Generally, I take watching a classic horror over many of the modern offerings. Particularly if it’s one I haven’t seen in a long while – or better yet, at all.
So I was happy to get the opportunity to re-visit Child’s Play thanks to one of the popular streaming services.
The film’s notoriety reached unparalleled levels when years after its release, it was connected to a real-world killing. But let’s put that aside for this review as frankly, blaming films for people’s behaviour is a debate too big for this web-page.
The film opens on a cop, Detective Mike Morris (played by former vampire Chris Sarandon) finally catching up with a wanted murder Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) also known as the Lakeshore strangler.
After a shootout, Ray retreats to a toy store where he is finally stalked by Morris. But before he meets his grisly end, he manages to transfer his soul into one of the Good Guy dolls that’s lying around with the help of some voodoo.
When the doll ends up as a birthday gift for unsuspecting 7-year-old Andy, it’s not long before Ray (now Chucky) is using his influence to make the boy do his bidding, leaving a bloody trail of murder behind him as he seeks revenge.
When the police suspect that the child might be responsible for the killings, it’s understandably difficult for the boy, or his mother Karen, for that matter, to prove his innocence. And so, the fun begins with Mom fighting to expose Chucky as a living doll and save her son from being institutionalised, or worse still, possessed by Chucky himself.
And what’s not to love about this fine example of zany eighties horror? Surprisingly, more than I expected.
Yes, nearly all of the elements that make eighties horror enjoyable are there… The colours, the film grain, the soundtrack, the sensational plot and the clever use of good old-fashioned non-computer-generated special effects. But on the negative side, the acting, script and plot are BAD. And I don’t mean ‘typical eighties’ bad. I mean dire.
The first flaw shockingly comes from seasoned spookster Chris Sarandon who struggles to deliver any kind of realism in his role. Not only is he wooden, but his character is unbelievably thoughtless when welcoming Karen to the crime scene after her friend is murdered (witnessed by her young son). Oddly he is quick to place the little boy in the frame after only being on the scene for 10 minutes – like it’s usual to assume the child is a suspect rather than rushing them off for psychological support.
Surely an actor of his calibre would have picked up on these script/plot shortcomings during filming and insisted that improvements were made?
Things get weirder when Karen manages to somehow convince detective Morris that a plastic toy is responsible for the killings. Rather than have her committed on the spot he happily follows her to a slum to pursue her fantastical line of enquiry. Sure, it must happen for the sake of the story, but it feels like zero thought was actually given to how some of these main elements of the film should be held together.
Maybe that’s how Child’s Play got its title? Perhaps it was conceived by a group of toddlers during a playdate and transcribed by a shrewd grown-up? It sure feels like it at times.
Obviously, being a horror reviewer means that you have to disengage the rational part of the brain to enjoy things from time to time. And with that done Child’s Play is watchable.
The one element that the film does do well at is the ‘now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t’ stuff, which helps to keep your attention and could give you the odd (minor) jump or two.
It’s a proven fact that possessed dolls are creepy. And Chucky is one of the senior members of a family of horror dolls that have given us the shivers over the years. What gives him the edge on them is his potty mouth, which makes him endearing and undeniably more entertaining.
The film scores 0.5 stars for great use of slow motion (when Chucky is being blown apart) alone.