s dressed like a lumberjack with a cap, plaid shirt, and overalls. Can I appreciate the joke in a dummy being dressed as a lumberjack? Yes. Does it endear me to this creepy puppet at all? NO.
Corky and Fats do the typical back and forth schtick, trading insults. Corky’s act has evolved to seamlessly interweave the ventriloquist act and the card tricks. Again: how is this wildly successful?
Ben Greene boasts to the NBC exec that he has found “the best magician in the last 50 years,” along with “the first X-rated dummy performance.”
Okay, one: this is not ‘X-rated.’ Magic Mike was a more risqué stage show than this. Two: if this is the best magician in half a century, boy does that field need some new blood. Three: I wasn’t alive at the time, but how could a lusty dummy doing card tricks really have blown people’s minds circa 1978?
After the show, the NBC exec is impressed and not terrified. What a fantasy world we have entered!
Corky and his agent debrief after the show. Ben lays out his whole plan to have Corky make it big over the next 6 months as they continue to court NBC. He goes into great detail about this, but we never see it, so that’s 2 minutes of wasted dialogue. To wrap up their meeting, Ben calls the 41-year-old a “good kid.”
The next scene is another unexplained time jump. Thanks, script.
All that stuff Ben wanted to have happen? It’s happened. Mazel tov. NBC wants a pilot special featuring Corky and Fats. All that’s left are some negotiations and HR stuff –specifically, a physical.
Corky immediately objects to doing a physical. He insists that there is nothing wrong with him, repeating that he’s fine—you know, just the way someone does when they are definitely not fine and there is definitely something wrong with them. It’s about as reassuring as every time you ever heard someone from the Trump White House talk about COVID.
Ben is surprised, but says he’ll see what he can do.
Later at Corky’s apartment, he’s practicing with Fats in the mirror. They are now wearing matching outfits, which I do not approve of on principle.
Ben calls. He can’t get NBC to budge about the medical exam. You ever try to make HR budge on anything? Goooood luck.
Corky refuses the medical exam. For totally not weird / disturbing reasons.
Ben condescendingly explains that the problem here is that Corky wants success but is afraid of it. Thus, he’s latching on to an excuse. Ya know, for such a crack armchair psychologist, awfully odd how Ben doesn’t realize that there are Much Bigger Issues going on in Corky’s head.
Corky snaps, “I’m not afraid!” repeatedly. Nothing says “I’m totally afraid” like denying it loudly multiple times.
Ben says he’ll come over and discuss it all with Corky. But Corky has other ideas. He grabs a suitcase, quickly packs it along with Fats, grabs a taxi, and books it out of town. …yes, definitely the actions of someone who is absolutely not afraid. Nope. Not a bit.
Corky takes a cab all the way out to his hometown in the Catskills. He has the cab stop by his childhood home, now abandoned. The chatty cab driver doesn’t get that ennui is something best experienced solo. “So this is where you grew up, huh? It’s all abandoned, huh? Family all gone, huh? Guess you’re all alone in the world, huh? With just your trusty cabbie to talk to, huh?”
Corky continues his tour of depression and nostalgia, directing the cabbie to take him past the local graveyard.
“You got people in there?” the cabbie asks. …buddy, if a stranger tells me drive them into a graveyard, I hope that they have people in there. More importantly, that they didn’t put them in there.
“You look a lot like yourself,” the cabbie observes. This cabbie’s list of dumb comments just keeps growing. What he means is, he recognizes Corky from a TV appearance.
Corky has the cab pull over at the precipice of a cliff overlooking a lake. This cabbie is impressively bad at picking up red flags. Then again, if you have survived being a cabbie in 1970s New York City, red flags are probably more ‘invitations’ than ‘warnings’ for you.
Corky walks off the road, saying he’ll be right back. If I were the cabbie, I would be demanding payment before Corky hits the tree line. No part of this scenario makes it likely Corky will “be right back.”
It turns out that this property rents cabins on the lake. Corky walks up to the home of the cabin keepers. …Are “cabin keepers” a thing? Well, they are now.
The cabin keeper, a pretty lady, at first says that they’re closed for the season. But Corky flashes some greenbacks and suddenly they’re open again.
Corky, likely much to the cabbie’s surprise, does return. Now would you believe that being driven up to the Fucking Catskills from New York City, plus a brief depression sightseeing jaunt, is only $80? My god, what happened to our economy? That’s the real American Horror Story!
The cabin keeper shows Corky to his cabin. After she departs, we suddenly hear Fats calling from within his suitcase. NOPE.
