The DVD cover of Mannequin boasts that it’s a “CLASSIC 80’S MOVIE” which, aside from the misplaced apostrophe, seems an odd proclamation. Don’t classics tend to speak for themselves? The Godfather packaging doesn’t say “THIS IS A CLASSIC MOVIE” across Brando’s jowls.
This CLASSIC 80’S MOVIE involves struggling artist Jonathan Switcher (Andrew McCarthy) falling in love with a shop mannequin (Kim Cattrall). Despite the premise’s similarity to films like Maniac, Love Object and Frankenhooker, this is not a horror film, but a comedy. And not a black comedy either. We’re talking mainstream. This despite Mannequin being one of the most fundamentally creepy movies I’ve ever seen.
There’s something so obviously sad about the sub-genre in which men wish or build their dream girl into existence, particularly when their dream girl is a dead-eyed Stepford Wife, slavishly devoted to her man no matter how obviously sad he is. Frankenstein and the Buffy episode ‘I Was Made to Love You’ explore what might actually happen, while Frankenhooker and Love Object turn the genre and misogyny on its head in a way that’s interesting and subversive. Here, every character conforms to the most predictably bland, sexist and homophobic stereotypes imaginable.
A modern re-telling of the Pygmalion myth, Mannequin is set in a cheap-looking department store, giving it an instant ’70s sitcom vibe, complete with sexual harassment and casual racism. Jonathan is our Frank Spencer, fired from a string of jobs for messing around with dummies and presumably killing a child. He puts together the mannequin, who soon comes to life, claiming to be the time-travelling spirit of an ancient-Egyptian princess. Talk about an age gap.
She is able to immediately comprehend her 20th century surroundings and talks like a woman from modern-day Philadelphia. Except she doesn’t. Together, they create window displays for the store that soon become the talk of the town. I guess people in the ’80s didn’t have a lot to be excited about. The only thing on at the cinema was Mannequin.
The ’80s really was the decade that taste forgot. Maybe this stuff didn’t look creepy back then. As Calvin Harris once said, “it was acceptable at the time.” But Harris’ moral relativism is a mere smokescreen designed to cover up the crimes of Andrew McCarthy. McCarthyism was a blight on Western civilisation, and only a fascist would disagree.
Mannequin is a wish-fulfilment fantasy for people so unimaginative they think that misunderstandings over the word “dummy” is the stuff of great comedy. Full of mannequin characters and logical inconsistencies (if you’re watching her on CCTV she wouldn’t come to life, dummies), Mannequin is ghastly, gurning and gross. When Jonathan has the gall to lament that “No one takes the time to build things that have character and dignity,” you just want to break off his girlfriend’s arm and beat him to death with it.