On Second Thought: “Child’s Play”

Some horror films will always be scary. A few collective elements still have sway over us, probably due to first experiencing it during childhood, and that’ll be enough to scare us once more. It’s not so much that the film is completely scary, like the first time, but that we can never fully shake the fear that comes with a given nightmare inducing horror creation.

The MGM/UA film “Child’s Play”, is still an incredibly effective film, even if you’re not as deeply scared by what occurs.

This horror film stars Catherine Hicks (“Honeymoon From Hell”, “A Christmas Reunion”), Chris Sarandon (“Orange is the New Black”, “I Smile Back”), Alex Vincent (“Curse of Chucky”, “House Guest”), Brad Dourif (“Once Upon a Time”, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”), Dinah Manoff (“Bart Got a Room”, “A Carol Christmas”), Tommy Swerdlow (“The House Itself”, “The Fifteen Minute Hamlet (Short 1995)”), and Jack Colvin (“Birds of a Feather (Short 1998)”, “Murder, She Wrote”).

The film was directed by Tom Holland (“Tom Holland’s Twisted Tales”, “To Hell with You (Short 2010)”) and written by Don Mancini (“Channel Zero”, “Hannibal (2013 TV series)”), John Laffia (“10.5 Apocalypse”, “10.5”), and Holland (“Tom Holland’s Twisted Tales”, “Thinner”).

The film originally opened on Nov. 9, 1988.

For as long as I’ve been doing this now, I’ve never taken the time to squeeze this classic film in. It’s a big mystery to me. A film I love so much, more than the other’s in the series, even though they’re still somewhat enjoyable, yet I’ve not shared what makes me love it so much. Every other film under sun apparently was more important. Well, now that it’s October, and Halloween is finally days away, it really does seem like the perfect opportunity to talk about it. Watching it was, of course fun, so there’s that, but this is something like my 20th time (probably way higher, but you get it) so one would think there’d be no effect on me or very little of one, or something else along those lines. You’d be surprised to learn that I was still quite affected. It’s another mystery, but this one I may never be able to solve.

I primarily, like so many others, I’m sure, love how damn creepy and scary both Dourif is as Charles Lee Ray (the man) and Chucky the doll. Whomever else producers were considering, I’m glad they turned it down. Dourif just captured it all. Mind you, this observation is also coming after the fact, so it’s almost silly to mention. Perhaps the biggest draw of Dourif having been cast, and stuck with the franchise for almost 30 years, is his speaking voice, which I’m not sure if it’s his natural one or not, and that laugh. It’s absolutely an evil laugh, but accomplishes so much more. There’s some fear that automatically comes from it. You need only hear it, like Eddie Caputo.

After Dourif becomes Chucky the doll, one of the most frightening and recognizable horror icons around, we’ve entered a whole new area of crazy. Firstly, and this applies to all forms he takes, there’s the doll itself. Once a somewhat cute child’s play thing, and the next, an increasingly creepy doll that wishes a lot of people harm. In some ways, until it’s revealed, you’re never fully certain if Chucky’s alive or not. Bringing this doll to life, various puppeteers and animatronics, plus other practical effects. While they do look a tad silly, they still hold up pretty well. It’s these movements that make Chucky so damn menacing, and any POV shot a bit more terrifying. Who would’ve thought this approach to filmmaking would still hold up almost 30 years later?

While I consider all of these elements to be hallmarks of this film, and allow for it to stand so highly among horror classics, there’s one element that just surprises me. The relationship that Hicks and Vincent have together, as mother and son, is pretty decent. Overall, including all of the early bonding scenes, there’s a lot of human drama in this film. It propels some of the plot forward and gives you a much deeper way to be concerned for these two characters. That being said, while it is one of the better examples of having realistically portrayed characters in an ‘80s horror film, it still falls short. Compared to what’s been coming out in the last few years, it’s mediocre, at best. However, you have to remember the time this came out and what the overall film was trying to do. This relationship wasn’t a big takeaway from the beginning, but the fact that the writers could even do a little with it, is pretty remarkable. I bought every aspect, and when Vincent is later trapped in the by the doctor, and he know’s Chucky’s after him, he’s crying his eyes out. Granted he is a little kid, so being moved by this wasn’t too difficult. But it gets me every time, and I think by this point in the film, it’s the fact that we got to know him pretty well.

Adding to this are the even better horror elements. I can’t believe they’re still pretty damn effective. “A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)” doesn’t even get me like this film does. This film may not be as scary as I remember it being the first time, but it only takes a few scenes to make me uncomfortable. I’m afraid. Fear has begun to seep out and affect me. I can’t dismiss the early parts of the film, when we see the majority of Chucky’s POV, and his killing of Manoff with a hammer. If it weren’t for that, amongst some other bits in this early part of the film, the film’s eeriness and creepiness levels wouldn’t have been established. I was so surprised by the fact that, even though I’ve always known and could see, that it was Chucky, the doll, somehow it didn’t fully register. The setup here was perfect!

And then we move on to the rest of the film, and the scenes which really, really get me. Up first, which is still a favorite, is when Hicks discovers that Chucky’s been operating without batteries. Everything about this scene is fear inducing and executed in a way that still makes it somewhat terrifying. There was some nice suspense built in. The moment Chucky starts moving, I’m bothered. A moving, talking, homicidal doll is no Bueno! It takes a little bit to come down from that, but thankfully it’s fun to watch each and every time.

The final scene I love the most, probably multiple scenes, is the finale showdown. Starting with Vincent possibly being the smartest kid in a horror film, he’s ready to take on Chucky with a bat. Then it all goes down hill. Because of the way I’m fully into the film, even this time, and the fear that’s been built up, I’m practically a basket case. It’s almost too much to take. But I do anyway. It’s suspenseful, exciting, and scary! Everything before now was really tame. It’s certainly an excellent way to end a film that’s still quite frightening in many places.

And I can’t forget, that while all these scenes I mentioned, plus many others I didn’t, the score did play a brilliant part. While it’s not perfect, the moments in the film that do bring about some fear and scares, are greatly aided by the score. I can’t even describe it. No, really, I can’t. It’s eerie and there are so many perfect cues. They don’t jump out at you like traditional score, which is purely used to make you jump during a “jump scare”. Thinking on this, I don’t think there were many moments that played out with loud bangs and shrill instruments. Anotehr way this film seems to excel.

Fun fact, in case you needed more convincing, I humored myself, and watched clips from the film on YouTube, and guess what? I was scared. In all those same moments, in the same way I’ve always been. The fact that separate clips, no longer than three minutes, can unnerve me, and even now I’m still unsettled, is amazing. How many horror films can do that? Context is usually required, but here, a creepy doll will do it each and every time.

Classic horror films are considered classics for many reasons, but they just can’t elicit scares the way they once did. Certainly not with newer audiences who probably expect so much more. But what these film’s can still do, which very well could be still scare us a bit, that’s a testament to filmmaking. There’s a reason film’s like these shouldn’t be castoff or forgotten as if all they are are relics. Perhaps we’d have fewer duds that masqueraded as a quality film.

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