Child’s Play (1988)

16 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

There are many horror-slasher movies with villains that are scary and villains that look scary. “Child’s Play” has a villain of both sides. At first, this “doll”—you read right, it’s a “doll”—looks nice and friendly (and it’s called a Good Guy), but then he was inhabited by the human soul of a serial killer…and now, he looks and acts like someone’s worst little nightmare! With a blade in his hand, a different, scary smile, and a voice that could be Jack Nicholson’s (but it’s actually Brad Dourif’s), we have Chucky…

You know those three heavy musical notes that play in the movies and on TV that are played when someone says something that scares people? Those would fit great if I gave my review on an Internet video.

I don’t really like Freddy Krueger (of “Nightmare on Elm Street”) as a villain; I just see him as a comedic scarface trying to be the big shot. And Jason Voorhees (of the “Friday the 13th” sequels) is still a hard person to figure out. Even the Shape (you know, Michael Myers of the “Halloween” movies), who I thought was scary in the original “Halloween,” tires me with his ridiculous sequels. But Chucky, whose name when he was human was Charles Lee Ray, scares me in appearance and in spirit. This little guy is everybody’s worst little nightmare.

“Child’s Play” begins with Ray, a notorious voodoo-educated serial killer, getting shot by a cop and dying. He’s not ready to die. He screams a revenge threat at the cop and tries to get out of the toy store he’s in so he can find somebody to use his voodoo knowledge on so he can possess the person, but instead he finds one of the Good Guy dolls, a nice, friendly-looking, red-haired doll. After a freak accident, we can assume that he’s now the doll…

The doll, nicknamed “Chucky,” is bought by Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) as a present for her six-year-old son Andy (Alex Vincent). The doll comes off as just a doll, staying quiet and whatever the Good Guy dolls are supposed to do. But when Andy’s babysitter is pushed out a who-knows-which-story window, Andy can only say “Chucky did it.” It’s the truth, but his mother and the police don’t believe him and start to be concerned about him. Nobody believes him until his mother discovers that Chucky is talking even though he doesn’t have any batteries in him.

Then, the police don’t believe Karen when she tells them that Chucky is alive. But the movie kicks into more horror when the cop barely escapes Chucky’s wrath and especially when we learn that Chucky needs to possess Andy or else be stuck in the doll’s body forever.

Why is “Child’s Play” worth recommending? Because it’s well-made, contains very good performances from Hicks and Vincent as the scared family, and the villain is a psychotic doll. How else can I explain Chucky except for telling that every time I see his picture on a poster or a cover of a video box, a shiver crawls my spine?

I also like the plot gimmick they use here, such as when Andy tries to tell his mother and the police, they don’t believe him. And then, when his mother founds out the truth by discovering no batteries in him, she tells the police and they don’t believe her either. Then, the cop—Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon)—is attacked by the little devil and barely survives.

And also, that scene in which Karen finds out the truth is a real scary scene.

She’s walking in with the doll, very depressed. Then, she leaves the doll in the living room and goes into the kitchen. She’s about to throw away the box, when…uh-oh–batteries fall out. Then, she slowly walks into the room, cautiously picks up the doll, opens the battery case, and sees nothing…then the doll turns its head and says in a child’s computerized voice “Hey, wanna play?!” The mother screams and drops the doll then Chucky really makes himself known…

That is one creepy scene and also, one of the great things about the movie is the good-looking demonstration of the mad slasher genre. When you think the killer is dead, he really isn’t. You could shoot him multiple times, stab him multiple times, and even burn him to a crisp…he still isn’t dead. The way they do it here is quite interesting.

The director of the film Tom Holland delivered the goods in 1985’s “Fright Night”; he does it here too. He knows how to make an audience go for horror films and he treats them right. Both movies mix some funny dialogue with some flat-out horror and work. Although the gimmick of the “child-in-jeopardy” is sort of cheap, it works here because the little boy played by Vincent isn’t just screaming for his mommy. He has something to do and he stands up to the little devil. Once again, I really like the way the filmmakers made that doll from a nice-looking cute doll to a more horrifying, ugly thing. “Child’s Play” is a well-made horror film with an actually scary villain.

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