1988 saw a flood of horror movies hit cinema screens. There were original films such as 976-Evil, directed by Freddy Krueger himself Robert Englund, the creepily disturbing David Cronenberg film Dead Ringers and one of our favourites at TBG, the deranged Maniac Cop starring genre stalwart Bruce Campbell. A string of sequels to big-hitting franchises also came out that year. A fourth Nightmare On Elm Street film was released, along with yet another Friday The 13th movie (Part VII) and a new instalment of the Halloween franchise (4: The Return of Michael Myers).
Then, on November 9th 1988, we were introduced to Chucky and horror became Child’s Play!
In the film, serial killer Charles Lee Ray is a fugitive on the tough streets of Chicago. On the run from the police, he is shot by a cop (hello to the evil Prince Humperdink himself, Chris Sarandon) and injured. He breaks into a toy shop and, shot once more and realising he is mortally wounded, performs a Haitian voodoo spell (it was the eighties; Haitian voodoo was everywhere apparently) and transfers his soul into the form of a ‘Good Guy’ doll he has collapsed next to. This powerful magic causes the toy shop to explode, due to lightning (really), and the police later find Lee Ray’s dead body. The next day, a young widow buys the doll from an enterprising homeless person and takes it home as a birthday gift for her young son, Andy… and then the fun begins!
In the years since, the image of Chucky, the ‘star’ of this movie, has become commonplace and there have been sequels, spin-offs, a remake and host of merchandise. However, at the time, the idea of a doll possessed by a serial killer becoming hellbent on taking over the body of a six-year-old boy felt original and bold. Perhaps extrapolating from the scary clown doll in Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982), having a homicidal doll charging around was terrifying. Yet, it was more than that. Treading the fine line between comedy and suspense, the film is laced through with moments of creeping horror.
There are several moments where we don’t see Chucky; we merely get a fleeting glimpse of him as he darts past an open doorway or we hear his feet skittering across a wooden floor. This plays up the dread factor and soon you forget that a plastic doll is trying to murder people and you just see a homicidal killer wreaking havoc.
Chucky himself was a combination of actors and animatronics and this adds to the disjointed and creepy feel every time you see him; the movements of the two don’t quite add up it makes things seem all the stranger. His face is remarkably animated and his curled and snarling mouth as he swears and screams is a sight to behold. There is something about the tactile nature of practical effects and this movie, coming as it did at the tail end of the eighties, really stretches the technology available. The plastic skin is moving thanks to some rather clever robotics and the overall effect is disturbing and somehow realistic (if that word can be applied here).
Some of the most effective moments of impending dread occur when the Lee Ray character retreats and we just see the doll Chucky. The audience knows that the killer is in there but the characters in the movie have no idea and it’s wonderfully done. Series creator Don Mancini really brings everything to the table and leaves us with a unique addition to the roster of horror characters we all know and love.
Let’s not forget just how funny the film is.
It veers close to spoof and yet manages to keep its little plastic hands grasped in the hair of horror (I did type that, yes) and never quite topples into parody. It certainly runs close, taking as it does the typical tropes and action beats from the genre, but it manages to craft something new to the audience.
As mentioned above, there have been sequels and reboots and tie-ins and a whole lot more but the original movie is something special and if you have never seen it we at TBG recommend you check it out. Yes, sure, it’s a little dated (the graphic sexual assault of Andy’s mother is unwelcome and the bastardised version of voodoo is awkward) but if you take it for what it is, a rollicking little horror movie that spawned an icon, you’ll have a great time!
Note: Child’s Play came out on June 2nd 1989 in the UK because, back then, that’s just how things worked.
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