Corky. Look at me. Leave him in there. Trust me, Corky.
But alas, Corky releases Fats. They start saying “hi” to each other in a way that is really creepy. Like you know how when you meet up with your significant other and say “hi” back and forth in a cutesy way? It’s like that. It is not okay. Seriously, these 10 seconds of Anthony Hopkins talking to himself make my skin crawl.
Corky talks to Fats. With Fats, rather. This is supposed to be some big reveal, but I assume ventriloquists or similar performers fall into that kind of habit. Who am I to judge—do you have any idea how many times I converse at my cat as if she’s a participant?
Hopkins is doing all or a lot of the ventriloquist work here. So, importantly, the dummy is not an obviously independent entity like Chucky. There is a very blurred line between what or who is “Fats” at any given time.
Corky sullenly reveals that the cabin keeper is a crush he’s held onto since high school: Peggy Ann Snow. But apparently she didn’t even recognize him. Yep, Corky made the split-second decision to rent a cabin on the off chance that he could reunite with his high school crush, at age 41.
As you may have guessed, Dear Reader, this will not end well. No, it will not.
Cut to Peggy in her bedroom at the main house. Looking forlornly into the mirror of her vanity, she muses, “He didn’t remember me.” AW.
Yeah, yeah, yeah—let’s get rid of the sappy stuff. I’m here to see the creepy puppet do murder.
Corky comes by the main house to get soap and towels. Peggy opens the door and it’s revealed that Corky has brought along Fats. Greaaaaaat.
Peggy, inexplicably, squeals in delight at this, an apparent fan of Corky’s act.
Fats quips to Corky, “You thought Peggy didn’t remember!” Corky and Peggy exchange shy smiles. Ah yes, their cute misunderstanding and disappointment earlier is abated.
Fats looks as totally over this moment as I am. I’m sorry, I came for a creepy puppet movie. What is this Nora Ephron nonsense?
Corky lets Peggy play with the dummy, showing her how different switches and mechanisms make him work. WHOA. Did this just become a really messed up threesome?! Did Fats consent to any of this?!
A little later, Corky and Fats depart the main house. They have a back-and-forth as if Fats is Corky’s wingman in a romantic comedy.
Don’t worry folks, I’m sure there’s a turn coming.
That night, Corky and Peggy share a glass of wine in front of the fireplace at the main house. Corky explains that he’s here hiding out until he can settle some things with his agent. Certainly not because he’s gone mad and thinks his dummy is real. Nope. Definitely just some vague fear of success.
Eventually, Corky just lets it all out on Peggy. Er, not literally. He confesses the crush he’s held onto tightly for all these years. He barrels through this monologue, completely ignoring Peggy’s revelation that she’s married. However, Peggy seems to be pretty okay with skipping over her spouse, if you know what I mean. She pointedly notes that they separate frequently. And turns out the husband is away on a business trip.
Before these two awkward people can confess anything else, Peggy starts crying. Corky retreats back to his cabin. Wise move.
Back at the cabin, Corky and Fats have a testy moment. Fats wants to know when they’re going to return to showbiz. Corky doesn’t really know or care, having returned to his long lost (married) love. They bicker. Just like he did from within the suitcase, Fats is able to argue with Corky while a closed door is between them. That’s quite a ventriloquist trick isn’t it?
Before going to bed, Corky eyes Fats. There is an impressively resentful expression on the wooden face.
Dude, just burn it! Burn it now!
The next day, Corky and Peggy take a walk around the lake. He revels her with slight-of-hand tricks, which admittedly is very cute.
NOPE. NO. I am not falling for this rom-com nonsense! Gimme the murder and mayhem!
Corky describes a telepathy act that his mentor Merlin used to do with his wife. It was just a trick, but Merlin swore that when his wife was on her deathbed, true love let the telepathy happen for real. Peggy excitedly says that she wants to try the trick.
Yep, let’s play with the forces of true love while Peggy is still married to someone else. What could go wrong?
At the main house, Corky is setting up cards for the trick. By the by, I hope you guys like watching card tricks. Because boy this movie has a lot of card tricks.
There are two decks of cards. Peggy picks a card from one deck and holds it over her heart. Corky is supposed to pick the matching card out of his deck. They both get frustrated when—no joke—Corky can’t read Peggy’s mind. Yep. They actually believed that would happen. Both of these people have serious problems and should in no way hook up.
…They’re totally going to hook up, aren’t they? …damn it.
Peggy starts to step away and laugh it off, but Corky gets very upset. He snaps that she sit down. He says that it’s her fault that he can’t read her mind.
