DAY 10. PLASTIQUE VIVANT: Mannequins are creepy enough standing still but what happens when they come to life?
Stewart Raffill has made a diverse list of films over his career, directing everything from The Philadelphia Experiment, The Ice Pirates, Tammy and the T-Rex, Mac and Me and wrote Passenger 57. Let’s add this movie to the mix, which takes the first film and pretty much does it all over again, but this time inside Philadelphia’s Wanamaker’s department store.
It was produced by David Begelman, who embezzled thousands from Judy Garland before becoming an executive at Columbia Pictures. Actor Cliff Robertson noted that money had been paid to him from the studio that he didn’t receive at one point in 1977, which led to Begelman being let go and a rift within the studio itself. Begelman was more punished for lying about going to Yale on his bio than for stealing money; Roberston was blacklisted for years for speaking up. By 1980, he’d return to the job at MGM, where he lasted for two years and produced Fame and Poltergeist.
He then moved to Sherwood Productions, where he produced WarGames, Mr. Mom, Blame It On Rio and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, another movie that he scammed investors on by reporting inflated costs and pocketing the difference. After an investor pulled out, he started yet another production company where he made Mannequin, Weekend at Bernie’s, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Short Time and the movie we’re discussing right now. After failing to find funding to keep making movies, he became depressed and shot himself at Los Angeles’ Century Plaza Hotel.
A thousand years ago, Prince William (William Ragsdale, Fright Night) of the kingdom of Hauptmann-Koenig wanted to marry a peasant girl named Jessie (Kristy Swanson, the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer). However, his mother (Cynthia Harris, Mad About You) does not approve of the marriage and asks her sorcerer (Terry Kiser, Bernie himself) to turn her into a mannequin for a thousand years or until she finds love in a foreign land.
Ragsdale also plays Jason Williamson, a new window dresser at Prince & Company, a Philadelphia department store. This is unlike any store you’ve ever seen before, putting even the one from A Christmas Story to shame. It’s like a self-contained city and will have a huge reveal of the new windows, which will include a peasant girl mannequin that is, of course, Jessie. Once our hero removes her cursed necklace, he suddenly has a new love.
That said, they must deal with the machinations of Count Gunther Spretzle, the reincarnation of the sorcerer, who wants Jessie for his own. He also has an army of bodybuilders — Rolf, Egon and Arnold — who are as ineffective as it gets.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Hollywood Montrose (Meshach Taylor) shows up again and pretty much looks at the camera and lets you in on the fact that this happening twice is absolutely ridiculous. Taylor also plays a doorman at a nightclub in the film.
If you watch this and say, “That pink convertible seems familiar,” well that’s because it’s the same one from Raffill’s Mac and Me.
The failure of this film killed off Begelman’s Gladden Entertainment, which led to the end of his life. If you can get past that, this movie is absolutely off the rails. It has no grounding in reality whatsoever, beyond the fact that a mannequin comes to life. I’ve seen it so many times — it’s a Becca favorite so it airs several times a year in the B&S About Movies household — and every time I wonder, did anyone watch this in the edit and laugh that no one had caught on to the fact that they were aliens that didn’t know how humans really behaved?