Catherine Hicks - Karen Barclay
Alex Vincent - Andy Barclay
Chris Sarandon - Mike Norris
Brad Dourif - Charles Lee Ray/Voice of Chucky
Dinah Manoff - Maggie Peterson
Tommy Swerdlow - Jack Santos
Jack Colvin - Dr. Ardmore
Genre - Horror/Thriller/Possession
Running Time - 87 Minutes
Score - 3.5 Howls Outta 4
I remember when I was young Wolf in the late-1980s and being bombarded by advertisements for toys during After-School cartoons, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Duck Tales, Tiny Toon Adventures, and so on. The biggest craze at the time was those dolls that read stories to you when you put a cassette in their backs. Their mouths would move and it would be like they were really speaking to you. Of course, I had a Teddy Ruxpin and I thought it was really cool having a talking doll at the time. That was until I saw CHILD'S PLAY.
I believe I first saw this film in the theaters in 1989 in a double billing with the Hulk Hogan classic, NO HOLDS BARRED. I remembered being scared shitless by CHILD'S PLAY, wondering if my Teddy would want to possess my body and/or kill me when I got home from watching this. I was so paranoid that I actually destroyed my Teddy and threw him in the trash. But it didn't help when your classmates would bring their Teddies and those Sesame Street talking dolls to class to show off to their friends. I couldn't win.
I honestly can't believe it's already been twenty years since CHILD'S PLAY has been released. Surprisingly, even with multiple sequels and an inevitable remake coming out, CHILD'S PLAY holds up remarkably well even though the fear factor isn't really there anymore. Still, out of all the evil doll films that has been released, I believe that CHILD'S PLAY is the top of the heap and still a blast to watch.
The Lakeshore Strangler, Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), runs away from Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) and gets fatally wounded by him during a shoot-out. Charles' partner-in-crime drives away without him, leaving Charles to escape inside a toy store. He encounters a "Good Guy" doll, which are dolls that talk to you when they register your voice patterns, and performs a voodoo spell that allows him to transfer his soul into the doll's body. Mike finds Charles dead, thinking the worse is over.
After this, we meet Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent), a little boy who is celebrating a birthday and is obsessed by Good Guy products. Gotta love the world of advertising. Anyway, he's disappointed when he doesn't receive a Good Guy doll to play. This makes his mother Karen (Catherine Hicks), who doesn't have much cash to pay for these expensive dolls, to actually buy one from some peddler selling one. Karen gives Andy the doll, who happens to be named Chucky and who really likes to play. Once Chucky enters the Barclay's lives, bad things start to happen that lead people to believe that Andy is behind them. In reality, we learn that Charles Lee Ray is really Chucky and he's using his new doll disguise to get revenge on those who wronged him. But once Chucky realizes his new doll body will turn more human the longer his soul stays inside of it, he discovers that possessing Andy is the only way to escape once and for all.
CHILD'S PLAY is one of my favorite horror films and one of the better ones of the 1980s. Unlike the sequels, the film plays out more like a detective mystery with slasher elements implemented. It's serious and it actually tries to be scary, which is more I can say for the other installments - although the comedic aspects of the sequels do work very well. While the scares aren't going to work today, the film still works if one has a great level of disbelief suspension. I mean, we all could probably kick Chucky's ass just by kicking him and pushing him around at his small size. But if that happened, we wouldn't have a film to review about, now would we?
I think the story in CHILD'S PLAY is really good. Although the voodoo aspect of it could be a bit more elaborated for my tastes, at least it's never the focus and doesn't distract from the main plot. Don Mancini and John Lafia give us a premise that works so well because they manage to convince us that what's happening could really happen, even when we know it couldn't. This isn't your standard hack-and-slash slasher flick that focuses on the villain while the rest of the cast are paper-thin idiots that deserve to die. There's a level of intelligence in the screenplay, as it's a commentary on commercialism and how we're built to buy what's being marketed to us, even if we don't really need it or it could do some damage in the long run.
We also have a mystery thing going here. Sure, we know once Andy gets Chucky and the bad stuff goes down, the doll is the culprit. But we never actually see Chucky do anything until Karen finds out that there are no batteries in the doll and Chucky just goes on a verbal tirade [probably my favorite scene in the whole film - still makes me laugh]. While we know Chucky is the villain, there's a part of us that could believe that Andy is psychotic and may be using Chucky as a cover of his own deeds. Hell, it's not like this stuff hasn't happened in real life or on films before. It helps that director Tom Holland actually uses POV shots in the first half that make us believe that either Andy or Chucky are the ones responsible for everything. Most slashers would just show you the killer right away. But here, it takes a while and it makes the revelation that much sweeter even when we know it's coming.
