Short Take: “Night of the Mannequins,” Stephen Graham Jones

Rating: 5 out of 5

Stephen Graham Jones’s horror novella Night of the Mannequins has one of the best opening lines I’ve ever seen. I was hooked the moment I read it:

So Shanna got a new job at the movie theater, we thought we’d play a fun prank on her, and now most of us are dead, and I’m really starting to feel kind of guilty about it all.

With that one sentence, we are dropped straight into the head of Sawyer, a manic teenager who’s living through some very strange times. He and his friends (Tim, JR, Shanna, and Danielle) used to play with an old mannequin they found and named “Manny.” They had put it away for some time, but now want to use him for one last prank. They cut him into pieces they can hide on their persons, sneak him into a movie theater, and then prop him up in a movie theater where Shanna works. The problem is, when the movie’s over Manny gets up and walks out of the movie theater. Soon the friends are getting killed one by one, and Sawyer’s desperately trying to save everyone he can from the terrible threat.

I’m writing a short take on this one largely because there’s so little I can talk about without giving things away. I love the fact that Jones writes characters who have balance rather than being strictly good or strictly nasty. It can be hard to avoid the typical high school character tropes, and he does it beautifully. The pacing is also spot-on, which is something I address a little further in the spoiler paragraph below.

This is an excellent murder/slasher-type horror tale, and I absolutely love it!

Spoiler paragraph: I’m going to try to give away as little as possible, but there’s one thing I think SGJ is particularly good at that I want to touch on. He has a knack, both here and in The Only Good Indians, of crafting a fairly normal-seeming character who goes off the rails so slowly, so gradually and smoothly, that it’s happened before you even internalize that there is a slide. His ability to nail that is nothing short of amazing. End spoilers

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