Well that sounds like grounds to kick Corky out of your house, cabin campus, and life, Peg. Doesn’t it? Oh, whoops, just checked the clock—it’s the 1970s. So the script says she’s just gonna take that treatment / insanity and do as she’s told.
Corky monologues about how he came back here because he had nowhere else to go, how he’s loved Peggy his whole life—and then angrily commands her to shuffle the cards. I love how this scene is 1/2 traditional romance, 1/3 madness, with a dash of card tricks. We need more Nora Ephron movies that take this turn.
Corky tries to repeat the trick with manic desperation. He demands that Peggy think really hard. He declares that he can tell when she’s not thinking hard enough.
Peg, if you’ve been saving any mace for a special occasion, I think this is it. Just sayin’.
Instead, Peggy points out that, ya know, it’s difficult to concentrate when a crazy guy is yelling crazy stuff up in your grill. Corky doesn’t pick up on the hint. He retorts, “There’s nothing to be afraid of!” as if there’s totally something to be afraid of and it’s him.
As Corky looks closely over his deck, Peggy anxiously hopes that he pick the right card just so this stupid and terrifying moment can be over.
This time, Corky picks the correct card. By magic or true love or pure 1/52 odds.
Corky is relieved. Not by the realization of some deep mystical connection, but just that he didn’t fail. Peggy even walks over and comforts this total asshole.
They kiss. I cringe.
They have sex. I feel deeply uncomfortable—physically and spiritually.
Yes, nothing turns a lady on like being yelled at because she didn’t think hard enough for your magic trick to work.
To make this worse—I know, I didn’t think it could possibly get worse either—as they make love in Corky’s cabin, Fats sits nearby on a couch, looking mighty annoyed.
But upping the creepy factor of the scene kind of saved it. The way the camera pans from the lovemaking to a cranky dummy overhearing them is just fucking hilarious. That visual paired with an overlay of Fats’ accordion score as a sour note is just *chef’s kiss*.
Afterwards, Corky walks Peggy back to the main house. He’s convinced that Peggy will leave her husband, Duke, for him. He half-dances his way back to the cabin.
Corky focuses intently on making the bed. …I emphasize: making the bed. Dear Reader, I do hope that after certain activities in your bed, that you do the adult thing and wash your sheets. *shudder*
While remaking his love nest, Corky argues with Fats. Corky only cares about a future with Peggy, but Fats knows that a future with Peggy means a future without him.
This leads to a physical confrontation. Yes, Corky picks up the piece of wood and grapples with it.
This is suddenly interrupted by super-agent Ben Greene, who is now standing in the doorway of the cabin. (Seems the chatty cabbie blabbed loud enough for Greene to find his client).
Cue the classic “Er, how long have you been standing there?”, “Long enough.” exchange.
Corky tries to pass off what Ben saw as a new routine. It’s totally not evidence of him being out of his gourd. Ben doesn’t buy this—which surprises me, because I definitely thought Ben was dumber than that.
“How long you been like this, kid?” Ben asks seriously. Perhaps this middle-aged man was driven mad by being referred to as a “kid” all the time?
Over Fats’ interjections of one-liners, Corky tries to assure Ben that everything’s fine. Ben, shockingly reasonably, says he wants Corky to see somebody. He’s also increasingly annoyed about being the voice of reason in a three-way conversation between Corky’s denial and Fats’ quips.
Corky insists that yes, he had a problem, but he’s better now. His new love, Peg, is fixing him. But Ben, again being astoundingly reasonable, counters that a relationship is not going to solve this problem. He emphasizes that Corky needs real help.
…damn, I know some actual non-puppet-talking people that Ben could give advice to.
To make a point, Ben challenges that if Corky can “make Fats shut up for five minutes,” he’ll back off.
….I dunno, Fats seemed pretty quiet when Corky was having sex with someone. Care to experiment, Ben? No?
Corky declares that he’ll take that bet. Ben starts timing him.
And now, mere seconds after making his entrance, Ben takes out a cigar. Hey, wait a minute—can Ben go five minutes without a cigar? Hypocrite!
About every 15 to 30 seconds, Corky is asking how long it’s been. Not a great sign.
As Corky squirms, there is a fantastic shot as the camera first focuses on Corky’s face, then pans to include Fats’ face by his side. The frame continues to rotate, lining up their silhouettes until Fats’ overtakes Corky’s.
Corky confesses, “I can’t make it.”
Ben gets up to leave. Erratically, Corky grabs Fats and pushes him into Ben’s face, rattling off an aggressive vaudevillian spiel. …I guess this is supposed to be intimidating?
