Viking Night: Child's Play
By Bruce Hall
October 20, 2015
Sometimes a film not only exceeds your expectations, but defies your memories of it, as well.
I haven’t seen Child’s Play since I was in High School. And if you’d asked me yesterday what I thought of it, I’d have told you that it was just another run-of-the-mill entry straight off the ‘80s slasher movie assembly line. I’d have told you that if you had a choice between watching Child’s Play or eating a bowl of your own hair, to flip a coin. But now, I can tell you with complete confidence to go with the best two out of three on the haircut. I’m not calling Child’s Play a classic, because it falls a little short of that. But it is definitely a lot more delightfully bonkers than I remember. And it’s also kind of fun, in the dark, demented way only a movie about a psychotic, bloodthirsty doll can be.
In fact, right off the top I’ll say that while it’s not a bad movie, the place where Child’s Play most drops the ball is the opportunity to go down in history as a legendary work of satire on the level of Robocop, which dropped the previous year. Child's Play revolves around the stab-tastic exploits of a demonically possessed doll named Chucky. He’s part of a fictional line of dolls that are sort of a cross between a Cabbage Patch Kid and a Teddy Ruxpin, both of which caused the aisles of your local Toys-R-Us to run red with the blood of desperate parents back in the 1980s. But instead of taking an obvious shot at the effects of consumer culture on children AND parents, the film takes a more conventional angle that in my mind, weakens it.
But that doesn’t take away from what is a very effective first 45 minutes or so. Not that it’s obvious, at first. Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), Chicago’s notorious “Lakeshore Strangler”, has been cornered in an alley by intrepid, vaguely metrosexual homicide detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon). After being abandoned by his partner, Ray defiantly flees on foot, breaking into a toy store to escape capture. After a brief chase and swearing revenge against his partner, Norris, and the general Great Lakes region, Ray is mortally wounded. Having already emptied all 17 shots from his six shot revolver, Ray dies clutching a doll, muttering a mystic incantation that calls down lightning, exploding the store.
Norris survives with little more than a lightly singed Cardigan and the self-satisfaction that comes with having sent Cook County’s most notorious killer to hell where he belongs.
Or so it seems. Not long after this, the doll is salvaged from the ruins by a street peddler, who sells it to a Karen (Catherine Hicks), a single mother who’s desperately in need of a birthday present for her son, Andy (Alex Vincent). Andy’s favorite television show is based on a line of dolls called “Good Guys.” Each doll is a ghastly animatronic creature that vaguely resembles a little boy, if that little boy had died of a sudden brain embolism and then been immediately dipped in polyurethane. Every Good Guy doll comes with its own name, which it can repeat along with a handful of generically cheerful pre-recorded phrases. It also comes with a a pair of dead, unseeing eyes and a permanent rictus etched on its face.