CHILD'S PLAY, 1988
Director: Tom Holland
Stars: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon and Alex Vincent
Review by Mark Engberg
A single mother gives her son a beloved doll for his birthday, later they find out that the doll is possessed with the soul of a serial killer, who try to put his soul into the boy's body in order to become human.
October 1988: It was one of the best times I’ve ever had in a movie theater.
The first entry of what would become the “Child’s Play” franchise was not scheduled to be released for another couple of weeks. In fact, I was there at the theater to see John Carpenter’s “They Live” by myself, which is the way I did things when I was fourteen.
While standing in line, a young woman approached me and asked if I would be interested in seeing another movie instead, one about a killer doll named Chucky. She was part of the film’s promotional management and assured me that the ticket would be free and no one would harass me about being underage.
It was a dream come true for a fourteen-year-old boy alone at the movies. That dream became a heart-pumping thrill ride full of laughter, genuine shock, suspense, and a lot more laughter once Chucky took control of the movie.
In order to understand my pure affection for “Child’s Play”, it is important to understand that this viewing took place weeks before the film’s initial release; weeks before the protesters stormed the entrance to MGM Studios, calling for a ban on the movie due to the probability that it would incite violence among children (which it did); weeks before MGM/United Artists decided to disown the film, giving Universal Studios plenty of berth to pick up the rights for the sequels; and ultimately weeks before the news got out that this lovable, cherub-like doll would hurl obscenities and insults at the live action actors that would make Andrew “Dice” Clay blush. (Keep in mind; it was the late Eighties, so that reference would not be out of date).
The following Monday, I showed up at school and promoted “Child’s Play” the only way I knew how: I spoiled the movie in its entirety to all of my friends. I repeated the best lines, described the best deaths, ridiculed the acting of Alex Vincent (who, to be fair, was just a kid at the time), and most of all, ruined that golden moment when Chucky dropped that mindless gaze on his plastic cheeks and started screaming at Catherine Hicks with all of the force and hysteria of a sinister madman desperate for vengeance.
The audience went nuts. The laughter in that audience was some of the loudest and most exuberant that I have ever heard in a place where drinks were not being served. In the days before digital special effects, it was truly a wonder to witness that instant metamorphosis when Chucky’s Cabbage Patch-like catatonic stare became an expression of vile hatred and mayhem.
Although make-up artist Kevin Yagher deserves respectable praise as the actual designer and executor of Chucky, that iconic character would not have been achieved cult status without the vocal talents of Brad Dourif. Dourif, who had already played creepy roles in David Lynch’s “Dune” and “Blue Velvet”, would go on to play even more sinister roles in “Mississippi Burning”, “The Exorcist III”, and “The Lord of the Rings” franchise.
He is the only actor to appear in all of the films in the franchise, with a fifth sequel, “Curse of Chucky”, reaching DVD shelves sometime next year. His diminutive frame and vast experience as a villainous miscreant suggest that he was the perfect actor to play the part.
But is the film scary? Not really, no. After all, it’s a horror movie about a murderous doll that looks like one of Hasbro’s My Buddy toys. So how can this possibly be one of the best horror movies of all time? Well, modern horror filmmakers should take note: Bigger and muscular bogeymen don’t necessarily make for better monsters. In order to entertain a horror audience, the principal antagonist should be equal parts funny, demented, and frightening.
Who did you think was scarier in Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”: Leatherface or the Hitchhiker? Leatherface may be sickeningly grotesque in size and stature, but there was something definitely more gruesome about his lanky brother, the hitchhiker.
The same can be said for Chucky. It doesn’t matter that he only comes up to your kneecap. He can still do tremendous damage down there.