Child's Play

Six-year-old murderer = fun
★★★
☆
Released: 
1988
Director: 
Tom Holland
Starring: 
Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif
The Setup: 
Doll gets possessed with the soul of a killer.
Discussion: 

Despite my coolly independent, withering stance, I am entirely susceptible to flattery and celebrity interest. So when Don Mancini, writer of all the Child's Play movies and director of Seed of Chucky and the upcoming Child's Play remake wrote to ask why none of his movies were on my site, I sprang into action immediately. Thinking I'd start with the first, I finally watched this one, and saw what was in it to explain how this concept could spawn six movies.

During the credits I learn to my surprise that this stars Catherine Hicks, appealing/repulsive actress from Star Trek IV: The One With the Whales and some TV show about a suburban witch I used to be fairly enamored of. It also stars Chris Sarandon and Brad Dourif. We open with a shootout as killer Brad Dourif runs and hides in a toy store, where we see walls lined with the "Good Guys" doll, one of which will become Chucky. Dourif gets shot, grabs a doll and starts some incantation, lightning strikes the store, blowing the whole thing to shit, and there we are.

We now join six year old Andy on his birthday. He is obsessed with this Good Guys TV show, eats Good Guys cereal, and wants a Good Guys doll. You can sense a strain of consumer satire here that might have been castrated by later script flattening. Andy sees a big birthday present, and is quite sure it's a Good Guys doll. There's a long scene where he makes his mother a sickening breakfast in bed--Fruit Loops, burned toast with a massive wad of butter, etc., and makes a huge mess in the kitchen. Then follows one of the most tension-filled scenes of the film as he walk into his Mom's bedroom, while you sit on edge, waiting for all that stuff to spill all over the floor or right in her bed. He gets her out of bed and wants his birthday presents!

They go, he opens his big present and--it's a pair of jeans! Which is a little hilarious as this box is gigantically big to house just a pair of child's jeans. Andy is disappointed, but his mom, single mother Sharon, explains that she's just too poor to afford a Good Guys doll--despite her huge apartment in this building with amazing glass-brick floors in the halls.

Sharon goes to work, where her standard-issue spunky redhead friend Maggie tells her that there's a homeless guy out back with a beat up Good Guys doll he'll let go cheap. She brings it home to Andy--I would think she should check if it works first--and he now thinks nothing of her coming home with a giant unexplained box in her arms. Well, she's home long enough to give it to him, then has to return to work, and Maggie is going to babysit Andy.

The boy is already talking to Chucky like he's a real person, and claiming Chucky wants to do certain things, like watch the news. After a little creepiness, Maggie puts Andy and Chucky to bed. Already in here one has cause to note that this movie is getting a lot of great tension out of the sight of this motionless doll, because you literally just stare at it, on edge, waiting for it to move. That's ingenious. There follows a very good stalking scene, which generates a great rhythm of suspense and loud noises and false alarms, before Maggie turns around and Chucky pops her in the forehead with a toy hammer. You might think she'd just stumble back with a slight bump, but no--she's actually propelled ten feet back and right through the window, where she falls several floors to her death. That was some tap! Seems Chucky could have had a promising career in construction, if only he could give up his murderous ways.

Once the police come they see little footprints in the flour, and they soon discover that they look like Andy's footprints--since he is wearing Good Guys tie-in slippers. So six-year-old Andy becomes the number one suspect, which is funny. The boy keeps insisting that Chucky did it, which leads his mom and the detective to think the boy is insane. When they've left, Andy tells his mom that Chucky said Maggie was a bitch and got what she deserved, which is funny, too, especially when mom freaks out. By now the whole thing is just so silly and funny in an evil way, it can coast for a while on its accumulated goodwill.

SPOILERS > > >
So the next day mom takes Andy to school with his Chucky doll--you'd think SOMEONE would take the doll away from him by now--and if you notice there's another kid in the background carrying a Good Guys doll with him as well. There could be a whole good diversion that could be taken here about these relatively big boys bringing these dolls to school, but alas no. Anyway, Andy soon leaves school and gets on the train and takes it to some awful neighborhood, where some newly-released prisoner Chucky has business with is hiding. After a stalking scene in which Chucky turns on the gas, the victim ignites it and it explodes--but the cool thing is they really blew up this ruined apartment building, which we then see collapse. Fun! You'd have to be a total Scrooge not to love collapsing buildings! And best of all--it looks like little Andy did it! Excellent.

Well, that’s enough to get little Andy committed! And come on, when you’ve got a six-year-old committed for murder and wanton destruction, you’ve got fun. So mom takes Chucky home and demands he talk, but he won’t, so she starts the fire and tells him if he doesn’t talk, she’ll throw him in it, and all of a sudden he shouts “You stupid bitch! You filthy slut!” You kind of have to laugh at Chucky’s wildly unfriendly language. So he attacks her, then escapes. Then she runs around looking for the homeless guy who sold it to her, referred to as the “peddler,” and he tries to rape her but the detective comes… and I have to say here is where the movies goes a little rote and boring. It’s just the standard attack/chase kind of thing, making this definitely an excellent example of the First 2/3rds Theory. But one thing you should look out for: during the car crash, when you see the car flipping over, look in the background and you will see the clearly-visible lighting crane.
< < < SPOILERS END

It was pretty good! As I said, I can see how it successfully launched a franchise that continues to this day. The thing is, it’s a really unique idea that comes with a lot of unforeseen little benefits—like having this small, child-sized killer that can squeeze into little places and is naturally impossible to kill [no need for him to be ludicrously superhuman], and as observed, the director gets a lot of GREAT suspense out of simply showing the doll, doing nothing, because all you do during that time is stare, on edge, waiting for him to move. And it must be said that the director and editor know how to really create a good stalking sequence, which isn’t an easy thing to do. I think. I mean—like fuck I know, right?

However, as I said the last half hour is fine, just totally straightforward, run-of-the-mill horror climax. Eh, fine, what do we expect. If you haven’t seen this and you like 80s horror, you could do a lot worse. Plus I felt good because I would have to report back to the screenwriter, and there’s nothing worse than having to tell someone to their face that you don’t like their movie. Whew… crisis averted!

Should you watch it: 

Yes, it’s pretty good, especially if you like 80s horror.