The screenplay is also strong because of the characters. They all have distinct personalities and neither one is annoying. As a matter of fact, they all act like real people even in this bizarre situation. Andy acts like a little boy looking for a friend through his doll. But then he grows up quickly when he realizes that his friend is evil and wants to kill him. He never acts like he knows more than he should. It's a believable characterization and that's why we warm up to him so fast. Karen and Mike are the non-believing adults until reality hits them in the face. Karen is the mother who wants to make her child happy even when she doesn't have the resources to do so. She protects him, even when she doubts him. And when she learns the truth, she does anything in her power to save him from Chucky, even when it almost gets her raped and killed. Mike is the stubborn, hard-nosed stereotypical detective who begins to open up once he realizes that Andy was telling the truth about Chucky. He's never protrayed as a hero, but a man who's job has made him a cynic. I also like the chemistry between him and Karen. I like the fact that they never really get romantically together even more. That would be the Hollywood way. But it's realistic here because we sense their connection, even when they never act on it.
And who can forget Chucky, who even as a doll has more personality than Paris Hilton and all those celebutards combined. He's evil. He has a wicked sense of humor. He cusses like a sailor. He's a character we should hate but can't help like. I do think the voodoo thing should have been explored more. It doesn't really bother me that it's not, but when the whole situation began with an act of black magic, it would be nice to know why Chucky loves it so much and why he hadn't used it before to elude the police. In fact, the scene where he talks to that voodoo guy and uses a voodoo doll on him made me scratch my head. Why didn't he make voodoo dolls of his enemies to begin with and kill them that way? Yeah, it's my logic side talking and we wouldn't have a film if Chucky had done that. But still, it just makes you question how smart Charles Lee Ray really was. At least the voodoo stuff is never complicated and we understand everybit of this small sub-plot. That's good enough for me, I guess.
The special effects here in CHILD'S PLAY are a bit dated now to be honest, but they were pretty awesome for the time. Watching Chucky walk around, breathing and talking, is still a cool sight - especially knowing it was done with robots. It gives Chucky a lot of human personality and makes what he does to these people believable. No real CGI here at all, which is pretty impressive. I hope they don't go the CGI way for the remake because that would be awful. I also dug the explosions and that car sequence between Chucky and Mike. The action sequences and the killing scenes were really nicely done.
The direction by Tom Holland is very good here but not as good as FRIGHT NIGHT. Still, Holland does what every horror director should do: create tons of tension and suspense, give the viewers a level of intrigue when it comes to the killer/evil situation, and keep things fast and simple. Holland builds up the appearance of Chucky, letting POV shots done on a steady cam give him life before letting us actually seeing him move and talk after 45 minutes. We get slow motion shots. We get nice angular shots. The editing and pace is tight. It's just simple and effortless, which shows what a great director Holland is.
The acting is also a highlight, which was a rarity for horror flicks at the time. Catherine Hicks, who is probably best known as the mother on 7th Heaven, is a bit hammy at times but I think I'd be a bit over-the-top if I found out that a plastic doll was giving me lip and trying to kill me. So all is forgiven. I thought she gave credibility to her role. Chris Sarandon is pretty cool as Mike. He acts like a cop. He has the presence of a cop. I bought it. I thought he had great chemistry with Hicks too. You think they'll give in to their sexual tension, but they never do. Quite refreshing actually. Alex Vincent is probably my favorite child star in horror. He was cute, charming, and he made everything he did credible and believable. I bought it when he was happy. I bought it when he talked to a doll. I bought it when he was scared. And I especially bought it when he had that crying scene. Man, that kid could act and he never annoys you once. Kudos to you, Mr. Vincent! And of course, we can't end it without mentioning the awesome Brad Dourif, who brings Chucky to life with just his voice. He gives the character a ton of personality and he plays the nutty characters quite well. I heard he's still gonna do the voice for the remake, so that alone makes that remake better than the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET one. Great cast.
THE FINAL HOWL
After 20 years, CHILD'S PLAY is still an effective horror film that gives the viewer more than one would want from the genre. I consider this a horror classic because it's not only a great film, but it made Chucky a part of the pop culture lexicon. It's just a fun flick that has great acting and a great story. What more does one ask for in their horror stew? CHILD'S PLAY will always be my friend to the end. Hidey-Ho!