Happy Halloween: Child's Play (1988) Review
Director: Tom Holland
Cast: Catherine Hicks, Alex Vincent, Chris Sarandon, Brad Dourif, and Dinah Manoff.
Child's Play opens with the notorious Lakeshore Strangler Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) being chased through the streets of Chicago by the determined detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon, The Princess Bride). Ray gets shot, breaks into a toy store, and in his last breath, recites a voodoo incantation that allows him to transfer his soul into the body of a plastic Good Guy doll. Soon after, a back alley peddler snatches the $100 toy, and sells it for cheap to a jewelry store clerk named Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks), who's looking for a last minute birthday gift for her six-year-old son.
Karen's son Andy (Alex Vincent) is practically obsessed with all things Good Guy related. In his adorable introductory scene, Andy fixes a bowl of Good Guy cereal for his mother while watching an episode of the Good Guy cartoon on TV. "I've seen this one," he groans as he makes a giant mess in the kitchen. The kid even dresses like the character in the show. When his mother buys him his own Good Guy tool kit, he tells his mother that what he really wants is a Good Guy doll to go with it.
It would seem like getting the doll from the peddler would be a Godsend, but violent things start to happen once Andy receives his gift. Andy's babysitter gets pushed out of a window, Charles Lee Ray's old partner dies in a mysterious explosion, and what's worse, Andy seems to be around each crime with his doll in tow just as they happen. He tries to tell his mother that his doll, named Chucky, is alive and responsible for everything. She, of course, doesn't believe him at first, until she discovers later that the doll has somehow been working without having any batteries inside of it.
Child's Play is a surprisingly effective thriller, very well-directed by Tom Holland, and featuring some surprisingly strong performances. While it would be easy enough to kick a killer toy across the room once it starts coming after you, the reason why this movie works so well is because it gives the killer the element of surprise. No one expects anything malevolent from Chucky, and once they do, it's already too late. Sometimes, Chucky leaves his victims with no way of fighting him. There's one scene where he uses a voodoo doll on a man who is, unfortunately, on the other side of the room (there's literally no getting out of that).
It helps that the doll looks insanely creepy, even before it reveals its evil side. With its blood red hair, wide blue eyes, and puffy cheeks, the Good Guy doll looks exactly like one of those creepy-ass dolls you would find on sale in a toy store (the toy was inspired by My Buddy Doll from Hasboro). Once he finally comes alive as the killer (which we don't see happen until 45 minutes into the movie), he's quite sinister, although I grant you, he was far more sinister as an unseen menace or a figure lurking in the background.
This is probably why the climax doesn't really work. Once the final survivors know good and well what they're dealing with, you'd figure they would be able to finish Chucky off pretty quickly, but no. The climactic battle goes on for way too long, and features stretches that are either frustrating (such as when characters turn their backs to Chucky), unintentionally hilarious (like when Chucky gets trapped in a fireplace) or downright ugly (like when Chucky hits Andy over the head with a baseball bat).
Apart from that silly climax, Child's Play works. It's a credit to the director that he's able to ratchet up any tension at all with such a goofy premise, but he does just that, especially during the scene where Chucky attacks Norris in his car. It helps that the special-effects technicians do as good a job as they do. One special-effects shot that is particularly nightmarish comes after Chucky's been burned to a crisp. If he looked creepy before, he looks downright evil there. Also worth mentioning are the shots of ominous black clouds rolling in the sky as Chucky recites his incantation. This movie may be 28 years old, but those effects are still quite impressive.
The performances help to sell the material. Hicks turns in a sincere performance as Karen, although she does get a little ridiculous every time Chucky pounces on her in the end. Vincent earns our sympathies as Alex, especially during the scene where he's in a medical facility, and he knows Chucky is coming for him, and he can't get anyone to listen to him. Sarandon is commanding as Norris, and Douriff does a terrific job lending his voice to the pint-sized killer (we only see him as a human in the very beginning).
Holland does such a good job with the material, that it's a shame that the makers of the later films weren't able to follow suit. Child's Play is a dark, sinister, and somewhat playful little horror movie, and is perhaps the only film in this franchise I cared about.
Final Grade: *** (out of ****)
Rated R for violence, blood, profanity