Halloween White Elephant: Child’s Play (1988)

Posted by Brian Salisbury - October 12th 2011 @ 2:27 pm

From Noah–“I assigned Brian CHILD’S PLAY because, as a horror fan, it’s beyond shameful to never have seen the first entry to this series. I know some people will debate on how the entire thing stands up as a whole, but I love all of the CHILD’S PLAY movies. The best thing about the first one being that you have a demon puppet terrorizing a little boy. A child. And I’m all for any horror movies where a child gets terrorized. I was also interested to hear how well Brian thinks this stands up having watched BRIDE OF CHUCKY with him recently.”

Every kid wants a Good Guy doll! Little Andy wants one so bad that his mother actually agrees to purchase one from a greasy hobo in the alley behind her place of employment. What every kid may not want–maybe–is a Good Guy doll possessed by the spirit of a dead serial killer. Unfortunately, that was exactly the little bonus that came with the dubious Good Guy doll Andy’s mom illicitly acquired. Charles Lee Ray, alias The Lakeshore Strangler, alias Chucky, is now committing homicides from beyond the grave as the Lilliputian plaything. Guess Andy’s mom should have bought him a Nintendo.

Child’s Play is one of the last horror franchises of which I was wholly ignorant. For whatever reason, this series slipped through the cracks of my perception during my formative years. I was too busy watching Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees hack people to shreds to lend any time to a killer doll movie. But as much as I may have turned my nose up at the series as a sprat, this blind spot, one of my few remaining, began to nag at me. I recently saw Bride of Chucky, but that was my only forray into the franchise and, while fun, a poor exemplar of the entire series. I am glad Noah finally made its viewing an assignment. I was sure that this would be a cheesy hack-and-slash. Turns out, it was something far better.

What I really enjoyed about Child’s Play was that, at least for a while, it toyed (no pun intended) with the idea that maybe the Good Guy doll wasn’t alive at all and that Andy was simply a psycho tot. They even went so far as to have Andy be so Good-Guy-obsessed that he wore exactly the same clothes as his plastic companion. So in shots wherein we see glimpses of something in a stripped shirt running past an open door frame, we can’t be completely convinced that it’s Chucky. Sure we see Charles Lee Ray reciting an ancient spell to transfer his soul, but how do we know it actually worked? It could have been a red herring. Of course, this illusion is ruined upon the slightest awareness of the subsequent franchise, but I can imagine it would have intrigued and perplexed audiences in 1988 seeing it for the first time.

I thoroughly enjoyed the opening of the film in which Charles Lee Ray, played to creepy perfection by Brad Dourif, is being chased by police. The incantation he…incantates…just before dying is actually quite unsettling. I’m a big fan of the supernatural voodoo element of the film and how it immediately begins to build its own mythology. This is juxtaposed very nicely with Chucky’s very grounded, and positively brutal, revenge plot. The kills he masterminds are not only vicious, but also cleverly catered to a three-foot-tall perpetrator. He knows he can’t take on a voodoo priest mano y dollo so he stabs the man’s voodoo doll antecedent in the heart. It’s a great scene that acknowledges the limitations of the film’s concept and overcomes them with murderous gusto.

Whether you enjoy this film or not, whether or not you count yourself a fan of plasticide, the one thing that cannot be overlooked in Child’s Play are its effects. This film is, to the best of my eyeballs’ capacity, devoid of any CGI. Every kill, every movement of the supposedly inanimate plaything, is achieved practically. An adept combination of puppetry, trick photography, and miniscule actors in costume brought Chucky to terrifying life and was immeasurably entertaining to watch. True, it was 1988, but computer-generated effects were very much alive during this era and could have easily been used as a crutch in this film. As someone still proudly carrying the torch for practical effects, this made me incredibly happy.

Nicely done Noah, I approve.

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