Sunday, October 24, 2010

Child's Play

It can be interesting when you go back to the beginning of any movie series.  For instance, the first Friday the 13th didn't have Jason Voorhies as the killer, Freddy Kreuger wasn't always making corny jokes, and Death Wish was a movie trying to make a point about a complex social issue.  I know!  I didn't believe any of that either, but it's all true!  I never watched the Child's Play movies as a kid, catching only the Ronny Yu-directed Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky as an adult.  Not bad movies, I guess, but they certainly contain more goofiness than actual scares.  I was prepared for more along that vein, but was surprised to find that the original Child's Play actually tried to be a traditional horror film.  Who'd a thunk it?

The film opens with a police officer, Detective Norris (Chris Sarandon), chasing a suspect, Charles Lee Ray (Brad Douriff) on foot through a city.  Ray is suspected of being the Lakeshore Strangler, which I would assume would be a loner activity, but apparently not; he had a getaway driver that got spooked by Ray's street-level shoot-out and left him behind.  Suffering from a nasty bullet wound and with no ride, Ray enters a closed toy store, finds a display of Good Guy dolls, and chants some sort of voodoo curse or something.  Norris follows Ray into the store, but before he can arrest or kill Ray, the store is struck by lightning.  You might not know this, but toy stores are very volatile structures, which is why the store exploded.  Norris was spared, but Ray was a charred mess.

Karen (Catherine Hicks, the mom from the last fifty-six seasons of 7th Heaven) is a single mother who works in a department store and doesn't have the money for her son's biggest birthday wish, a Good Guy doll.  These things are super sweet; they respond to your voice and have, like, twelve different things they can say!  They blink and move their mouth and are about three feet tall and are absolutely nothing like a My Buddy doll (those things are so lame!), oh puh-leeeeze Mom, can I have one, ohcanicanicanicani???  They're not creepy at all!  Well, these super-sweet toys cost $100 and that's outside of Karen's budget.  However, a homeless guy on the street has a Good Guy doll in an unopened box that he's willing to sell for a song.  Being a good mother (who will probably disinfect the box before giving it to her son), Karen buys the doll, assuring her son's happy birthday.

Karen's son, Andy (Alex Vincent), loves the doll so much that he barely cares that his mother has to pull a night shift on his birthday.  Andy and Chucky (the doll told Andy its name) end up being baby-sat by Karen's friend, Maggie (Dinah Manoff), who is so rude that she sends Andy and Chucky to bed, even though Andy tells her that Chucky really wants to watch the 9 o'clock news.  This is a horror movie, so such rudeness cannot go unpunished; she gets hit in the head by a hammer and falls out the kitchen window, to her death.  The assailant was not shown on camera.  When the police arrive, Detective Norris handles the case and assumes --- from some pretty good circumstantial evidence --- that Andy killed Maggie.  This freaks out Karen, but not enough to actually believe her son's claims that Chucky walks, talks, and sometimes kills.

SPOILER ALERT: I'm going to go ahead and assume that you are aware that Chucky is the murderer.  He's only been in five movies and it's not like the promotional posters ever gave you a hint that the doll is a killer, so I don't want to ruin the suspense for you.  And the suspense is over at about...oh, the thirty minute mark of the movie.  From that point on, Chucky is on the loose, killing whoever he can reach with his doll hands and trying to use voodoo to leave his body and take over Andy's.  Does it work?  I don't want to ruin the ending for you, but the presence of numerous sequels should give you a hint.

The funny thing about this movie is that it actually makes you wonder who the killer is at first.  The movie's called Child's Play, after all, so it's feasible that the child has some sort of split personality that kills or something.  Director and co-writer Tom Holland could have kept up the suspense for another ten or fifteen minutes if he wanted to, but even thirty minutes was much longer than I expected.  Even though I knew that Chucky was the killer, I enjoyed the mystery in this movie. 

Since you're supposed to think that Chucky is just a doll for a third of the movie, you don't get to hear much of Brad Douriff's voice work as you normally would in a Chucky movie.  That's too bad, since Douriff does good work here and is not as corny as he gets in later movies.  He also managed to be pretty creepy in his human form, too.  Chris Sarandon is decent as a jerk cop and Catherine Hicks does a decent job as the stupid/horrified mother.  As far as child actors go, Alex Vincent didn't need to have a lot of range as Andy, but he was decent, too.  The direction was only okay, but not bad for a slasher pic.

The main reason Child's Play is never mentioned on any serious list for best horror movies is because the story is pretty silly.  Okay, let's say I buy Brad Douriff transferring his soul into a doll and being able to control the doll's actions.  Do you really expect me to believe that any parent willingly brought this into their home?
There is no way in hell that my mother would have brought a ginger doll with vomit-inducing style in need of a haircut into our home, especially if it talked or made noises.  She was tough, but fair.  And the whole transfer-your-soul-into-a-doll thing doesn't look like the best choice when, moments later, you're struck by lightning and the store explodes.  Now we're supposed to believe that not only was the doll given a soul, but it was left undamaged by a lightning strike/store-wide explosion and it was returned to its original packaging?  That makes less sense than a serial killer having a getaway driver.  Does any of this hurt the value of the movie?  Not really, since it's about a killer doll (what boy has dolls?  Shouldn't he be an action figure?), ridiculousness is really not an issue.  It's not a great movie, but I was pleasantly surprised.

1 comment:

  1. Child's Play 3 is the pick of the series. When Chucky is trying to transfer his soul to a black kid's body, "Just think, Chucky's gonna be a bro." Its the real cheesecake.