31 Screams in October, Vol. 2, #23: Child’s Play (1988)

Posted: October 24, 2015 in Movie Review
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Child's Play (1988)

Director: Tom Holland

Starring: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif

There are some children’s toys that are just plain creepy, especially the ones that talk. Maybe they don’t seem that way when you’re young, but the memory of them can linger. I think it’s the blinking, lifeless eyes. In the end though, they’re just hunks of plastic that sucks the juice out of a battery like a car with shitty gas mileage. Nothing threatening here. It’s only psychological… Right?

Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) is turning six years old, and what he wants most of all is a Good Guy doll… sort of a Teddy Ruxpin/My Buddy combination, but with a cartoon tie-in. Karen (Catherine Hicks), Alex’s mother, didn’t know about the doll in time to save up for it. However, the stars have aligned to present her with the opportunity to purchase one from a street peddler behind the department store where she works. However, her assface of a boss only allows her enough time to pick up her son and present the doll, named Chucky, to him at home before she has to return to work. Maggie, her friend and co-worker, volunteers to babysit Andy while Karen remains at work. Riding the bus home, Karen arrives to the scene of a crime. Maggie is dead, having fallen to her death from the apartment window.

Police on the scene note the child-sized footprints on the kitchen counter, and Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) sees that the soles of Andy’s sneakers happen to match the footprints. Incensed by the insinuation that Andy could have had anything to do with Maggie’s death, Karen demands that they take what evidence they’ve gathered and leave at once. Just before they do, Andy notices some stains on the bottoms of Chucky’s shoes, which indicate to him that it was Chucky who was up on the counter. Of course, none of the adults believe him. Later, when his mother overhears him talking to Chucky, Andy says that Chucky has been telling him all sorts of things, well beyond the three sentences that he’s supposed to be pre-programmed to say. For instance, Chucky’s real name is Charles Lee Ray, which it just so happens is the name of the infamous Lakeshore Strangler, who was killed by Det. Norris during a shootout inside of a toy store. When Andy also relates disparaging remarks Chucky made about Maggie, Karen insists that Andy must stop making up stories.

Andy certainly doesn’t help his cause by ditching school to take Chucky downtown to where Charles Lee Ray’s former accomplice lives. Soon after arriving, the place explodes, the result of gunfire igniting the gas from the kitchen stove. It seems that Chucky sought revenge for having been left behind to die. At the police station, Andy once again blames Chucky for everything, and is sent to the mental hospital for a few days. But that night, Karen makes a startling discovery: Chucky’s been moving around all this time without any batteries (the two that were included in the box he came in were still there). Karen threatens Chucky with being set on fire unless he talks. That’s when he comes alive in her hands, bites her on the arm, and exits the apartment building. Karen tries to make Det. Norris believe what’s just occurred, but he doesn’t until he is almost killed in his car.

Chucky, having suffered a bullet wound from Det. Norris’s gun, is surprised to learn that not only can he be injured, but that his current body is becoming human. If he doesn’t find the first person he revealed his true identity to (that being Andy) and transfer his soul into them, he’ll be stuck in doll form for good. Dr. John, the witch doctor who taught Chucky how to do this is the one who, under duress, offers up this latest bit of news. Chucky repays his cooperation with death. Det. Norris and Karen find Dr. John just before he dies, are warned of Chucky’s plans, and are instructed to destroy Chucky’s heart, as this is the only way to kill him.

Chucky heads for the mental hospital and kills the doctor, but Andy escapes and heads for home. Intercepting him there, Chucky begins his soul transference spell, but is stopped just in time by Karen and Det. Norris. Chucky wounds Norris, but is then trapped in the fireplace by Karen and burned by Andy. But, there are ten minutes remaining in the movie, so you know Chucky, despite being horrifically burned, is not quite dead yet. Karen shoots him to pieces, but he’s STILL not dead. Det. Norris’s partner shows up and disbelieves the explanation of what’s just happened. The now headless, mostly limbless and extra crispy torso of Chucky attacks him, but is finally killed when Det. Norris shoots him through the heart.

Admittedly, the concept of a killer doll is pretty silly. It takes a movie like “Child’s Play” with a cast such as this to make it worth your while. Both Chris Sarandon and Brad Dourif can make anything they appear in that much better just by their presence. Dourif in particular is so talented that he can make even the most inane slasher film dialogue sound vaguely Shakespearean. To date, “Child’s Play” has been followed by five sequels, each one more far-fetched than the last (although some benefit by trying to laugh at themselves). As with most horror franchises, the first is by far the best. But what could have made “Child’s Play” even better is if it had teased the audience just a little more with the idea that Andy might be making up everything he’s saying about Chucky. It could have gotten away this with if we weren’t explicitly shown right off the bat how Charles Lee Ray becomes Chucky. This would also allow for the big reveal at the midway point to be more of a genuine surprise. That aside, “Child’s Play” is a cut above most late 80’s horror movies, and one that I like to return to time and time again.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Yes, I do think using toys can be incredibly creepy! I’ve only seen part of one “Chucky” movie, and he is pretty creepy alright. Clowns are the worst, though, right? Good review, “not Chucky” Chuck!

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