HORROR FRIDAYS – ‘Child’s Play’ (1988)

I take a look at the original 1988 cult classic ahead of the remake's release!

Review by J.T. Johnson

Next week, Orion Pictures will be releasing a remake of “Child’s Play” onto the big screen. Therefore, for this edition of Horror Fridays, I’ve decided to take a look at the original 1988 cult horror film from director Tom Holland and writer Don Mancini. I’m actually fairly impressed with just how well this film holds up.

Before I get to the review, though, here are a few fun facts about the film. First, the original script of the film was called “Blood Buddy” and it involved a life sized doll with real latex and and fake blood so that if you “injured” it, the doll would actually bleed. Andy makes a blood pact with the doll and that’s what causes it to come alive. From that point forward, the doll killed anyone who crossed Andy due to Andy’s feelings of rage and isolation now that he didn’t have a father and also had a mother that worked all the time.

The original script was also way more ambiguous. For a larger chunk of the story, you didn’t know if it was Andy or the doll that was actually committing the murders. By the time they got to the shooting script known as “Child’s Play”, this dynamic had changed.

Right from the start of the movie, Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) is mortally shot by Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) before running into a toy store. Knowing that he is about to die, Charles uses a voodoo ritual to transfer his soul into a Good Guy Doll. Once acquired by a homeless man, Chucky ends up being bought by Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) and she gives the doll to her son Andy (Alex Vincent) for his birthday.

From here, the murders begin and while Karen doesn’t want to believe Andy could be behind the murders, Mike sees the kid as a primary suspect. Eventually, though, Karen will have to do what she can to prove that Chucky is indeed alive and clear her son of the crimes.

The movie does a pretty smart thing by not directly showing us that Chucky is doing the murders. Of course, we know that it’s Chucky, but by not showing the doll right away committing the murders, we’re eased into the idea of this character being able to do the things that he does. It is also reminiscent of how directors Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott kept their monsters offscreen for as long as possible to build tension in “Jaws” and “Alien”, respectfully.

Eventually, though, we are shown Chucky in all of his glory and practical effects wizard Kevin Yagher does a great job of bringing the killer doll to life. He does this through a few inventive means. Not only did he create a state-of-the-art animatronic version of the doll, they also used little people on slightly enlarged sets when more complicated moves were needed.

Of course, the doll doesn’t work without the right voice and Dourif’s voice performance is just as vital to making us believe that this doll is actually alive as is the actual doll itself. At first, we don’t hear much while Chucky is doing things offscreen, but when Chucky is revealed, Dourif’s menacing voice gets the job done.

The rest of the movie’s cast is pretty damn good as well. Hicks is great as the struggling mother who just wants to keep her son safe while Sarandon is great as the tough-as-nails cop who doesn’t believe Andy and Karen at first and he has good chemistry with Hicks once they finally team up. Beyond the adults, though, there is Vincent as Andy.

Child actors are usually average at best due to the young age of the actors. However, there are occasions where a production will find a great child actor and thankfully that’s the case here. Vincent is great as the troubled Andy and you really want to see this kid overcome and kill this demonic doll and you feel for him when no one else believes his claims that Chucky is alive.

“Child’s Play” was released 31 years ago and most of its special-effects and the performances still hold up. It is the definition of a 1980s cult classic and any self-proclaimed horror fan should check this one out if they haven’t already as it is required viewing. I like that the remake of the film seems to be taking the original idea into a more tech-driven direction and I’m actually looking forward to it, but I’m also aware that it still has one hell of a tough act to follow with this original horror classic!

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