I remember my mother telling me this story once, about her franticly searching all over town, and the next town over one year, just to get me the brand new Buzz Lightyear, and Woody the Cowboy dolls, released to coincide with the now seminal classic Toy Story (1995). Honestly, I do not remember asking for the dolls, but hell if I wasn’t one happy kid that year. Watching the opening 20 minutes of Child’s Play, I couldn’t help but drudge up that memory, and feeling very glad that my mother’s quest turned out very different to that of Catherine Hicks.
Directed by Tom Holland, just 3 years after the phenomenal cult vampire film Fright Night (1985), Child’s Play introduced the world to the now iconic possessed serial killer doll Charles Lee Ray, more commonly known as Chucky. Given the somewhat absurd plot of the film, and the era in which in came out, it’s not hard to go into this expecting laughable effects, and an over the top, campy story. Safe to say, that assumption was completely off. On the run from the police, Charles Lee Ray (played and later voiced by Brad Dourif (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975))), a wanted serial killer, hides in a toy store. As he bleeds out, he transfers his soul using voodoo, into the body of a nearby doll, known as a “Good Guy”. The next day, a young boy, Andy (played by Alex Vincent (House Guest (2013)), making his acting debut here), and obsessive fan of the Good Guy television series, wants nothing more than to own a Good Guy doll for his birthday. A talking, and head turning doll, each with its own individual name, says three pre-programmed lines from the show, and costing $100 apiece. Unable to afford the doll, and desperately trying to keep her son happy, after the death of his father, Karen (Catherine Hicks (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986))) stumbles across a homeless man, selling the doll for the phenomenal price of $30. Without thinking, and astonishingly happy to have found Andy the perfect gift, she brings the mysterious doll home, and it’s not long before all the trouble starts.
While child actors can be fairly hit or miss, the young Alex Vincent plays his role incredibly well for his age. Always believably, and actively connecting with each member of the cast, especially the Chucky prop, young Alex was certainly quiet the find here, with a lesser child lead, this film could easily have become a laughable mess. But young Alex plays his role well, both sweet and innocent, but able to deliver a truly bad ass closing line, reminiscent of the likes of Stallone or Schwartzenegger. Catherine Hicks is heavily sympathetic throughout, and even when you are screaming for her to listen to Andy, hear what he has to say, you understand her reasoning, and cheer her on as she tries to get the police on her side. Brad Dourif brings a heavily animated quality to his acting, which works astonishingly well for something like the maniacal Chucky, almost as though a Looney Tune character had been pushed to the edge, after one too many benders, and found himself in an R rated horror flick. Chris Sarandon, previously the devilishly charming Jerry Dandridge in Holland’s Fright Night, acts as the film’s straight man, the detective who initially chases Chucky down at the beginning of the film, now determined to see the job through to the end once he learns of Chucky’s reappearance. The entire cast of the film is well rounded, and it brings the film this wonderful sense of realism, even in the face of the absurd.
Going in to this, effects wise, I was expecting a few scenes that would be close to something like Dick Jones’ death in Robocop (1987), the suit in Green Lantern (2011), or every single effect in Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010). Taking eccentric care through every effect. Implementing several, multi-operator puppets, elaborate sets and costumes, and incredible makeup work, the film does it’s best to bring Chucky to life, both in the film, and on the set. It’s no wonder why Chucky has become such a staple of pop culture. Though the fact that such a film, one that ended on a particularly high note, has a string of sequels ready and waiting to be seen, does indeed fill me with more dread than the damn doll was supposed to.
A classic and horror staple, you may not find the film especially scary, but it sure is a treat to behold.
One in universe question though? Who names their product “Good Guy”!? How is it that successful!? That’s the real voodoo magic of the film, right there..