Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Child’s Play (1988)
Starring: Brad Dourif, Alex Vincent, Chris Sarandon, Catherine Hicks
Directed by: Tom Holland
Written by: Don Mancini, John Lafia, Tom Holland
What begins like a crime thriller quickly escalates into a bizarre horror about a dying murderer who manages to use black magic to transfer his consciousness into a ‘Good Guys’ doll. ‘Chucky’ finds a home with 6-year-old Andy, initially befriending and manipulating him into helping him commit more murders, and then Andy himself becomes the target as Chucky plans to transfer his consciousness into him before he can be killed in his doll form.
This is a film that’s so ridiculous in its conception that it just shouldn’t work. And yet, it does. It SO does. Child’s Play isn’t the first or last evil doll movie, but it is definitely one of the most popular, and for good reason. This is a must-see movie that is both horrific and hilarious in equal measure. It is tonnes of fun and is competent as a horror film. Technically, it works as a slasher film, but the ‘possessed doll’ aspect of it gives it an edge that makes it different and unique in its sub-genre.
That said, it isn’t without its problems. It mainly falls short when it comes to the cop stuff, and I mean allllllll the cop stuff. After Andy’s babysitter is murdered, his mother arrives home from work to find that her apartment is a crime scene. She seems surprised, so it doesn’t appear that anyone contacted her to notify her of anything. They just waited for her to get home to find a dead body and a home full of chaos. The cop who notifies her of her beloved friend’s death does so in such a cold manner that you wonder if the whole scene is actually a joke. Next, she gets agitated and tells the homicide cop in charge that she wants them all out of her apartment, and they immediately comply and clear out… of an active crime scene. A potential murder scene no less. Because that’s just what cops do when they’re told off! Also, the only clue as to who the culprit could be is some child-sized footprints, which would lead most competent police officers to the assumption that Andy could be involved. But nope, they just leave Andy – the only suspect – alone with his unsuspecting mother. Later, Chucky attacks the cop in his car, and this scene is truly spectacular because the guy doesn’t hit the brakes. Instead, he hits the accelerator, and his car is speeding along for so long during this attack that you could probably make some sort of drinking game out of it. It’s hilarious.
This ridiculous reflection of police procedure and unprofessionalism does impact the film at times. It’s so bad that it becomes the thing in the movie that makes you go ‘hang on, this would never happen, what a load of crap!’ And in a movie where you automatically and easily suspend your disbelief and accept voodoo and a homicidal child’s toy, that’s saying a lot. It’s actually kind of a disaster. However, the film’s strengths are many, and are so deserving of praise that they actually manage to balance out the weaknesses.
The special effects for the doll are superb. Sometimes, his movement isn’t exactly perfect, but it isn’t supposed to be because he’s a man murderer trapped inside a doll, so he’s limited. Now and then, when he’s talking, the animatronics for his face don’t quite line up with the words he’s saying, but again, this doesn’t really hinder the film because the concept of a foul-mouthed, talking doll is already unnatural. It doesn’t look flawless, but it shouldn’t.
The acting, across the board, is incredible. This film would have come across as camp and ridiculous were it not for the amazing cast, who all committed to their parts and played the whole thing off completely straight. There are no comical asides from any of these characters. Alex Vincent was only 7 years old when he played Andy, and his performance is astounding, and not just for a child actor. He’s completely adorable, and completely believable. Catherine Hicks, who plays Andy’s mother, strikes a perfect balance between complete terror and protective mother. Brad Dourif’s vocal performance, as Chucky is, frankly, unbelievable. In a lot of people’s opinion, it’s award-worthy. Okay, maybe some people’s opinion. Okay, that’s maybe just my opinion. But I genuinely challenge you to find anyone on the planet that could have been better for that role.
A lot of the fun of this movie comes from the concept – it’s ridiculous but they execute it so well that you forget how ridiculous it is. The film itself doesn’t take itself too seriously, they use the gimmick to create comedy moments, but the tone manages to stay serious because of the actors’ performances. Despite the laughs you’ll have, there is a genuine sense of suspense and horror throughout, particularly elevated when Chucky targets Andy. The stakes are very high.
Lastly, a lot of the fun of viewing this movie now, 30 years after its initial release, is knowing that they would never get away with making it these days. Child’s Play truly is a perfect product of its time. There was some backlash when it came out because of having an actual child in such a large role involving so much violence, but not enough to hamper the general positive reception. I’d bet my life savings that, legally, they couldn’t shoot a scene of a child (using the actor and not an adult double) getting knocked out with a bat these days. I also doubt that they’d get away with giving a 7-year-old actor half of the dialogue Alex Vincent had. My personal favourite is when he tells his mother what Chucky has been saying to him and he repeats, “Aunt Maggie was a real bitch and deserved what she got.” I’m not saying that a child actor should be put in these situations, but I will say that Child’s Play works so well because Andy is the heart of the film. The horror works because it’s a child at risk, and we actually see his terror, instead of just being told about it through adults.
Overall, Child’s Play is a dark, funny, thoroughly entertaining, competent horror film that was fairly unique for its time. I recommend it and would give it a solid ‘A’ grade.
Kayleigh Marie Edwards is a playwright and horror/comedy fiction and non-fiction writer based in South Wales. She has been published in over a dozen anthologies and has had several plays commissioned, including a Halloween show for a major UK holiday park. She loves cheese, but is told that’s irrelevant. Her first collection of short stories, Corpsing, was released earlier last year with Sinister Horror Company. Be sure to also check out her excellent Fright Fest review on DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). Check our her review on PEEPING TOM here!
Don’t miss Kayleigh’s debut novel CORPSING available on Amazon!
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