[review by Justin Kerswell]
In hindsight, it's difficult to remember - much like Freddy Krueger - that Chucky (that ginger killer doll) was as much an object of fear as he was of dark mirth. Tom Holland's skilful direction helps bring the little guy to life, and turns cliche into slick slasher movie magic with CHILD'S PLAY.
Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) is the infamous Lakeshore Strangler. During a bungled robbery, Ray is chased by Chicago detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) and cornered in a toy store. During a shoot-out, Ray is fatally shot, and as he lies dying he transfers his soul to a 'Good Guy' doll via the power of voodoo (as you do).
Six year old 'Good Guy' fan, Andy (Alex Vincent), is desperate for one of the dolls for his birthday. His Mom (Catherine Hicks) tries to explain that she didn't have time to save up for one. She works behind a jewellery desk in a department store (but like in many movies she has an apartment the size of a small principality despite her meagre earnings). As good luck (or more aptly bad luck) would have it, her workmate, Maggie (Dinah Manoff), tells her she's seen a man out the back selling a 'Good Guy' off cheap. Delighted, she grabs a bargain for Andy – and the doll introduces himself as Chucky.
Forced to work late at the store, Maggie steps in to babysit Andy. However, she gets freaked out when Chucky reappears in front of the TV after he's been put to bed with Andy. She then gets a hammer to the head, smashes through a window and falls to her death.
Detective Norris, who killed Ray, is assigned to the case. At first he believes that Andy might have something to do with Maggie's death, after small footsteps in flour are left on a work service. But, despite his young age, Andy starts to believe that Chucky is up to no good after he is placed in psychiatric care. Despite this, no one will believe him that Chucky is alive, and is out for revenge ...
Whilst CHILD’S PLAY may be a clever reinvention of the slasher movie (to counteract the downward spiral the subgenre found itself in during the late 1980s), it is hardly innovative. The film scores major points for its sustained scenes of tension and suspense, but, in reality, it plays like an extended version of the killer doll section of the anthology film TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975). Of course, that's in no way a bad thing. In that film, Karen Black is terrorised by a Zunni warrior doll that comes to life and chases her round her apartment – and it rightly sticks in the minds of anyone who saw it at a tender age! Arguably, slasher films work best when it’s all killer and relatively little filler, and certainly CHILD’S PLAY fits the bill. So, whilst not ground-breaking it was a canny move of Tom Holland to take those elements and stretch them across a whole movie. And it works much better here than when a similar effort was made to stretch out the terrific opening section in Fred Walton’s WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979) across the whole running time of the recent, disappointing remake.
Of course, the killer doll theme was not a new one even when TRILOGY OF TERROR came out. Perhaps the most famous of all is from another ace anthology, the British horror film DEAD OF NIGHT (1945), where Michael Redgrave’s ventriloquist dummy may have a life of his own. Which also inspired the Anthony Hopkins starring psychological horror film, MAGIC (1978). Another influence on CHILD’S PLAY was probably also Stuart Gordon’s DOLLS (1987) from the previous year.
CHILD’S PLAY apparently did some influencing of its own, with DOLLY DEAREST (1992) and the PUPPET MASTER series following hot on its heels. It also spawned a series of sequels, which increasingly took the character of Chucky and exploited him for bad taste comic effect, over his more sinister aspects. This was understandable, as despite the cast of the original keeping admirably straight faces, the basic story of a kid’s doll being possessed by a serial killer with the power of voodoo is inherently ridiculous (but then again so are most horror films, and I’m not complaining!). However, it would have been difficult to keep the semi-serious tone going. It’ll be interesting to see which way the much mooted remake goes if it ever gets off the ground.
One of the best aspects of the original is perhaps its blackest joke: a pastiche on the seeming indestructibility of the slasher movie villain. In CHILD’S PLAY, Chucky is shot multiple times, burnt to a crisp and is dismembered, but he just keeps on coming. It’s silly and funny, but just dark enough to satisfy as genuine horror without tipping into complete parody.
female:1 / male:3
1) Female hit with hammer and falls from window
2) Male killed in explosion
3) Male killed with voodoo
4) Male killed with electro-shock apparatus