Sunday, October 26, 2014

Chucky Week: 'Child's Play' (1988)

At Halloweens past, I've written about the various entries in the Halloween and Hellraiser series (and I tackled Leprechaun around St. Patrick's Day), so this year I thought I'd take a look at the Chucky series, which marked 25 years last October with the release of the sixth movie, Curse of Chucky. I've always had a soft spot for Chucky, although I actually hadn't seen all the movies before starting this project. One of the highlights of my critical career is a random email I got from Chucky creator Don Mancini back in 2006, saying that he enjoyed reading my movie reviews in Las Vegas Weekly and was also a fan of this blog (which, as far as I know, continues to enjoy a minuscule readership). So if somehow Mancini is still reading, I hope I can do justice to his creation.

And make no mistake, Chucky belongs to Mancini, who is credited with the story and as one of three screenwriters on Child's Play, and who has been the sole screenwriter on all the sequels. (He's pretty much dedicated his entire career to Chucky, with virtually no other credits.) Although Chucky became a comedic figure as the series progressed (and that's probably what I find most entertaining about the character), Child's Play is a fairly straightforward late-'80s horror film, with direction from horror veteran Tom Holland (Fright Night) and a simple but effective setup. Brad Dourif, who along with Mancini has stuck with the series for its entire run, plays serial killer Charles Lee Ray, seen at the beginning of the movie getting cornered by police and launching into a voodoo ritual to transfer his spirit into someone else's body. Unfortunately the only "person" around is a cherubic Good Guys doll, and thus Charles Lee Ray becomes Chucky, the friendly homicidal doll.

Much of the movie's first half plays on the suspense of when Chucky's sinister nature will come out, as he sits silent and ominous, or oblivious tyke Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) plays and jokes around with him. Some of the creepiest material in the movie comes from Andy insisting to his mother Karen (Catherine Hicks) that Chucky has told him something, and his mother dismissing him as a delusional child. Being the only person who knows what's really going on is a horror-movie cliche, but Mancini and Holland handle it well here, first via Andy, and then via Karen, when she's attacked by Chucky.

That attack, the first scene in which Chucky comes alive and exhibits his now-familiar sarcastic-murderer persona, is genuinely freaky, although it and many other scary moments are undermined a bit by how terrible Hicks and Vincent are in their parts. Vincent in particular is almost completely affectless as Andy, making it hard to emotionally connect with his terror and helplessness. As for Chucky, his familiar persona is such an important part of the series' appeal that it's a little weird to go so long without it, but once he finally springs into action, it's clear he's going to be a memorable horror character for the ages. The combination of Dourif's voice acting, the doll's design and Mancini's creative vision all adds up to one of horror's greatest achievements. The movie that introduces him may be a bit ordinary, but Chucky is one of a kind.

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