Ben replies, unimpressed, “I lived through the death of vaudeville—I don’t scare easy.” Well that is quite a bar to set.
Corky insists, “I need my chance.”
And again, astoundingly reasonably, Ben answers, “Your only chance is to get help—fast. And that’s what I’m going to see happens.”
And with that, Ben departs. I love that this cookie-cutter, flashy agent character is suddenly so human in this exchange, and is clearly looking out for Corky’s best interest.
Is it for his own financial interest? Certainly part of it is. But he’s not kicking Corky to the curb as a lost cause, he’s not demeaning to him. He simply emphasizes that Corky is not well, and that he is going to be there to help Corky get better.
Again, I know some actual non-dummy-talking people who could use that level of support.
Corky and Fats have a quick chat. Oh, this’ll be good.
“I tried to stop him, Fats,” Corky insists.
“Tried? Tried?! You failed!” Fats snarls. And we all know how Corky feels about failure…
Fats insists that Ben will expose them. The outside world will hate them because they’re special. …I mean “special” is certainly a word you could use to describe this pair, but maybe not the word.
Corky and Fats continue to shout at each other. Fats yells at Corky to stop Ben, Corky yells back that he can’t.
Finally, Corky answers, defeated, “With what?!”
Fats starts screaming maniacally, “ME ME ME ME ME!”
Hey, Corky? This might be a sign that you need help, bud. A sign like a wooden dummy telling you to commit murder.
Ben walks back to his car through the woods. Suddenly, he hears something. What is he hearing? Oh, just the voice of Fats screaming into the night.
Pop quiz: the voice of a wooden dummy is screaming from somewhere in the woods at night. How quickly do you pee yourself?
From out of the darkness, Fats’ form emerges and hits Ben in the face. Corky uses Fats to hit Ben over and over again. Yep, you are about to watch The Penguin get beaten to death with a puppet. Enjoy! It’s just as bloody as any 1970s slasher joint could give.
Afterward, we see the brutalized Ben on the ground and the bloody Fats lying nearby. Corky takes in the crime scene. Fats starts moaning. Why? Because apparently being used as a murder weapon hurts. Well you suggested it, Fats!
Corky takes Fats back to the cabin. Want to know how delusional things are at this point? Corky treats Fats as if he is actually injured—as if the blood belongs to Fats, not the victim. Corky takes off Fats’ hair piece and wraps a bandage around his head. Yep. Any time I break something wood or plaster, I just slap an Ace band-aid on it. All fixed!
Corky suggests to Fats that they call the police. Why what an idea! Sure!
Fats points out that, you know, they murdered Ben so as to avoid that very scenario. He gives Corky instructions on how to hide the body. Seems Fats has been watching too much Investigation Discovery while Corky’s away.
Corky hesitates at Fats’ instruction to dump Ben’s body in the lake. Why? Because “there are snapping turtles and water moccasins out there!” And yes, that made me laugh.
As Corky drags Ben’s body down to the lake, we see Fats watching intently from the cabin. The accordion music motif plays. I will say, it’s a uniquely eerie scene.
Suddenly, we see that Ben is still alive. He and Corky grapple in the lake. Burgess Meredith does a pretty damn good job at taking on Anthony Hopkins, even at age 70. Don’t mess with Mickey Goldmill, motherfucker!
But alas, Corky overcomes him.
The next morning, Peg comes by the cabin and helpfully informs Corky that there’s fresh coffee at the house. Even more helpfully, she informs him that her husband Duke is back early. Coffee is indeed important, Peg, but I think omg the husband we’ve started an affair on is back probably should’ve come first.
Also, turns out Duke isn’t keen that his wife was here alone with a man on the property. Why? Afraid she’ll perform card tricks with him behind your back?
Corky’s like ‘well that sounds like a really good reason for me to avoid the house and not go have a cup of coffee.’ But Peggy explains that Duke wants to watch them together, so he should come up.
Uh, how ‘bout no? I don’t think the right decision is to give in to your husband’s jealous, controlling demands (even if his paranoia is apparently justified).
Corky decides to go along with this. Because sure. God, no wonder you let a piece of wood talk you into murder, Corky.
Out of Duke’s earshot, Corky then declares that:
1) Going to bed with her was one of the best things that ever happened to him.
2) He would love to go in for some coffee.
3) He adores her.
4) Her breasts belong in the Louvre, which he hopes to take her to one day.
In any other context, this would almost be endearing. But last night, Corky let his puppet talk him into murdering probably the only person in the world who actually cares about him. So I don’t even want to think about what could happen to someone he “adores.”
