Movie Review: “Child’s Play”

For all its scares, laughs, and memorable lines of dialogue (“Hi, I’m Chucky. Wanna play?”), perhaps the most immediately interesting thing about Child’s Play—at least, for me—is how it both embraces and rejects everything associated with typical ‘80s slashers. On one hand, it builds up genuinely creepy moments of suspense, yet is proudly unafraid to get a bit goofy or bloody, making it easy to categorize it as the same kind of scary fun that the Friday the 13th films are still popular for today.

On the other, it surprisingly features a lot less gore than anything in that series (by today’s standards, it would probably still retain its R rating, but it’s more like a very strong PG-13), was partly inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone (an old horror/mystery show known for being really chaste), and had a fairly small talking doll—albeit a possessed one—as the villain, not a standard “murderous human/animal” antagonist.

Such a smart, unique deviation from the norm was exactly what scare-craving audiences were apparently searching after, for the film wasn’t just a commercial success ($44.2 million against $9 million), but even kicked off its own franchise—a franchise that is still going strong today, judging by a remake coming out just last year, and plans for a TV show only dating back to February 2018.

I don’t need to see all 6 sequels to tell you that the series’ quality isn’t consistently great all the way through (though I might check out that remake, just because it looks slightly more interesting than the last blockbuster remake I mentioned on this site), but no matter. This classic spooker still holds up incredibly well today, despite some definite moments of cheese and ridiculousness.

Even though it literally starts with a dying serial killer using some sort of voodoo magic to put his spirit in a “Good Guys” doll lying next to him, Child’s Play is remarkably still able to otherwise ground itself in reality for its first half hour or so. The design of the Good Guys were inspired by actual dolls on the market around the time (particularly the Cabbage Patch kids), and it perfectly walks that fine line between “cute” and “unintentionally creepy”.

All the six-year old Andy (Alex Vincent) sees in them, however, is “cute”, and no matter what other gifts his widowed mother Karen (Catherine Hicks) tries giving him for Christmas, he still can’t stop yearning for his very own Good Guy nevertheless. Finally, a chance run-in with a homeless peddler brings her the perfect one… only it’s the same Good Guy that’s now inhabited by that same killer, who’s able to convincingly disguise himself as “Chucky” while taking full advantage of Andy’s naïvety and young age.

Even when Andy’s babysitter gets the axe (or rather, the little toy hammer, which, when taken to her face once, somehow propels her body back so much that she shatters a solid glass window and plummets to the ground), he still trusts this psychotic doll enough to bring him to some rundown house in the middle of nowhere, just so Chucky can get retribution for his old ex-partner leaving him to die. Of course, it’s hard not to laugh when said rival conveniently shoots his gun in the one place that blows his whole house up, but the chilling believability of such manipulation far overshadows distractingly dumb moments like that.

Chucky’s smarts and viciousness are only matched by his unforgettable personality. Before he goes full Jason Voorhees on everybody, he’s limited to statements like “Hi, I’m Chucky. Wanna play?”, delivered in a vocal tone just as innocently toddler-esque as you might expect out of such a childish plaything. Besides an ever-so-brief glimpse of him running in the background, we don’t even really see him moving around at first, though superb perspective shots and Joe Renzetti’s eerie score are already enough to set all our nerves on edge.

After Karen finally discovers the truth about him, however, his voice appropriately becomes far creepier, his independent body movements (simulated quite convincingly by radio-controlled animatronics, among other things) promptly become fully visible, and his twisted, yet clever sense of humor blossoms very quickly. Comedic moments like these do run the risk of being tonally shaky, but overall, they work quite well to set Chucky apart from “just another evil children’s toy”.

Indeed, as over-the-top silly as Child’s Play eventually gets (the old “he’s-finally-dead-oh-wait-he’s-not-really-dead” trick is literally pulled twice in a row at the end), he never fails to make it memorable at every turn, rendering its other flaws—namely, the thinly written homicide detective (Chris Sarandon) that Chucky takes revenge on for killing his original human form—really easy to forgive. And forgiven they were, as the film is still instantly recognizable among other horror classics of its time. With any luck, it’ll remain that way for generations and generations to come.

8/10

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