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John’s Horror Corner: Child’s Play (1988), the classic evil doll movie introducing us to Chucky and Brad Dourif’s menace!

September 30, 2019

MY CALL: This is a classic that holds up splendidly due to great filmmaking, thoughtfully written characters, and enduring practical special effects. Strongest recommendations whether you want an 80s classic or a quintessential killer doll film. MOVIES LIKE Child’s Play: The other Chucky movies most worth watching are Child’s Play 2 (1990), and then I might skip all the way to Curse of Chucky (2013) and Cult of Chucky (2017)—not that I didn’t enjoy them all to some degree. There is also the excellent remake of Child’s Play (2019). Other quality evil doll films include The Boy (2016), Annabelle: Creation (2017), Dolly Dearest (1991), Dolls (1987) and Puppet Master (1989).

Detective Norris (Chris Sarandon; Fright Night, The Resurrected, The Sentinel) is in pursuit of serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif; The Hazing, Dune, Curse of Chucky, Cult of Chucky) who, in a striking cinematic scene of 80s horror, desperately invokes black magic to pass his soul into a vessel before he succumbs to his gunshot wounds. That vessel: a Good Guy doll in a toy store.

Before in an era when a talking doll could wow children across the world and kids had outfits to match their them, single mother Karen (Catherine Hicks; Turbulence) gives her 6-year-old son Andy (Alex Vincent; Curse of Chucky, Cult of Chucky, Child’s Play 2) one such sought-after doll for his birthday… but they ended up with a serious product defect!

Director Tom Holland (Fright Night, Tales from the Crypt, Thinner, The Temp) is masterful at staging his scenes with his love of filmmaking eclipsing his love of horror. When Andy is woefully disappointed by the absence of a Good Guy doll among his gifts, Karen’s response feels as sincere and credibly humbling as the plights I grew up experiencing with a single low-income mother. The characters all feel significant, and even the minor roles feel fleshed out and lived-in characters (e.g., Karen’s boss at the department store and the hobo who sells Karen the Good Guy). Also, the child actor (as Andy) was great. He carried his scenes well, and adorably!

Demonstrating a tactful restraint before revealing Chucky, this movie toys with our nerves. Not until halfway through the film do we hear Chucky’s real voice or see him moving autonomously on-screen. We watch apprehensively as Karen looks under the couch for the doll, poking Chucky to see if he responds. We encounter the classic doll movie tells—but, to be fair, these are probably tropes solidified by this film. The doll never seems to be where people left it, Andy is blamed for the actions of the doll, the doll appears in strange places, Andy leans in as if Chucky is whispering to him and then says something no 6-year-old would say, mischievous POV shots scrambling down the hallway, and young Andy suggests that Chucky can move on his own. And the result is the sort of plain old-fashioned malevolence that would make homicidal dolls menacing for generations to come (along with the Twilight Zone’s Talking Tina).

Chucky is mentally askew, a true psychopath, and his facial expressions are rich with depth. Brad Dourif’s growling screams imbue Chucky with a menace few actors could or would even dare to attempt, and it has brought fame to both franchise and actor alike. But menace isn’t all that characterizes Chucky, but entropic madness. And Chucky is just plain mean. He delights in torturing people, whether with voodoo doll limb-breaking or slow electrocution.

Devoid of the overly sleek movements of a modern CGI monster, Chucky moves with the awkward and rigid locomotory clumsiness that an animated doll might actually have—lacking proper articulating tendons and joints. When Chucky attacks Karen (by the fireplace) and Norris (in the car) his movements have the erratic quality of a murderous round of Whack-a-Mole.

Chucky becomes more human the longer he spends in his doll vessel, and to avoid being trapped as a doll-man forever, he must find a living vessel. Not only does Chucky keep the wounds he has incurred, but he even eerily looks more human later in the film and his expressions become jarring, even terrifying.

The pacing of the film feels strong throughout. When Andy lights Chucky on fire we get the most powerful use of the “friends ‘til the end” line. And then, with his horrifically charred still-smoking melty-plastic body, Chucky lumbers forth as he is shot to actual pieces in a wonderful finale.

This film is unrelenting when it comes to piling on just one more shock to a scene, and the performances match the excitement of the action. This is one of those films that holds up splendidly over time due to great filmmaking, thoughtful writing, and enduring practical special effects. Strongest recommendations.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2019 10:38 am

    I never could get into any of the Chucky movies, but somehow feel Chucky is awesome. I guess even though I’ve never cared for the haunted doll movies, it somehow triggers some sort of cognitive dissonance and I can’t help but get creeped out. Dolls just aren’t supposed to slash people up!

    • John Leavengood permalink
      October 6, 2019 1:28 pm

      Maybe my age helped (I was a year older than the protagonist in the first Child’s Play). I probably saw this when I was 10 or 11 and it creeeeeeped me out in the best way.

      • October 6, 2019 2:53 pm

        The age definitely makes a big difference. I had just turned 11 when my dad (of all people) took me to see the original Amityville Horror. Scared the pants off of me.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      October 6, 2019 8:15 pm

      Much as with music, right? We tend to love the things of our developmental era. And for me… Chucky, Ash, Freddy, Pinhead, Leatherface, etc… lol

Trackbacks

  1. John’s Horror Corner: Annabelle Comes Home (2019), an entertaining but middle-of-the-road contribution to The Conjuring Universe. | Movies, Films & Flix
  2. John’s Horror Corner: Child’s Play 2 (1990), an inferior evil doll sequel that still manages to entertain, especially with its melty finale. | Movies, Films & Flix
  3. John’s Horror Corner: Child’s Play 3 (1991), Chucky goes to military school and breaks his Voodoo rules in this serviceable sequel. | Movies, Films & Flix

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