So now you know, when you find that special Tinder match in your life, always ask: “That’s great—have you committed murder lately though?”
At the main house, we meet Duke. Duke has a grizzled Manly Man look about him, down to a beard, a gruff voice, and plaid shirts. Probably would’ve listened to the Joe Rogan podcast if it had existed back then.
Corky comes over with Fats. Good–bringing along a ventriloquist dummy is a great way to convince a man that you definitely didn’t sleep with his wife. Believe it or not, Duke— inexplicably like everyone else in this bizarro world—is totally charmed and amused by Fats.
Later, Duke goes to take care of some manly things on the property. He is mighty confused to stumble upon an abandoned Rolls-Royce. Ben drove the Royce out to the Catskills? Hot damn.
Duke asks Corky if he drives a Rolls. Corky very stupidly says no. He could claim the car as his own. He’s a semi-known magician who’s been on Carson. No one here can say it isn’t his Rolls.
Corky volunteers that maybe the car belongs to his agent. Gosh gee, maybe he came looking for Corky. Yeah, and maybe he’s currently at the bottom of the lake. Just spit-balling here.
Turns out Ben left his keys in the Royce. So Corky totally could’ve passed this off as his car. Instead, he’s walking his way deeper and deeper into Mighty-Suspicious-Ville.
Corky even explains that he ran away because he hasn’t been acting normal lately. CORKY. Truly, Fats is the criminal mastermind of this duo.
Duke’s all set to roll up his Manly-Man sleeves and get to cracking this mysterious mystery, but Corky uses his magician’s gift of misdirection. He tosses Duke the keys and suggests that he move the car out of the mud. Duke is stoked to get behind the wheel of a Rolls-Royce, so he cheerfully forgets all about this Obvious Murderer.
Back at the house, Corky pretends to call Ben’s office to look for him. Corky fakes arguing with Ben. His immersion into the imaginary conversation is eerily similar to when he converses with Fats. Even as Peggy steps away and can’t overhear, Corky emphatically continues his half of this fabricated debate.
Yet when Peggy is in earshot, Corky repeatedly declares, “I’m sick of talking about my erratic behavior!”
I’m so torn about who to yell at more….
CORKY! Buddy, you gotta try a little bit harder if you wanna get out of this!
PEGGY! Please tell me you can take a hint here!
Corky tries to pass off that Ben came looking for him, but came by when Corky and Peggy were walking around the lake. Ben left the car behind for Corky to take back to the city and cabbed back. Cause sure, that makes sense.
Later, Duke and Peggy are alone in their bedroom. With the distractions of the dummy and fancy car removed, Duke’s eyes are clear. Corky’s story is full of holes. He is also inappropriately concerned with what Peggy was doing going on a walk with Corky. The strumpet! Walking around!
Drunk, paranoid, and controlling, Duke outright accuses Peggy of sleeping with Corky. Fair, as this did in fact happen. Unfair, as your evidence of this is going for a walk. Spiteful but not stupid, Peggy snaps that she didn’t sleep with Corky, but wanted to.
We cut to the following morning, with Duke inviting Corky to have a nice little rowboat ride out to the middle of the lake.
Nice try, Duke, but The Godfather Part II has already been out for four years! Corky’s not falling for that!
Duke even says, “I just had a good talk with Peg. And I’d like to have one with you now.”
OK cool, I will be packing my dummy into a bag, leaving in that nice Rolls Royce, and going nowhere near you, a rowboat, or the lake.
That’s what Corky should say. Instead he says, “I’ll grab a jacket!” CORKY.
At least a tiny bit suspicious of this obvious set up, Corky asks where Peg is. Duke says that she’s in town, making a decision. Uh huh, yeah right. Is “in town making a decision” how people in the Catskills say “axe murdered and buried under the floorboards in the kitchen”?
Corky observes, “You seem upset, Duke.” Well then don’t go into a rowboat with him, Corky!
But what does Corky do? He gets in the fucking rowboat.
He also doesn’t have Fats with him, a serious problem. Because a) people like Duke take to Fats like catnip (again for NO good reason) and b) Fats is much better at murder.
Duke rows them out, stops the boat, and goes into his jacket—oh no! But, no worries, it’s for a flask. In fact, Duke not only takes two nips of the flask, but he actually gets his fishing pole ready. He casts his line.
…movie, what’re you doing?
…movie, are we about to have a heart-to-heart fishing scene? Is that what we’re doing here? Because I would kinda love that.
