Child’s Play (1988)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #77

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Number of Views: Three
Release Date: November 9, 1988
Sub-Genre: Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $9,000,000
Box Office: $44,196,684
Running Time: 88 minutes
Director: Tom Holland
Producer: David Kirschner
Screenplay: Don Mancini, John Lafia, Tom Holland
Special Effects: Richard O Helmer, James D Schwalm
Visual Effects: Peter Donen
Cinematography: Bill Butler
Score: Joe Renzetti
Editing: Roy E Peterson
Distributors: United Artists, MGM Home Entertainment
Stars:  Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Dinah Manoff, Tommy Swerdlow, Jack Colvin, Neil Giuntoli, Juan Ramirez, Alan Wilder, Raymond Oliver and Brad Dourif as Charles Lee Ray/Chucky

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Randy Newman You’ve Got A Friend in Me

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Every child possesses one memorable plaything that they simply cannot be without. When times are hard and it’s wash day for their comfort blanket, said doll provides all the reassurance they require to turn those frowns upside down. Never declining a snuggle and always consistent in their jolly demeanor; these illustrative sidekicks hold an exclusive spot in our children’s hearts and minds. Some of them urinate authentically, others recall a consoling verse or trademark quip, but none would ever dream of letting harm befall their owner. That said, there are always exceptions to any rule. Whoever patented porcelain dolls is a puppy too sick to nurse back to health and the same can be said of the inventor of stuffed harlequins. Give me a Good Guy doll any day of the calendar month.

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However, there are other things to take into consideration when acquiring your child a cuddle companion. Ordinarily I’m all for supporting the little guy and the Wal-Marts of the world are an evil I prefer not to encourage. That said, anyone who has watched Joe Dante’s Gremlins should be only too aware that knock-off merchants are to be avoided at all costs as it historically ends in tears and tantrums once the witching hour looms and little fuzzy tummies start grumbling. Granted, money may be tight and credit cards maxed out, but damaged goods present a whole different headache as attested by Tom Holland’s 1988 film Child’s Play.

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Hapless six-year-old Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) should consider himself partially responsible for being lumped with the nefarious Good Guy doll he unwittingly hoodwinks his mother into snagging for him. Single parent Karen (Catherine Hicks) is down on her luck and struggling to make ends meet, so when her sweet little boy breaks out his very best doe-eyes and lip quiver, she is powerless to resist and caves in to his demands, against her better judgement. With nothing going on but the rent, she cuts a corner or two, and acquires his BFF from a shifty peddler for a fraction of the RRP. Job seems like a good ‘un, Andy is chuffed with his new acquaintance, mom is the hero of the hour, and life is a bowl of strawberries once more.

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However, there’s a reason why the term “cheap as chips” is commonplace as those greasy potato fries contain absolutely zilch in the way of nutritional value and the same can be said for our Good Guy doll as goodness is something Chucky is sorely lacking. Bear Factory would have a humongous law suit on their hands if they placed the heart of a mass murdering sicko into one of their products, so Andy has every right to feel aggrieved as this particular miniature has itself the worst kind of donor imaginable. To offer up a clue, the name Charles Lee Ray derives from notorious serial killers Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald, and James Earl Ray and is known as The Lake Shore Strangler to his friends. Thus I’m sure Andy would concur when I say ”thanks a fucking bunch mom.”

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To be fair, things start out innocuously enough and Andy is positively spellbound on receipt of his new BFF. For the opening act, Chucky is inanimate and it is left to his blank hateful stare to convince us that he is indeed a wrong ‘un. Child’s Play benefits from such restraint as it focuses more on building and sustaining suspense than over-indulging in the customary slasher mania. However, as Karen’s friend Maggie learns as her adventures in babysitting conclude with plummeting to her untimely death courtesy of a hammer blow to the cranium, there’s only so long a homicidal maniac is willing to keep up the charade before reverting back to form.

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This poses something of a conundrum to investigating detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) who, having previously called time on Lee Ray’s rampage, finds himself back on the murder trail once more. This time, however, things aren’t quite adding up and suspects are significantly harder to come by. This is the strongest card in Holland’s deck as, while any sense of mystery is bound to become watered down as the inevitable sequels roll in, here it is milked for all it is worth and the screenplay courtesy of Holland and fellow writers Don Mancini and John Lafia is more than up-to-par, while his direction is both tight and measured. I have long since been an admirer of Holland’s work. In addition to penning such eighties delights as Class of 1984, The Beast Within and the glorious Psycho II among others, he also brought us Fright Night. Here he is no less magnanimous.

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The true treasure lies in Brad Dourif’s portentous portrayal of our pint-sized partisan. A long and distinguished career rooted in fantasy and horror has seen many highlights for this fine adaptable artist and he is pitch-perfect as Chucky. Any humor is jet black and his mean streak runs straight through the Good Guy’s sinister stuffing. Aside from his menacing turn, Child’s Play is a solid thriller with a fair degree of well-staged tension that serves it decidedly well. Indeed, an impressive $44m in box-office receipts is testament to his winning formula. That said, its profitable run was destined to open a can of worms and, while all six films in the long-running series have their own merits, turning Chucky into a wise-cracking circus act seemed almost mandatory.

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The series gained a different kind of publicity in 1991 as Jack Bender’s third entry found itself at the center of all kinds of hullabaloo. After being singled-out as sole influencer in the tragic murder of toddler Jamie Bulger at the hands of two ten-year-olds, Child’s Play 3 was held in contempt and disowned by MGM/United Artists under protestation from angry parents afraid it would incite further acts of violence in the young and impressionable. Looking back it seems utterly preposterous that it amassed such notoriety as Bender’s film was far tamer than most of the bloodthirsty fodder flooding onto the marketplace. However, there is no such thing as bad press and, ultimately, this misguided controversy served to fuel the franchise’s furnace further.

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Things then took a turn for the Kruegers with Ronny Yu’s Bride of Chucky upping the quotability and introducing sex-pot poker queen Jennifer Tilly as a muse for our treacherous toy (no complaints here), before Mancini returned for the similarly goofy Seed of Chucky and eventually took the series back to its darker roots with Curse of Chucky. As admirable a stab as this was, Holland’s original is far more understated and bereft of slapstick, instead providing a satirical swipe at toy marketing and merchandising. Moreover, in our Good Guy doll, it possesses a tyrannical tormentor the likes of whom encouraged kids worldwide to sleep with one eye open. Say what you will about Chucky and I certainly won’t stop you but, when my little cherub turns six, I’m buying him a bag of marbles from Wal-Mart.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 1/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Holland’s film supplies a relatively gentle introduction to the knee-high nightmare maker and veers away from excessive grue, in favor of a sense of foreboding. If your hankering is for deep red relish, then Curse of Chucky places plentiful splatter on the platter. However, for all Mancini’s gallant endeavor to return the spoiled series to factory settings, the damage was already done and any burgeoning dread had been long since neutered. That is something that the original Child’s Play boasts in reasonable abundance and I’d take that over exposed arteries on this occasion.

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Read Child’s Play 2 Appraisal

Read Fright Night (1985) Appraisal

Read Psycho II Appraisal

Read The Beast Within Appraisal

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