Sunday, October 9, 2011

Golden Title: Child's Play (1988)

Child's Play (1988)
Starring: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon and Alex Vincent

One night in 1988, mortally wounded and chased by Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon), "The Lakeshore Strangler" Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) hides inside a toy store and uses a voodoo ritual to transfer his soul into one of the "Good Guy" dolls on display in order to avoid dying completely. After a freak lightning surge, Norris soon finds Ray dead from his gunshot wounds.

Later that morning, six-year old Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) celebrates his birthday with his widowed mother Karen (Catherine Hicks). A big fan of the Good Guy TV show, Andy asks his mom if he can have a Good Guy Doll as his present and though unable to afford one at first, Karen gets lucky when her workmate Maggie (Dinah Manoff) tells her that a peddler nearby is selling a 'Good Guy' for cheap. She gets the doll for Andy, which introduced itself as Chucky, and the boy delightedly made friends with it.

As Karen is forced to work late for leaving her spot, Maggie decided to help her friend out further by babysitting Andy later that night. All head for the worse, however, when she is attacked by an unseen assailant with a hammer, sending her plummeting out and down through an apartment kitchen window. Karen returns to see this in horror and, as fate would have it, Detective Norris is sent to investigate the accident. Upon questioning Andy, the boy insists that Chucky is alive and may have killed Maggie; Karen doesn't believe this, as do Detective Norris.

When Andy is later found at another accident that ended up killing a person, Karen is called in and was advised by Norris to have the boy sent to a psychiatric ward, believing he might be the one responsible for these murders somehow. Grief-stricken, Karen later discovers that night that Andy was telling the truth after discovering the Good Guy doll was moving on its own without any batteries and, after threatening to throw him in the fireplace, Chucky comes to life and attack her before escaping.

Now in a race against time, Karen has no choice but to find Norris (who later discovers that Chucky is indeed alive the hard way) and get to Andy before the doll does, who now have something else sinister in mind for the boy.

The whole premise of the film is, honestly, in B-movie territory; the subplot of a serial killer transferring his soul to a doll via voodoo is not only unique but also too over-the-top for mainstream horror. But, amazingly, the movie's script and flow was well-handled and its good direction saved this from being an utter trash, giving horror fans alike something new and utterly terrifying at the same time.

Child horror is not new but none as came as close as a slasher film which involves kids as the killer's main target for its time, save for another slasher film released in the same year, Clownhouse (1988). Playing our boy in peril is young Alex Vincent; his performance as Andy came out amateurish at times but granted he's only seven, I guess we could cut him a pretty big slack.

The film's cream of the crop, however, is Chucky, the most decent killer doll on cinema so far by means of cult standing and mass acceptance. Killer dolls aren't exactly new for its time, not after films like Stuart Gordon's Dolls (1987) or the "Amelia" segment of Trilogy of Terror (1975), but none of them either took the approach more faithful to that of a slasher film than this movie. Brad Dourif lends his pitched yet devilish voice to our star killer, a voice that staples the doll's performance just as effective as Freddy's shrill glove-scratching-over-metal-walls, Jason's call sign, or even Michael's head-tilting; he's the film's main attraction and he kept it at that as much as possible with the movie's scene-stealing special-effects.

Of course, the billing of making Child's Play a killer doll movie is also its weakness; the original concept was that Andy would be suspected as our killer much longer than that of the film, making it a suspense thriller where Karen's parental position is put to the test, wherein she has to figure out whether her son was committing all of these murders or was it really the doll all the time. Personally, I would have liked it more if it had taken this direction, but Child's Play ends up selling out to special effects and puts the doll in the center of it all. (Sadly, the original plot is later used in Kevin Tenney's horrid Pinocchio's Revenge. Oh why does the Universe hates me so much?!) With Chucky's possession no longer a mystery, that's one less source of suspense that would have made this horror flick more fun. Adding the fact that Chucky might also be considered as a parody over the "man of steel" trope that every slasher villain seemingly possess doesn't help uplifting this flick in terms of originality neither.

Looking over these would-be's, Child's Play is still a nicely assembled film that's just as good as the first time you see it over the hundredth. The urban landscape gives a gritty mood that shadows the fragile world of a perfect family or the struggles of maintaining one. The concrete labyrinth of building, whether in or outside one, also provided some great chase scenes and, while avoiding clashing with the usual slasher cliches in teen-kill-a-thons, the murders are just as dark and shocking.

Child's Play runs as a great rehash of the overly familiar build-up, throwing out the sleaze and the over-the-top explosive violence and splatter, and made a simple, clever and most importantly, scary entry to the nearly dying slasher films of those years. Simple innovation proves to be the savior of this film, something that's tackled by most slasher titles today but only a few managed to perfect it. 

Silly, outrageous, far-fetched, but dark enough to keep the chills and thrills going, nothing here in Child's Play but the greatest childhood nightmare to haunt us.

1 male bled to death from gunshot (body only)
1 female hammered on the head, pummels out the window and falls to her death
1 male immolated by a gas explosion
1 male had his limbs broken and knifed on the chest via voodoo doll
1 male had his head fried with an electroshock apparatus
Total: 5

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