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Child's Play (1988)

Posted on the 21 October 2019 by Christopher Saunders
Child's Play (1988)Tom Holland's Child's Play (1988) spawned one of the most enduring slasher movie franchises: Brad Dourif's mass murdering doll Chucky continued terrorizing audiences for decades of sequels and spin-offs. I'd like to say the original's a masterwork but really, it's a typical slasher movie with a somewhat clever gimmick that wears thin.
Chicago single mother Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) buys her son Andy (Alex Vincent) a coveted Good Guy doll named Chucky for his birthday. Soon, Andy claims that Chucky can talk and move on his own; before long, a series of suspicious deaths begin stacking up. Karen learns that Chucky's possessed by the spirit of serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), who transferred his soul to the doll shortly before his death. Along with skeptical Detective Norris (Chris Sarandon) she tries to stop Chucky before he claims Andy.
There's no question why Child's Play appeals to horror audiences. Killer dolls are an old genre staple, tapping into elemental fears of innocence corrupted. There's certainly redeeming elements here: the special effects (mixing puppets, animatronics and, less frequently, little people in costume) is excellent, while Brad Dourif's scenery-chewing, profanity-laced vocal turn provides an undeniable jolt of energy. It's a shame that Holland and his writers Don Mancini and John Lafia present the premise in a disappointingly unimaginative fashion.
Child's Play forfeits suspense or coherent plotting for obvious, outlandish scares. Chucky's guilt is obvious from the word go, despite a feeble suggestion that Andy might be committing murders himself. Chucky doesn't help his case by staging murders so outlandish that they instantly arouse suspicion. Karen's friend Maggie (Dinah Manhoff) isn't just hit with a hammer but falls backwards out a ten story window; Chucky's treacherous partner (Neil Giuntoli) isn't just killed but blown up with a gas stove. Chucky ensures that even the most skeptical cop might suspect a sentient toy.
This is forgivable  - it's not like slasher movies are known for restraint or tastefulness, Halloween notwithstanding. What's harder to swallow is the sloppy, inept script that jerks from scene to scene without rhythm: key supporting players are introduced literally moments before they're killed; digressive set pieces (namely Catherine's visit to a South Side slum, where she's harassed and nearly raped by hobos) eat up screen time that might be more usefully employed. Holland makes little effort to generate suspense or atmosphere; it's all rather perfunctory and tiresome.
Despite cool effects work and professional acting by Dourif, Hicks and Sarandon, Child's Play offers few delights beyond a few perfunctory scares. That said, horror fans long ago embraced the Chuck Monster as an icon, and who am I to discourage them?

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