Child’s Play (1988)

Director: David Kirschner

Starring: Brad Dourif, Catherine Hicks, Alex Vincent, Chris Sarandon

“Hi, I’m Chucky. Wanna play?” (Chucky, Child’s Play)

It’s hard to truly appreciate Child’s Play nowadays, since the first 40 minutes of the film are completely ruined. When it was first released it was genuinely chilling, a gripping whodunnit with a paranormal twist. Of course, nowadays everyone already knows ‘whodunnit’ and so the first half of the movie is spent waiting for the film’s characters to catch up and find out what the rest of the world already knows – that the killer is a doll.

Poor little Andy (the adorable Alex Barclay) wanted a Good Guy doll for his birthday, but his mum couldn’t afford one so she just got him clothes and a shitty Good Guys tool kit instead. Noticing his disappointment, Andy’s mum thinks she’s struck it lucky later that day when a peddler near her work is selling knock-off Good Guy dolls stolen from a burnt-out toy shop. She buys one for $30 and is suddenly the greatest mum in the world again.

"And you're sure this operation will work doctor? I really don't want to be a Siamese twin any more"

This doesn’t last, because it soon emerges that this particular doll is possessed by Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), a serial killer and voodoo nut who transforms his soul into the doll just before he’s killed by a police officer. The doll, Chucky, sets about killing Andy’s babysitter as well as the other criminal chaps who screwed him over before his ‘death’. Cue various explosions and voodoo doll stabbings.

Since it’s the first film, the audience isn’t supposed to know Chucky is the killer. There are plenty of moments where it’s suggested (he leaves footprints on a table, seemingly blows up a building and so forth), but every time someone’s killed Andy’s close by, leaving some doubt in the audience’s mind – isn’t it just Andy doing the killing and blaming it on his doll?

Chucky was amused at the dog licking its balls in the room opposite

The special effects used to create the Chucky doll vary in quality throughout the film. In some scenes where Chucky speaks – most notably when he talks at length with his former voodoo mentor – the lip-syncing doesn’t really work too well due to the limitations of the robotics in the face and as such the illusion is shattered a bit. Other shots, particularly the far ones where Chucky is instead a midget actor wearing a Chucky mask, are far more effective and much creepier because the realistic movement makes it look more like a human in a doll’s body.

Child’s Play shouldn’t really have taken off the way it did. While the cast all put in great performances the kills are fairly dull and the two “he’s dead, or is he” endings are just silly to watch. The reason it was a success, and rightly so, is that Chucky is a fantastic movie monster. He’s a child’s best friend one minute, a foul-mouthed strangler the next and since his target victim is a six-year-old boy there’s something very sinister to him.

"Stop checking my ruddy temperature Margaret, I said I'm fine woman"

In a way, it was Child’s Play‘s own success that ultimately ruined the first movie’s impact. Once Chucky became a household name and every knew Child’s Play as “the film with the killer doll”, it instantly rendered the film’s first 40 minutes useless. Nowadays even the DVD cover has a big photo of Chucky brandishing a knife, making sure you definitely know what the surprise is just in case you’ve managed to avoid it.

If you’re able to forget for a while that Chucky’s the killer and can try to watch the film in its original context, Child’s Play is good fun. Otherwise, the sequels are better because they kick off with the Chucky action right from the start and don’t spend half the movie trying to make you guess what you already know.

13 thoughts on “Child’s Play (1988)

  1. This is one of those films I’m gonna have to check out at some stage. It looks fun, and while the sequels might be better, I prefer to watch films in the right order, just for continuity’s sake.

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