The creepy child in horror films goes as far back as 1956’s “The Bad Seed” featuring the classic performance from Rhoda Penmark. Then you have “Village of the Damned”, “The Exorcist”, “The Omen” and Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn”. Each of these films featured innocent children becoming horrific incarnations. But what was rare before 1988’s “Child’s Play” was children’s toys coming to life to be monsters.
You had movies where ventriloquist dummies came to life and killed people like 1973’s “Magic” with Anthony Hopkins. Also the horrific dummy/doll genre was explored in the original Twilight Zone series. And of course the cult classic “Trilogy of Terror” from 1976 featured a murdering toy.
A year before “Child’s Play”, cult director Stuart Gordon (The Re-Animator) released the movie “Dolls” which featured a family staying in a mansion during a storm and are terrorized by haunted dolls. The movie didn’t exactly light up the box office but it sure was a prerequisite to the fascination with the genre and eventually Chucky.
If you haven’t seen “Child’s Play” here is a brief description. Karen (Catherine Hicks), a single mother buys a very lifelike doll, Chucky, for her son Andy (Alex Vincent) to keep him company.
But what the mother doesn’t know is that the doll is cursed and inhabited by the soul of a serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif). The mom also happens to be dating the detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) charged with tracking down the killer.
Star Brad Dourif began his career back in 1975 starring alongside Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. Dourif built his character career with turns in “Ragtime”, “Heaven’s Gate”, “Dune” and “Blue Velvet”. But it wasn’t until he was sucked into a child’s doll that he found his most memorable role.
Casting Dourif as the voice of Chucky was probably the single most brilliant thing they did for this movie. It is such a memorable voice and Dourif does an amazing job bringing Chucky to life. I can’t imagine the series being such a success without Dourif.
Director Tom Holland had just worked with actor Chris Sarandon, three years before on the classic “Fright Night” and cast Chris in one of his very few heroic roles. By rewatching Child’s Play you can still see the chemistry that Holland and Sarandon shared. Catherine Hicks was still riding high from her breakthrough role in 1984’s “Star Trek 4: A Voyage Home” and does quite a memorable performance as the mother.
What is interesting to note was “Child’s Play” came out at the tail end of the “Teddy Ruxpin” craze in the mid 1980s which was a talking teddy bear that told stories to kids.
The biggest competitor to Teddy Ruxpin was the “My Buddy” doll and it’s extremely annoying theme song. Chucky creator Don Mancini said Chucky was inspired by the “Cabbage Patch Kids” craze but you can also see part of Teddy Ruxpin and the “My Buddy” in “Chucky”. Come on he is even wearing the same clothes as “My Buddy”.
Mancini has said that he originally created Chucky as a satire on how companies market dolls to children. So it is no wonder he picked the biggest and craziest craze of the 1980s with “Cabbage Patch Kids”. The news was full of incidents where parents were having slugfests to find their kid a Cabbage Patch Kid. The mother in the movie even buys the Chucky doll through a black market resource.
For me the hardest thing to buy in the film was how a serial killer knew a voodoo ritual to transfer his soul into a doll. How else do you get him into the doll?
Radioactive goo? No too Marvel Comics.
How about this is his version of hell? And he is just a ghost. You would still get the whole possession angle.
But did we need to know all this information to make this film work? No, in fact it probably would have been better.
Was there any doubt in the film that Chucky was the killer? Not really but according to creator Don Mancini his original script had the audience guessing if it was the doll or Andy who was the killer. This change could have really sent the movie into a different tangent and actually might have made this original vastly superior to the sequels.
This is genuinely creepy and solid thriller and it is no wonder it became a horror classic.
4 out of 5
So Says the Soothsayer