After a beat, Duke tries to get Corky to admit that he slept with Peg. Corky evades him. Duke admits that Peggy declared her (inexplicable) desire to sleep with Corky.
And then… Duke actually chokes up, visibly upset. He confesses, “I’m losing her, Corky. I don’t know what to do.”
OMG. OMG YES. Heart-to-Heart Fishing Scene! It’s happening!
Duke forlornly admits his continuing failed business ventures. He confesses his gratitude that, in spite of everything, Peggy has stuck by him.
Now don’t get me wrong: Duke’s still a drunk, controlling, and we know he’s laid hands on Peggy (roughly grabbed). He doesn’t confess to any of that, he doesn’t express regret for generally treating Peggy like crap, he doesn’t express a desire to change.
BUT. I love how this script keeps playing with expectations and characters. In some ways it’s a dark comedy. We’re presented with Ben Greene in a certain way, and he later surprises us with his compassion. Duke seems like the one note jealous, loser husband. But his threatening air is totally deflated in this moment.
Whoops, with all this sharing and caring, I almost forgot! There’s still an undiscovered murder and a murderous dummy afoot.
Duke’s line snags on something very heavy. Uh oh.
As he begins to pull on it, it seems clear that Duke’s hooked the body. Behind Duke’s back, Corky grabs one of the boat oars. He looms behind Duke, very ready to commit his second murder (and without even needing Fats to egg him on!). But at the last second, we see that Duke has just hooked a large log. Looking relieved for several reasons, Corky quietly puts the oar back down.
Ah, but ya know what? Duke suddenly spots Ben’s body, just lying on the nearby shore.
Dag nab it!
And now Corky hits him with the paddle, right?
Yeah, Corky decides to keep this charade going. Which I just don’t get. Nothing has changed in the last 10 seconds to deter him from bopping Duke on the head and throwing him in the lake.
Duke and Corky rush over in the rowboat—or as much as one can “rush” in a rowboat—to the body.
Somehow, Duke does not immediately put two and two together to realize this is Corky’s dead agent. I guess this inability to add things up explains Duke’s business failures.
Corky volunteers to look for the “mysterious” person’s wallet and ID. However, Corky already took Ben’s identification when he dragged him into the lake. Oh darn, no ID on the body. What a mystery. Better call Robert Stacks and move on.
Finally, Duke goes, uh this is obviously your agent. And Corky’s like oh no, looks nothing like him. And Duke’s just gonna take his word on that. For such a paranoid guy, Duke sure takes pains to avoid confronting Corky about his bullshit.
Duke checks the body more closely and suddenly realizes that he could still be alive.
To which Corky just says, “Fantastic…”, which made me laugh. The use of dark humor in this script helps keep it afloat (if you’ll excuse the pun).
Duke sends Corky back to the main house to call for help. As Corky runs off (now might be a good time to practice your moseying, Corky), Duke starts to perform CPR on this old guy he pulled from a lake. I’m really enjoying this script’s continuous trick of showing you someone who, for all intents and purposes is a total sonovabitch, but redeems them at the very last second.
Duke realizes that Ben—er, the “mysterious stranger”—has passed. His suspicion finally at its peak, Duke goes into Corky’s cabin while Corky is in the main house. Duke starts searching through Corky’s things.
Suddenly, he turns and sees Fats, who is sitting on a chair near a curtain. Fats eyes the intruder with wooden annoyance.
Adorably, Fats and Duke are wearing the same knitted cap. Duke inspects Fats, lifting up the cap. Under the cap is the bandage Corky put on the puppet, soaked through with blood. Well, that sure is suspicious!
Next, Duke finds Ben’s wallet and watch. Well, that is MIGHTY suspicious!
Wheels sloooooowly turning in Duke’s head, he looks up into a mirror to see Fats staring right back at him. Fats’ head seems to have moved. Duke turns around, staring at the dummy. What? I thought you loved Fats, Duke!
Duke hesitantly approaches the dummy. He even touches Fats’ face as if to check if it’s real or not. Dude, you shouldn’t even get to that point. The instant a puppet is so creepy that you think it might be alive, you exit the area immediately. That should be a PSA campaign.
Suddenly, Fats pulls a fucking switch blade and stabs Duke in the gut. Oh shit, we’re getting full on Chucky up in here!
Fats’ wooden lips part and his creepy-as-fuck teeth grin wickedly as he stabs Duke again. Duke falls forward, accidentally stabbing himself a third time. As Duke collapses, he falls into the knife, slicing open his own throat. …okay, well, this is now at least half your fault, Duke.
From behind the curtain Fats is in front of, Corky emerges, sweating profusely. Corky cries out, “What have you done?!”
