Face-Off: Magic vs. Pin

Creepy dolls have a strong presence in the horror genre, and this Friday will see the release of a new doll-centric terror tale when The Walking Dead's Lauren Cohan finds herself dealing with THE BOY. So it was obvious that creepy doll movies should be the theme for this week's Face-Off, but which creepy dolls should be pitted against each other? Looking past the Chucky movies and Full Moon offerings, there were a couple of dummies that seemed prime for battle. Let's see what happens when the more obscure creeps of MAGIC (1978) and PIN (1988) face off...
His success impeded by his refusal to undergo a medical evaluation, unbalanced magician/ventriloquist Corky Withers retreats to his hometown, where he gets involved in a love triangle with his high school crush, now a married woman. As the affair gets more serious and showbiz beckons, Corky suffers a mental breakdown, imagining that his dummy Fats is encouraging him to kill anyone who gets in their way. Worst of all, Corky believes that Fats is jealous of his new relationship.
Teenager Leon Linden's only friend is Pin, the medical dummy that his doctor father uses to communicate, via ventriloquism, with his younger patients and to teach his children life lessons. Leon is convinced that Pin is alive, and when the death of their strict parents leaves Leon and his sister Ursula orphaned, the young man's mind completely snaps. He begins imagining that Pin is encouraging him to kill anyone who might complicate Leon's life or take his sister away from him.
Designed as a striking caricature of the film's star, Anthony Hopkins, Fats has a memorable look, but for most of the movie he is not presented as being a threat himself. The movie makes it clear that the troubles are all in Corky's head, he thinks that this inanimate dummy is a murder-minded, foul-mouthed, mean little bastard, but we don't expect him to come alive and pick up a knife. Not until that mind-bending moment when it appears that he does.
Like MAGIC, PIN makes it clear that the dummy is not the biggest problem here, the problem is Leon's mental state. Pin is a nightmarish figure, though. Cold blue eyes staring out of the head of an anatomically correct medical dummy with exposed muscles that is given a disturbingly calm voice and often shot as if it were a living creature. There is an unsettling feeling to every shot of Pin, I really don't like looking at him.
MAGIC has a great advantage in having Anthony Hopkins as the star. Hopkins does a fantastic job bringing Corky to life and making him a very sympathetic character. Corky has put himself under so much pressure to succeed that he has developed a separate personality to bring the dummy to life on the stage... and that personality is taking violent control of his life. Corky is a nice, meek guy being torn apart by his own mind.
Played by David Hewlett, Leon Linden is one seriously disturbed individual. His parents caused him a lot of damage, as did the presence of Pin. It was supposed to be helpful, but instead Leon developed an unhealthy fascination with the dummy. So much so that the sexual lessons delivered through Pin cause him such hang-ups that he even demands that his sister Ursula promise never to have sex. He's creepy, he's inappropriate, and he is a total psycho.
The image of Fats and some of his interactions with characters may stick with you, but what you'll take away from a viewing of MAGIC most of all is a further certainty that Anthony Hopkins is an incredible actor. The standout scene in the film for me is when Corky's agent (the amazing Burgess Meredith) figures out what's going on in Corky's head and tests him to see if he can go five minutes without making Fats speak. Corky's jittery struggle is uncomfortable and captivating.
PIN with permeated with such an odd, repellent atmosphere that I could easily understand someone being haunted by moments, images, or just the general feeling of this movie. A disturbed young man who has way too much interest in his sister's sex life believing that a dummy is alive, it's not pleasant. The scene that will always be stuck in my head is when Leon witnesses his father's nurse lock herself in the examining room with Pin, take the towel off his lap, and use him as a sex doll.
This is another area where MAGIC has quite the advantage, having been directed by Richard Attenborough from a screenplay by William Goldman (based on his novel). While Goldman has a smattering of genre credits to his name, largely thanks to Stephen King adaptations, this was Attenborough's only directorial excursion into horror, and he did a great job with it, capturing an uneasy atmosphere and masterfully handling the moments of building tension and thrills.
Based on the novel by Andrew Neiderman, writer/director Sandor Stern's screenplay isn't the greatest, but it is commendable for the way it hits the viewer with a relentless barrage of weird. The strange subject matter is perfectly complimented by the style of the film, with Stern making his movie as uncomfortable to watch as possible. PIN is not a film I would ever want to revisit on a regular basis, and in this case that's a compliment. It's effectively off-putting.
Although MAGIC is the result of a collaboration between some very high profile talents, PIN is such a chilling creepfest that the earlier film only just barely managed to come out the winner in this face-off. When everything is taken into account, I find that MAGIC is the better, more satisfying viewing experience, but PIN certainly is unforgettable.

Do you agree with the outcome, or do you think Pin should have turned Fats into kindling? Let your thoughts be known, leave a comment! If you have suggestions for future Face-Offs, I would love to hear them. You can send them to me at [email protected].



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