This ICHF was written by Brendan, who you can find at the podcast G-Force. I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!
Major spoilers for Black Friday and other projects in the Hatchetfield universe!
One of the things that defines an iconic horror character is the message they share. Without a doubt there are certainly characters who are simply iconic horror characters for their look or personality, but at the same time, there are also ones who last because of what they represent. A great atomic dragon who reflects our real fears and anxieties about what are reckless use of technology and disregard of nature will do, a undead horde ready to tear us limb to limb to show how easily our society can crumble when something that forces us to consider the worst parts of ourselves and tempt us to let it out, a unknowable monster that frightens us into remembering how little we truly understand about our universe and our place in it, or a horrific hybrid of man and wolf that shines a light into what we could be if we let that primal part of ourselves we thought we trapped behind. Personally, many horror stories in recent years have disappointed me because in my opinion, they focus on the look of their monster and don’t really care for the theme. Sure, the latest Conjuring demon is spooky but what does it really say about our feelings on the unnatural, and yeah, it’s a spooky slasher but where’s the meat behind it?
You can imagine my surprise a year ago when I discovered the most thematically relevant horror icon I’ve seen in years came from a plush toy.
Black Friday is a 2019 horror-comedy musical by Starkid Productions (and before you ask, yes, that Starkid, the one that became famous for Harry Potter and Batman parodies, made this show. I was shocked as you are) revolving around the titular holiday and the release of the Tickle-Me- Wiggly in the small town of Hatchetfield’s local mall. Nearly every character in the play is obsessed with getting this toy: the heartbroken widower trying to get his son a doll to make up for his mother’s death, the well-meaning pediatric nurse wanting to make one of her patients smile, the pair of teenage delinquents who want to sell it to run off and start their lives again, the rich bitch who wants to make sure each of her spoiled kids knows how much mommy loves them for giving them each a doll, and countless unnamed and named characters all waiting anxiously for the doll. Of course, when the mall opens, this need soon becomes a almost unstoppable want, one which leads to riots, and eventually, a cult ready to give their lord the birth into his world he deserves.
From the very first time we see the doll, it’s clear something is….off with Wiggly. Sure, he has enough marketable qualities (plump legs, fluffy fur, a much mentioned squishy and tickable “belly-well”) that we can tell it’s supposed to be just a toy but at the same time, there are also things that are off. The eyes seem to be too veiny and baggy, the Cthullu like design influences are clearly a red flag, and for that matter, there’s the voice: a raspy whisper that doesn’t giggle out phrases, but repeats each word out monotonously and ends them with a disturbing choked hiccup of a laugh. One of the most effective and horrifying parts of the show is later on in act 2, when a young girl whose clairvoyance allows her to know the truth about Wiggly speaks to the doll and Wiggly finally drops the act, slowly going from the forced cutesy act to a horrific hissing threat (I can’t applaud Wiggly’s actor, Jon Matteson on his performance enough).
The show itself makes Wiggly’s roots clear: revealed by Hatchetfield-series wide Men in Black archetypes, PEIP, to be the despotic ruler of the void between dimensions, the Black and White, and for the dolls to be only one aspect of his being, that will allow the Hatchetfield cult to let him be reborn in OUR world. As most of the show focuses on Wiggly’s cult and their attempts to birth the doll and the threats our focus characters face, that quickly assumes the story will take that of your average cosmic horror: a unknowable monster, a cult of humans exposed to his will and becoming the worst they can be, an attempt to stop it before he destroys the world. An interesting twist on the genre, especially with the clear satire of said eldritch horror being a doll and his prophet being a rich woman who says her status is why she was chosen, but a normal genre tale for the cosmic horror, right?
And then everything changes in one pivotal scene.
The President, Howard Goodman, is persuaded by PEIP to enter a portal they have built, to confront Wiggly in The Black and White and attempt to appease him and get him to leave willingly, before they blow him to kingdom come. However, Howard enters this void and instead finds Uncle Wiley, the spokesman and supposed creator of the plushes and the speaking hand of Wiggly. In a beautifully performed monologue, Wiley addresses Howard….
And turns the blame on him.
Sure, Wiggly is an evil being, one who always intended to destroy mankind, but the plan wouldn’t have worked if it weren’t for the world that Howard ran. Naming student debt, lack of free healthcare, and many others common concerns directly, Wiley explicitly makes the subtext text and reveals that if it weren’t for the system of consumer capitalism that already made humanity so used to turning on each other in the name of some stupid product, the plan would have never worked. Wiggly comes from the Black and White, but it was Howie and the rest of our values that let it come to fruition. In one of the show’s best numbers, “Made In America”, Wiley proceeds to push this message, how we “grow up with all the crap you want!” and we’ll “wave (..)our world goodbye” for just a lil more, especially Wiggly, in the vein of a Disney acid trip, just before Howard is confronted by a vision of the TRUE Wiggly. In true cosmic horror fashion, we never see much Wiggly but the effect used (which I won’t spoil because it’s genius) gives us just enough to imagine the true monster Wiggly is. Howard escapes through the sacrifice of PEIP’s top agent but it’s too late: Wiggly played him and the nuke goes off NOT in the Black and White but in Russia, setting off World War 3 as a hysterical Howard is dragged off to safety and Wiggly giggles in glee.
This one scene switches the whole story. While there are still aspects of cosmic horror, especially in Wiggly’s true origins, this story and by extension, Wiggly also has aspects of slasher horror and atomic horror, not just because of the bomb, but because this story serves as a cautionary horror. A warning of where our technology, our comfortable society and the way it turns us against ourselves can take us, and where our trigger happy leaders could take it if we don’t focus on what’s important. A condemnation of capitalism that points out the worst thing about our system is how easy it is to make us turn against our fellow man. Wiggly ends up being one of the most insidious villains in recent horror, a being of paranormal origins who simply turns our base urges and needs up and lets our inner evil do the rest.
However, Black Friday is not all dark. The story turns as we see characters become their best selves and overcome the chaos, the worst of what we can be to become the best we can be: that burnt out teen steps up when the world needs her and faces the cult, that broken father realizes his son needs more than just some toy to know his love for him, and a abused woman stops letting her past define her and stands up for what’s right. The story ends ominously, with our ensemble waiting for the bombs to drop and see if tomorrow comes but to me, there is a note of bittersweet hope in Black Friday. For even if Wiggly succeeds in one way to attack humanity, we can face the worst of the horror within us, we can face the evils that make us the worse and make us disregard our basic decency and show the world what it truly means to be human.
Not bad for a show whose antagonist is basically Chibi Cthullu.