Uh, the dummy can’t defy gravity, Corky. At a minimum this is a “what have we done” situation.
The puppet launches right back into “Fats’ Helpful Tips for Hiding Bodies.” He suggests wrapping both Ben and Duke in canvas, weighing them down, and putting them in the lake. Fats, you couldn’t even make The Penguin sink in water. Maybe Corky needs to get advice on hiding his horrible crimes somewhere else?
We later see Corky, presumably post body-hiding, at his cabin. Peggy is calling to him, approaching the cabin. She asks where Duke is. Corky answers that Duke got mad and stormed off to go hunting.
Peggy nods along like ‘yeah that sounds like the rage-aholic asshole I married.’ On that note, she declares that she’s chosen Corky and will leave with him. ….as soon as Duke gets back, because she must tell him her decision in person.
Dag nab it!
Corky, not unreasonably, is all ‘uh do you think having a big confrontation with your abusive husband is the best idea?’ Peggy’s reply is “I have to leave Duke with his pride.” Uh, no you don’t, Peggy. You really don’t.
Peggy assures Corky that Duke should be home soon. It’s getting dark, after all, and Duke can’t hunt at night.
A little later, Corky starts packing Fats away. They are wearing matching outfits, which will never not be unsettling. The duo get into yet another argument. Corky explains that he is not looking for a triad relationship with Peggy. Fats will have to stay packed away more often now. It’s his and Peggy’s time now.
You know, as soon as she somehow gets over her missing husband that she simply must say goodbye to in-person. Yeah, as soon as that little hiccup is overcome, Corky and Peggy will need time to really focus on growing trust between them.
Fats is not happy with this plan. He threatens to tell on their crimes. Yep, that’s right. Corky is now being threatened that his wooden puppet is going to tattle on him. That’s where we’re at, folks.
After packing, Peggy heads over to the cabin. Nooooooo. Peggy, girl, just go! You don’t need a man to have a great life! Especially not either of these two men!
She comes in, and Corky continues his playing dumb act. How did the big awkward/dangerous confrontation with Duke go? Oh, he isn’t back yet? Weird, sure hope he didn’t trip and fall into a knife over and over again, then rolled himself into a canvas bag and sank himself to the bottom of the lake. That would just be awful.
Corky insists that they should just leave. Peggy stubbornly declares that her mind is made up. Corky turns away from her, looking out the window. There’s a pause, a silent and eerie shift of energy.
Suddenly, we hear Fats’ annoying fucking voice as he rises like a little mahogany demon over Corky’s shoulder. His big scary teeth gnashing, his bulbous eyes bulging. Yeah, I’m getting real sick of this puppet, ya’ll. And by that, I mean this film is using him perfectly. Fats’ entertainment value is being replaced by dread whenever he appears.
Fats invites Peggy to do the telepathy card trick with him. Peggy points out that the trick couldn’t work as the puppet is a piece of wood and therefore can’t read minds. Fats explains how the trick is done, showing that there is in fact no magical mind meld or true love mojo at work. Fats says cruelly, “You wouldn’t believe how many people want to believe in magic.”
Peggy is hurt by the revelation—and pissed off that Corky treated her like an asshole over a stupid trick. She storms out, shouting, “Was I funny, you bastard son of a bitch?!”
…well, damn. Where was this Peggy the whole movie?
With Peggy gone, Fats sneers at Corky, “I made that revelation because I could. You couldn’t stop me.”
Thus, Fats shows that he could squeal on the murders if he really wanted to. Um, unless we pack you away in a box and throw you into the lake, you stupid puppet.
Corky looks pretty confused about this whole situation. Fair.
Corky sits down with Fats on the couch. Fats begins to explain things, like he’s some conman finally revealing his grift. “Since the first day we got together, I laid low. I let you share the limelight.” But now, Fats explains, “Things have changed. It’s not you and me—it’s me and you.”
And now things get really crazy, if you can believe it.
Fats suggests that Corky crawl around on the floor. Corky actually gets on the ground and starts crawling on all fours. He starts laughing hysterically, “Yes, this makes me feel better!”
The puppet demands, “Say ‘thank you, Fats!’” And Corky does with mad joy, bouncing around on the floor.
….I mean as long as it’s consensual…I don’t want to yuck anyone’s yum…. But wow this is creeptastic.
Fats continues barking orders at Corky, who in turn smiles big, jumps around, spins in circles, etc.
I’m just gonna say: Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter ain’t got nothing on manic Corky happily taking humiliating orders from a murderous ventriloquist dummy. This is terrifying.
