© 1988 MGM

Child’s Play (1988)

Every now and then when I am feeling tired or worried about not being able to give my daily movie the attention it deserves, I will watch something have seen before and I  know I will not like very much on a repeat viewing but go ahead and do so against my own better judgment. I’m usually right in my assumption that I will not much like what I choose, but there is the rare occasion when my fall back movie is actually better than I remembered it.

I never saw Child’s Play in a theater when it was first released, but I saw it not long after on cable TV. I remembered it is as a not-at-all scary horror flick with a silly premise. This is the kind of movie that even people who have not seen it know what it is about—a serial killer uses voodoo to put his soul into a doll and then tries to transfer it again to the body of the boy who gets the doll. Watching it again today, I realized the premise is indeed preposterous, but there are some well-constructed sequences that actually build some tension and are genuinely scary.

Althgough there are some scary moments, the real shortcoming of Child’s Play, is that there is not much suspense. It is spelled out from the beginning that the Lakeshore Strangler has transferred his evil soul to the doll, and when grown-ups start to turn up dead, the audience already knows that the doll did it, even though the cops and the doctors suspect the little boy. This is really a movie about a child being scared by something threatening, and the adults around that child not believing  a word of it, and young Alex Vincent is heartbreaking in the scene when he breaks down and cries when the unconvinced psychiatrist leaves him in a locked room with the killer doll. The director could have made this a much more suspenseful film by taking a hint from Rod Serling and left the true nature of the doll more of a mystery until later in the story.

They could have also taken a hint from Val Lewton and shown Chucky much less. Although special effects technician Kevin Yagher did an admirable job with the challenge of not only animating a doll, but making it change from innocent to homicidal by subtle shades. But there are a few shots that show Chucky a few seconds too long, or his movements are a bit too awkward (even for a doll) or Brad Dourif is a bit too over-the-top in his voice acting. These all worked to make Chucky funny, not scary. The producers of the second film in the series picked up on this and started to make Chucky campy, taking things even further in the wrong direction. Now there’s talk of rebooting the whole franchise, to make Chucky “scary again,” although they missed the mark, slightly, in the first place.

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