Child’s Play (1988)
“He wants YOU for a new best friend…”
Director: Tom Holland
Cast: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent
Synopsis: A single mother gives her son a much sought after doll for his birthday, only to discover that it is possessed by the soul of a serial killer.
Tom Holland’s slasher flick Child’s Play holds a dubious place in history as the film that inspired two British children to murder a third, two-year-old James Bulger, in a crime that shocked the nation. The horror of the crimes committed by Bulger’s two killers before they took his life remains undimmed, but the film which fuelled their depraved impulses is a comic book nonsense which has enjoyed an undeserved life and reputation as a result of the Bulger case.
Catherine Hicks plays Karen Barclay, a single mother whose son Andy (Alex Vincent — On the Ropes) is so desperate to get a Good Guys doll for his sixth birthday that she unwisely chooses to buy one in a back alley from a guy with bad teeth who keeps all his belongings in a shopping trolley. How she thought that wasn’t going to turn out badly is anybody’s guess and, sure enough, it turns out that the doll has been possessed by the spirit of serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif — One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers). It’s not long before Chucky, as Andy christens him, is using his new owner as an unwitting accomplice in his endeavours to get even with those he feels are responsible for his death, one of whom is Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon — The Sentinel), the cop who killed him, and to whom Karen turns when she realises Andy’s telling the truth about his doll being alive.
Child’s Play seems to take place in an alternate reality very much like our own but in which the police will vacate a murder scene because the owner of the house in which the murder took place has had a tough day; it’s a world in which no-one stops to question the plausibility of a living doll once they see it for themselves, and when they explain this reality to others, fully expect to be believed. It’s a world in which adults can be overpowered and killed by a doll, and in which serial killers study voodoo from the local priest in their spare time, and in which a working mother can shoot the leg from under a small doll from across a room. It’s a cartoon world made real, and it’s never quite sure whether it should be taking itself seriously or sending itself up.
While most of the burden of carrying the story falls on the shoulders of Catherine Hicks, young Andy Barclay also has to carry a lot of the film, and he makes a reasonably good job of it. There’s one scene, in which he slowly crumples to the floor in tears, knowing that Chucky is coming to kill him, that momentarily elevates the movie from the silliness of its premise, and if the rest of the film had managed to tap into this sense of a child’s helplessness it might have come close to being a classic. Unfortunately, it’s a small moment of high quality amidst a sea of lazy mediocrity, and is soon swamped by the usual scenes of stalk and slash. Holland is at least to be commended for preventing Chucky’s attacks upon humans five times his height from looking as comical as they might have done in the hands of others, but otherwise Child’s Play has nothing to distinguish it from the dozens of similarly-themed movies that plagued the 1980s and ‘90s.
(Reviewed 14th October 2014)