The 80s breathed life into some of the most iconic horror properties we still remember fondly today. But while things started off scary, they eventually became self-aware and even a little comedic by the later part of the decade. Characters like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees became fun 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'.
Chucky's origin story begins 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. Enter single mother, Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) and her son, Andy (Alex Vincent). About to celebrate his sixth birthday, Andy wants a Good Guy doll. But being that they're super hard to come across, his mother has to buy one on the black market.
Soon enough, we learn that this is the same doll possessed by Charles Lee Ray. He now goes by "Chucky", under the guise of the doll and is out to get revenge on anyone who has "wronged" him, using Andy to transport him to where he needs to go, as well as a patsy for his crimes. Eventually, however, Chucky learns that he'll soon need a new body, or else his soul will end up trapped inside the doll forever. The body in question, however, just so happens to be Andy - and thus, the hero/villain relationship of this particular long-running horror franchise is born. But, as usual, with the first in a horror franchise, the first one has a particular draw to it as being far creepier than most of the others.
In the first chapter here, for the most part, Chucky is just a normal, innocent-looking doll. It's here where one can admire more of the subtle horror from this series. Chucky might suddenly vanish, of give subtle movements that hint that he's a living doll. But the creep factor here goes beyond that. As Chucky uses Andy as a patsy, there's that question of the kid's actual mental health, in a scary way. IS your 6-year-old boy really going around causing bad stuff to happen? Or do you listen to him when he tells you, "Chucky did it!" You also can't help but feel how scared Andy must feel throughout all of this, not understanding exactly what's happening, or why the authority figures in his life won't listen to him. Chucky is, indeed, he horror version of Michigan J. Frog.
While this is a good example of less being more, Chucky does come to life in full animatronic form as well. Some may argue that the stop-motion effects of everything here do look a little bit cheesy and dated. But I contest that the creep factor of Chucky is brought a little more to life with this old-school stop-motion animation. It makes the idea of a sinister doll coming to life a little more believable than CG ever could because what you're seeing is tangible. And that thought of your doll coming to life to kill really hit home for me, because back in the day, I had a "My Buddy" doll, which, again, was largely what Chucky was based on. So if I saw a TV spot for one of these movies back then, it would be pretty effective.
So, truth be told, I actually ended up explaining a bit more of the movie than I may have wanted to. But a lot of that is because this is just the beginning of Chucky, and for the most part, the themes of bodily possession and voodoo magic are a constant throughout the series, and Andy ends up being Roadrunner to Chucky's Coyote (because one Looney Tunes reference was not enough). And, as many horror franchises go, it would eventually start to dwindle in quality over time. That's not to say it's all downhill from here though, as a lot of it ends up suiting the "guilty pleasure" realm of taste quite nicely.
Having said that, 1988's 'Child's Play' still actually holds up as something genuinely creepy to me. I just can't help but appreciate how otherworldly Chucky looks in this, and when you do see him suddenly spring into action, it catches you off guard. If someone went into this movie 100% blind, that scene would be pretty terrifying. I might suggest that this is the scariest Chucky ever actually looks (aside from maybe 'Curse'), and there's something about the execution of this that just stands out among anything that follows. It's a great time capsule to check out for horror fans. You get a bit of physical horror, a bit of magic horror, a bit of psychological horror. Not terrifying by today's standards, but it's a pretty sweet mix!