Movie Review: “Child’s Play”

     As I have hit on prior, in spite having written as many reviews as I have, and in spite of having written for as long as I have, there’re a lot of series’ and features I have not talked about. Some of which, may surprise you. Believe it or not, it is not a decision I have made for any one particular reason. The Child’s Play series is one I have talked about extensively, in retrospect, but not about the features more often associated with it. I have reviewed the straight-to-DVD releases like Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky, and I have reviewed the remake film with Mark Hamill.

   But, until now, I have never written about the original 1988 film that started it all. This is not a sleight on my part nor a disregard, because, in fact, the original Child’s Play franchise has a lot of resonance with me on an emotional level. I coveted them, and, perhaps, for that reason, that is why the concept of reviewing them as felt daunting. That, and because I often feel like horror fans sometimes like to fall on their laurels, coveting the same film, over and over again.

   The supernatural slasher film was directed and co-written by Tom Holland, and produced by David Kirschner from a story by Don Mancini. If you’ll recall from prior reviews, not only did Don birth the original story, but he has manned the ship, so to speak, by directing Curse and Cult, respectively. The cast comprises itself of Brad DourifCatherine HicksChris SarandonAlex Vincent and Dinah Manoff.

   Clocking out just shy of the ninety minute mark, I feel that Child’s Play, and the rest of the series altogether, has always fell on deaf ears with it comes to critical response. By all means, it is not uncommon for horror series’ to be chastised and unrightfully disdained, but usually there’re at least a couple of exceptions. The Halloween series has been ripped apart critically, but everyone devoutly reveres the original Carpenter film, and likewise, with Elm Street, they will at least acknowledge the original, Dream Warriors, and New Nightmares. Child’s Play, on the other hand, feels like it has always been on the outside looking in. Thankfully, critics don’t choose what is remembered and what’s not, nor do they clarify what is actually good versus what isn’t, and the series has flourished in high regard by many horror fans.

   It can be difficult to say why, exactly, that is, but I have actually found my opinion differs a lot on that. The story of Child’s Play is straightforward, particularly to any individual whose already been initiated into the series in someway. The film starts with a serial killer named Charles Lee Ray in pursuit by law enforcement. As he realizes his own impending death, he flees into a toy store, and reacts desperately. Meanwhile, Karen Barclay is a widowed mother who wants to do right by her son for his birthday, and makes it her mission to buy him a Good Guy doll, the coolest toy on the market. Little does she know, however, that the doll she was able to discover under suspicious means is the same doll Charles Lee Ray actively transferred his soul into through a voodoo spell.

   One thing I have always heard said about the originals was that they are “scarier” than the more recent ones. Although, they are, in fact, more horrific, especially compared to the shenanigans seen in something like Seed of Chucky, I would argue I have never thought of the Child’s Play series as particularly scary. It is a horror-comedy film with structure and ambition. The cinematography and approach is both cheerful and energetic, acting as a celebration of its own dark sensibilities, bolstering decent performances across the board, propelled by a portrayal of Chucky that has since been recognized as iconic.

   I think, maybe, that is why response has so often been maligned by certain critics, because its intent feels very different than a lot of other slasher films I have seen. The film is not grimy or greasy, like a Texas Chainsaw Massacre film, nor does it accentuate female nudity. The film is mean-spirited, and yet, sentimental, blending humor with suspense in a way I appreciate a lot.

   Something I also appreciate about the film, and the original Trilogy, for that matter, is its discipline and consistency. When Bride of Chucky came out, I believe that was the right decision to make for the series for the period. They were capitalizing off the breakthrough success of the Scream series, and, because of it, offered a new meta sense of humor that has stayed with the series, mostly ever since. I understand why it had to happen, but I definitely prefer how the original films keep a straight face, finding humor through situations, characters, and absurdity. I can’t imagine being scared by the scene of Chucky pummeling a school teacher with a ruler, and yet, I remember it very well and regard it fondly.

   Likewise, with a small child actor and his mother pitted against a serial killer doll, the dynamic is clear and easy to be invested in. With many in the slasher subgenre, you will discover archetypes playing a certain part. For instance, a “womanizer” who acts horrible and says horrible things, and you’ll be left longing to see the mad axman chop him down. I don’t hate the archetypes of the subgenre, but, I have to admit, I find Child’s Play to feel decidedly like a change of pace from that. I don’t want anything to happen with Andy or his mother, and yet, I actively want to see more of Chucky, benefited, largely, by his vocal presence, as opposed to a stalking killer type.

   Over the years, as I have written about series’ and films I covet, I have discovered the shocking reality that they are not what I remembered. In a way, that is a reason why I have not touched on certain films yet. I will never forget how much I loved Halloween IV, only to re-watch it and realize it was not exactly the arthouse masterpiece my childhood remembered. It does not mean I suddenly dislike Halloween IV, nor should it takeaway from what it meant to me, but it shows how my tastes have changed and matured. That said, although Child’s Play is not a perfect film, nor is it, as you will discover, my favorite film in the Child’s Play series catalog, I do genuinely believe it is a worthwhile and solid film worth pursuing if you haven’t.

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