Child’s Play (1988) dir. Tom Holland
Starring: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandan, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif
One of the more forgettable horror film killers is “Chucky”, a franchise begat by the forgettable film “Child’s Play” - a child’s doll possessed by a serial killer becomes a murderous threat to a young boy and her mother.
Somehow this film was enough of a success to warrant four more films. With the exception of porn, only the horror genre could exploit such mediocre and talentless filmmaking into a bankable franchise.
The opening establishing scene features Brad Dourif, being chased by a cop played by Chris Sarandan, down the streets of Chicago. The perpetrator is cornered in a toy store, but before he’s captured, somehow he summons some supernatural demonic force in the sky and transmits his soul to one of the toy dolls on display.
Months later we’re introduced to Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) and her young boy Andy. Karen is a single mother who desperately wants to give her son a coveted Cabbage-Patch-like doll for his birthday. While on work she finds an opportunity to buy a black market doll from a shifty homeless man on the street. Despite her reservations she gives in and buys the doll. Every one is happy until Andy exhibits suspicious behaviour claiming the doll moves and talks like a regular person. Of course, no one believes him.
It turns out it’s the same doll possessed by Brad Dourif. The doll starts killing people in an effort to exact revenge on the people that betrayed him in his former life. Of course the doll desires to become a human again, and to do so he must kill the first person he confessed he secret to – Andy. And so Karen and the cop race to save Andy from the three foot plastic menace known as Chucky.
Director Tom Holland (“Fright Night”), who is no hack, does sustain some minor chills for a very brief period. Between the moment Karen buys the doll and when we first hear him speak, Chucky’s presence is implied with the usual off camera suspense. We’re never sure if Chucky is alive or not, we just see the doll appear in unusual places, disappear and reappear at will. When Holland cuts to the doll for a reaction its always the same expressionless plastic toy face. Thus the audience implies the threat posed by the doll.
But once Karen discovers for herself who Chucky really is, the film moves sharply from a legit horror film into a camp action picture. Chucky suddenly has a gruff and mean voice and snarling facial features. Ironically he becomes less threatening, because well, he’s only three feet. The fights and chases which ensue over the final half of the film are too ludicrous to be scary and just mildly interesting as action set-pieces. Really, all it would take is just a swift kick to the head, or use a broomstick to shoo it away.
Somehow Chucky became a bonafide franchise. The producers recognized and embraced the campiness of the character and so the subsequent films were more comedy than horror. It’s the 20th Anniversary of “Child’s Play” and a Special edition is available including, for hardcore fans (I don’t know who that would be) scene-specific in-character audio commentary from Chucky himself.
"Child's Play 20th Anniversary" is available on DVD from MGM Home Entertainment