The stuff of nightmares, dressed up as light entertainment.
While not exactly a dead art form, it’s safe to say that ventriloquism these days is, at least, a marginal one. Gone are the days when Vents were the mainstay of any variety show, and those who are still around – like Nina Conti – tend to use dummies that are more animalistic or fantastical than the humanoid dummies of yesteryear. And with good reason: those old dummies are the stuff of nightmares. It’s hard to imagine how someone talking in a stiff-lipped manner while holding a poorly-carved little man could have ever been considered family entertainment, but ventriloquism used to be huge – they were on TV – and, bizarrely the radio – all the time, and a mainstay of light entertainment.
Even while ventriloquism was at its height, people knew that there was something inherently creepy about the whole thing – the dummy and the ventriloquist’s odd relationship was readily exploited in movies like Dead of Night, Devil Doll, Magic and other imitators. By the end of the 1970s, ventriloquists must have been fed up with seeing themselves portrayed as unbalanced schizophrenic killers. The traditional Vent act started to go into decline at that time too, and while the likes of Spit the Dog, Nookie Bear and Orville kept the tradition alive in new forms, it would never be quite as popular again.
Below is a gallery of unsettling and downright terrifying vintage ventriloquist dummies and their sometimes equally unsettling owners.
Help support The Reprobate: