Reviews

JUMPSCARECUT: Child’s Play (1988)

Year: 1988
Directed by: Tom Holland (no, not that one!) 
Starring: Catherine Hicks, Brad Dourif, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent

Written by Jessica Peña

To some people, there isn’t anything creepier than a vintage, distressed doll. There’s a common terror when it comes to the fear of life-like, possessed dolls who go haywire and wreak havoc as they ink their stories into film. For today’s bit, we aren’t talking ‘Annabelle’ or ‘Dead Silence’, or even that possessed clown doll in ‘Poltergeist’. No, there’s a more devilishly satirical figure in the grim land of horror…

His name is Chucky and he’s your friend ‘til the end!

If you grew up watching ‘The Rugrats’ as a kid, imagine being smacked with this new association with the name “Chucky” after somehow watching ‘Child’s Play’ when you were in first grade. The cult staple that Chucky is transcends pass the thing of youth nightmares and somehow reaches to fright your inner child to this day. For this reason alone, it’d be remiss of us if we didn’t take a retrospective look at ‘Child’s Play’ 30 years after its wide release.

The ‘Child’s Play’ trilogy caters to a certain style of early supernatural slashers. Later on, the modern string of ‘Chucky’ films do get grotesque and crude for the sake of it, but also don’t quite hit the higher notes of its forerunner flicks. Critically, it’s fair to say that the series of Chucky movies begin to drain themselves starting with ‘Child’s Play 3′, but there’s a certain sinister tale in the first film that is interestingly backdropped by the child consumer marketing of the late eighties.

Why do children hold such a trusted bond with their dolls, but also how would it play out if that tie were to break? When we’re not looking, what is that Barbie up to? Where do all the Beanie Boos hang out at night? It’s funny to think about right now, but we’ll see who’s laughing when those Cabbage Patch rascals plot your death. And for these thoughts alone, it’s quite easy to understand the mind of six-year-old Andy when his Good Guy doll comes to life. With methods like the first person camera set a dropped angle to mimic that of a toddler-sized doll running, to the interesting ways the crew edits takes to make the action sequences come to life, ‘Child’s Play’ is a testament to wild, sinister ideas done the right way, caricature elements allowed.

In Chicago one night, serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif and voice of Chucky) is chased down the street by a cop (Chris Sarandon), ending up at a toy store where he’ll eventually be shot dead, but not before passing his soul onto a Good Guy doll through his voodoo chants (cue in the CG storm clouds). The next morning, Andy Barclay is celebrating his sixth birthday, waking his mom up with an overflowing bowl of cereal and burnt toast just so she can join in on his excitement. Having seen the Play Pal’s Toys infomercial on the wildly popular Good Guys doll, Andy is eventually gifted a Good Guy his mom (Catherine Hicks) bought on the street for way too cheap. This, of course, is the doll Charles Lee Ray has now inhabited. In a race against time before he irreversibly turns human in the rubber vessel, Chucky realizes he has to transfer himself into the body of the first person he revealed his identity to- naive little Andy. But don’t be fooled, this kid tries valiantly to run circles around the doll, crying for help at every turn, but adults just never listen…then they die.   

The story unfolds in the mind of Don Mancini, having completed the original draft in the mid-eighties with a working title, “Batteries Not Included,” that’d eventually get flagged down as a result of Spielberg’s copyrighted project title. It then went to “Blood Buddy,” a more gore-induced idea that played with early ideas and story points. Ultimately, ‘Child’s Play’ gave way to the more higher notions of the film’s childlike connotations in contrast to the darker theme. And what a fitting title for a film that so swiftly turns to cold-blooded atrocities. The story sprouts as a grizzly satire on the way children are conditioned to be consumers of the economy, gently involving the obsessive craze of dressing up like the product, buying the same cereal, and collecting brand accessories. Obviously, it’s tweaked to depict this unworldly force of malicious, inventive imagination to tell the story.

What keeps your eyes locked on is the looming suspicions of when Chucky will strike, when will everyone start believing Andy, and why does everyone so carelessly drag and hit the doll on the walls and furniture all the time (In every film! Don’t even @ me. No wonder he wants to kill you all.)?!

Directed by Tom Holland (no, not the one who shoots webs), the film holds up in the ways that it should, paying more attention to details like practical effects rather than trying to be too ahead of its time. As Chucky murders his way to get back to Andy and settle loose ties of his own, you become more enamoured by the way he moves, the tricks of effects, the score, and the editing. Dialogue isn’t much of a strong suit with the Chucky series of films, but hey, if you come here wanting to see a toy doll slash it up, what do you expect? Charles Lee Ray is a savage, foul-mouthed, crusader of his own little world and it’s kind of entertaining.

Let’s dissect the pure ingenuity of the film and just how the method of practical special effects helped push Chucky into cult stardom. Kevin Yagher, a young puppet engineer at the time and animatronics genius, is the vital, unseen hero of the story. Without him, it’d be hard to imagine Chucky getting produced any other way. So it’s the late eighties and animatronic engineering is still in its early stages. After having worked on ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ just prior to this, Yagher and a group of engineers build the many layers and props for Chucky’s mold, using seamless facial recognition motors and who knows how many cables running just under the doll’s rubber complexion. From the doll’s facial progression into fleshy, human appearance (that voodoo begins to wear off and if you pay attention, the humanistic realism becomes apparent), to the use of a smaller actor in costume against a 30% overscaled model stage, the perceptive designs that summed up ‘Child’s Play’ are their own joint of iconicism.

It’s okay to say it, Chucky still terrorizes our dreams. It’s been so long since the film, so how are we still so engrossed by him? I’ll share an old nightmare with you: Chucky came to my elementary school and began chasing me and the other kids. We were terrified, screaming, locking ourselves into classrooms, hiding under pillows, turning the lights off…until he somehow opened the door into the dark room, casting just the shape of his silhouette. And he simply says “…Hi!,” and runs off!

In the same way he lurks and hides, he beguiles us, creeping on that thin line of childish irony and barbaric fear. If ‘Child’s Play’ did anything for me, it has to be the meticulous way this doll reminds, indulges, and humors me on my own childhood phobias. “Wanna play?”

JESSICA’S RATING:

4

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