But then, like a ‘Simon Says’ game gone wrong, Fats commands, “Get a knife!”
And finally, Corky stops in his tracks. “What?”
Fats repeats the order and Corky happily fetches the knife. But then Corky resists, saying, “Don’t do it.”
Undeterred, Fats says that Corky should kill Peggy. Corky declares that he won’t. He presses his face up against a mirror and just starts screaming. OMG it’s almost like Corky is at war with himself… Get it, audience? Do you get it yet?
Corky starts to suffer a horrid migraine, which Fats inflicts on him. Fats then stops the migraine. He threatens tortuous, unending migraines if Corky doesn’t obey him.
I mean, I suffer migraines. You give me an evil puppet threatening me with those? Consider my moral compass to be tossed to the winds. I’ll have a notepad and pen, diligently taking notes on my new evil puppet master’s desires.
We next see Peggy lying in bed, perhaps wondering how to rid the world of men entirely. We see a figure walk up to her bedroom door. Does this bitch seriously never lock up her house?!
Peggy asks if it’s Duke. Instead, Fats’ voice replies. He says he left Corky back down at the cabin. Peggy collapses back into bed, 1000% not in the mood for this. She tells Corky to get lost. Fats insists that Corky isn’t here.
We don’t know who or what is on the other side of that door. It could be the fucking dummy walking on his own stupid legs. It could be Corky and the dummy. It could be Corky alone—or perhaps more “Corky” alone. All bad options.
Fats says, “Hey, I got a present that’ll make you smile.” Any dummy ever says they have a present for you, the only response is “No thank you, fuck off, go away, goodbye.” Another badly needed PSA campaign.
Fats says that the gift is from Corky. The gift in question is referenced earlier in the film, and I didn’t bring it up because I figured it wouldn’t come up again, and boy was I wrong, but here we are. Point is, the gift is sentimental and Peggy’s intrigued.
Fats insists that Peggy take the gift, or Corky will feel that she only has contempt for him. Peggy is touched, saying, “Oh, I never felt that way.”
Really? Because I don’t see how you could call someone a “bastard son of a bitch” without contempt, Peg. And the contempt is totally justified!
Peggy agrees to take the gift if Fats or whoever on the other side of the door leaves the house first. Fats agrees and seems to depart. …but you’re not gonna open the door, right, Peg? You’re going to call the police, or lock your front door, or at least stay here in your room until dawn, right?
But nope, she carefully opens the door. The gift is there as promised. But we also see Corky hiding behind a corner, knife in hand.
Peggy picks up the gift. She does not retreat immediately back into her room, but lingers, looking thoughtful.
Okay, well I’m out of ways to help this woman. Let her be stabbed, I say.
The next thing we see is the bloody knife cluttering to the floor of the cabin. Corky collapses. Fats faces him stoically.
Fats says, in a strangely vulnerable voice, “I’m not sure how to say this, because I don’t have a stomach. But…my stomach hurts.”
We pan back to see Corky holding his gut, having stabbed himself.
Fats, in a disturbingly innocent voice, says, “What’s going on?”
“We’re dying, I think,” Corky says.
Fats begs Corky to sit by him, so he doesn’t feel alone.
WHAT IS HAPPENING? Why is the script making me feel bad for a murderous creepy puppet?
Fats explains softly, “You were us. It was you all the time.”
So, there we have it. Hope you weren’t waiting for a real explanation for all of this, audience.
Dressed in matching sweaters, we see Corky / Fats die alone in a cabin in the woods. A melancholy score plays.
We suddenly cut to outside. Peggy emerges from the house and calls out cheerily, “Hey, Cork! I changed my mind! Let’s give it a try!”
DAMN YOU, SCRIPT.
Yeah, that’s what we end on. Peggy happily approaching the dark cabin, about to stumble upon a horror scene. Soon to be followed by the discovery of her dead husband and the dead agent’s corpses in the lake.
Oh great, fantastic. The movie could’ve cut with Corky dying alongside his puppet in a lonely cabin. But no. No, we couldn’t just let Peggy go live her life.
And that’s 1978’s Magic! It’s not well remembered, yet I have never seen a movie like it. If you can embrace the dark humor of it, I’d say it’s a worthy watch. The dummy is unbelievably unnerving, in ways that overly-done up evil dolls like Annabelle can’t quite match. Anthony Hopkins is, of course, very good at this really weird role, but you see sides of him he isn’t really allowed to have in his more dignified later career. It’s available on HBO Max currently if you want to see this weird journey for yourself.
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