“My name’s Chucky, wanna play?”
Full disclosure – I was never really a Chucky fan. I saw the first film, and the second, and was left with an overwhelming feeling of ‘meh.’ It’s not really the fault of the films themselves, it’s just… I never really found dolls, animated or otherwise, to be frightening. Monkey toy in “The Devil’s Gift?” Nothing. The clown doll in Poltergeist? Yawn.
Not that I don’t find other inanimate objects to be scary. Haunted cars I can get behind (though not in front of), houses, cursed objects, even the army men in Stephen King’s “Battleground.” There’s just something about a doll that never seems to trigger the creep factor in me. I assume if I ever find myself in a situation where there’s a killer doll rampaging around, killing people right and left, I’ll be like that dog in the bar on fire cartoon. “This is fine.”
That’s my typically long-winded way of saying that I haven’t watched Child’s Play in a long time. Like, since the first time really. Other films I didn’t like when I was younger have gotten re-assessments (Exorcist and Halloween among them), but I just never could bring myself to re-watch Child’s Play. ‘Cause it’s about a doll, and how scary can a doll be?
Streaming on Amazon Prime, and it looked pretty good. I’ve been pretty happy with the selection so far on Prime this year. There are a number of Blu-ray releases, but the Scream Factory release has a ton of extras.
The vampire from Fright Night (another Tom Holland film) and the Gemini Killer from Exorcist 3 have a shootout in a toy store to start Child’s Play off. This is Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) and Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif). Ray (who has a smorgasbord of serial killer names making up his own) is a serial killer who has been on a bit of a spree, but he reaches the end of the line here. A bullet from Norris’ gun finally brings him down in a pile of Good Guys dolls, but not before Ray manages to get off some kind of voodoo spell that causes the whole toy store to explode. (This is 80’s movie voodoo, so wind, clouds and lightning are the order of the day.)
The next day, in a COMPLETELY UNRELATED plotline, working mom Karen (Catherine Hicks) frets about not being able to get her son the much-coveted Good Guys doll he wants for his birthday. She manages to purchase on from a homeless guy in a back alley, though, and the day is saved! Her son, Andy (and I’m sure there’s a line of speculation about this and Toy Story on the web somewhere) is thrilled to have his new companion. “I’m Chucky!” the red-head doll chirps. “Wanna play?”
So, the thing I forgot or just never realized in my “I know everything days” is that Holland KNOWS dolls aren’t inherently scary. He plays with that concept all the freaking time early on. Chucky is hauled around by his arms, his neck, his legs. Even when he’s not where he’s supposed to be (gotta watch that 9 o’clock news to find out what’s going on with your former partner in crime) he’s not really framed in a way that’s intended to make him menacing. The whole first murder (of Karen’s friend Maggie, working as a volunteer babysitter) doesn’t even show Chucky much at all. It’s strange noises, fast shadows and the sound of small feet running. If you didn’t know where they were going with this already the movie could have had us wondering if Andy was the culprit. (They even have them dressed the same early on.) Certainly that’s what the police are wondering.
Of course it’s NOT Andy. Charles “Chucky” Lee Ray has managed to transfer his soul into the doll. And this doll has scores to settle. First with his partner – who fled the scene when Ray was killed. Then with the detective who killed him. And if an innocent kid gets framed as a psycho who kills people and blames it on a doll? Oh well. That’s life. Karen’s not about to let that happen to her son, though. Even though she doesn’t really think the doll is alive she does go looking through the box he came in, hoping to find something, anything that will help her figure out what’s going on with her son.
And that’s when the batteries fall out.
Yeah, Chucky’s been running around, asking for hugs and wanting to play for days without batteries. Chucky plays stupid for as long as he can, but once Karen threatens to throw him in the fireplace the game’s over – and Chucky goes nuts.
And for all my complaining about dolls I freakin’ buy in right here. Between the look of hatred on the doll’s face and Dourif’s genius vocal performance I’m all in. That doll is creepy, man. That doll will cut you up.
I’m all in for the rest of the movie, which is a lot of fun. The special effects are great – a mix of animatronics and small people in costumes – and the nature of the villain is such that any stiffness or off behavior is easily written off as part of its nature. It’s standard supernatural slasher stuff, really, but the killer being a doll and the primary target being a child elevates the stakes and feels unique. There’s a great 80’s car sequence and standoff with the Detective. There’s more voodoo (including an actual ‘voodoo doll’ sequence with some gory effects). There’s an attack in a hospital that includes some real suspense as Chucky gets closer and closer. And a ton of black humor.
The final scenes with Karen, Detective Norris and Andy facing off against Chucky in a dark apartment are excellent. Chucky makes a great Terminator in that he just will. Not. STOP. And that final burnt and melted head is perfectly awful. I love it.
I’m sure there’s more depth to be plumbed in this film. Commentary on consumer culture (particularly 80’s consumer culture), the social divide (the city seems to be split between areas that are extremely well off of and blasted urban hellscapes), single parents, latchkey kids… But I’m just happy to have given this movie another shot. It was fun, in a way that only 80’s horror movies seem to be.
The Bottom Line
Maybe dolls in general still aren’t scary, but Chucky is definitely an exception. Child’s Play is a fun 80’s horror flick with some style and comedy and the special effects are still pretty damn effect. Well worth a watch, and I’m kinda looking forward to seeing some of the other films in the series now.