The 80s was a hell of a decade for horror. It breathed life into some of the most iconic properties we still remember fondly today. But while things that started off scary, they eventually became self-aware and even a little comedic by the late 80s. Characters like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees became pop culture icons as opposed to objects of terror, and at this point, horror was fun more than it was scary. This was around the time cinema introduced us to the likes of Chucky the murderous doll, starting in 1988 with 'Child's Play'.
Our story begins with Chucky's origin, as we see serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Douriff) on the run from Officer Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon). He seeks shelter in a toy store, but Norris manages to give him a good bullet wound. In desperation, and through the means of voodoo magic, Charles transfers his soul into a Good Guy doll - a fictional toy doll taking on the properties of "My Buddy" and largely inspired by the Cabbage Patch Kid craze of the early 80s. Playing on this craze, we eventually meet single mother, Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) and her son, Andy (Alex Vincent), who's about to celebrate his sixth birthday. Of course, he wants nothing but a Good Guy doll, causing his mother to buy one on the black market.
Soon, we learn that this is the doll Charles Lee Ray transferred his soul into, and under the guise of "Chucky", he's out for revenge on those who have wronged him. Throughout much of the film, Chucky is just a normal doll, and he remains creepy and hidden with simple, subtle, believable movements. He uses Andy as a means for his revenge while he stays in perfect doll form, and any time we do see his movements in the background, they look extra creepy. This is a good example of less being more, but he does come out in full animatronic form eventually, and for the time, it must have been pretty damn creepy. Nowadays, we're used to seeing Chucky do his thing, but this was a new take for the time, targeting some potential fears of parents who had kids who had dolls. That's not just the doll coming to life either.
One thing that stands out about this chapter, at least to me, is the idea that Andy goes off with Chucky on his own at one point, taking a train to get to where he needs to go. Considering he was all alone and no one said anything about it, it's unrealistic. But one fear any parent has is a runaway child, and this provides a whole new scenario for it in that, basically, it seems Andy's imagination gets away from him the way he communicates with Chucky. He's only 6 years old, so it's perfectly understandable. We know in the film he's really communicating, but it does put that "what if" fear in one's head. I have to hand it to the film for not only playing with these fears, but also being a cautionary tale of going certain lengths to give your kids what they want. Or, if you like, just a cautionary tale about purchasing black market items in general.
I think to some degree some effects are dated (it's sometimes funny to see what is clearly a kid in an elaborate Chucky costume), but it's a great piece of horror for its time. It's another horror villain to add into the pantheon, Chucky plays well as the pop culture horror icon of the time from the get-go, and as a sort of "first", it genuinely puts a kid in danger as opposed to the teenagers we're otherwise so familiar with in other franchises. Speaking for myself, that always adds another layer of dread to anything - knowing the killer is willing to go to such lengths. One thing I didn't cover is what exactly Chucky wants with Andy, and it basically involves possession. I dunno if it's still spoiler territory at this point, but you can probably put it together with what I've said.
Eventually, these films would come to realize how silly the whole concept is, and turn into a horror/comedy franchise. But 'Child's Play' still actually holds up as something genuinely creepy to me. Some dated effects aside, some of these effects are puppeteering a doll, and there's something otherworldly about it. Personally, I might suggest that this is the scariest Chucky ever actually looks (aside from 'Curse'), and for my money, the 'Child's Play' series doesn't get much better than the way this original was executed. Perhaps it's somewhat dated in comparison to the stuff we're used to now, but it's a great time capsule that added a whole different level of horror for the late 80s.
Body Count: 4
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