Everyone’s got that one movie that really scares them when they’re a kid. It gets your heart racing, palms sweaty, gets that good old fight-or-flight instinct ready to kick into flight mode at a moment’s notice. Of course, most of us usually get past that once we grow up and realize that the things in the movie are fake and couldn’t hurt us. Well, the movie that made up the nightmares of my childhood was Child’s Play, and it took me nearly two decades to get up the nerve to actually see it.
Yeah, I’m a wimp, but that’s a conversation best saved for another time.
When I was about 3 years old I remember catching a good ten minutes of Child's Play on TV, and you could say it seriously warped me. You see, not only did I have a doll that looked a helluva lot like Chucky, but at that age, I looked like Chucky myself! Same crazy red hair, same striped shirts and overalls, it was uncanny. And creepy, and somewhere deep inside me a great primal fear began to grow. No matter what, if I ever saw even the slightest glimpse of Chucky on TV, or caught a picture of him in passing, I would tense up and get ready to freak out. It was a hard, almost debilitating fear to live with, especially for a horror fan. Still, as I grew older, and bolder (by bolder I mean having finally entered my mid-20's), I decided to give Child's Play a chance. And you know what? I'm glad I did, because it quickly became a favorite.
On its own, Child's Play is an effective little slasher film, because like so many it perverts something that is supposed to be safe and comforting, namely our childhood playthings. When Chucky comes to life and sets out on, for lack of a better term, a roaring rampage of revenge (and voodoo), the primitive animatronic effects of the time make him look more like a murderous Teddy Ruxpin than a Hollywood special effect (especially the moments when Chucky is very clearly being played by a midget in a Chucky suit). I mean that as a good thing, of course.
The big-city setting of Child’s Play also gives it a distinct tone. So many horror movies foster a sense of isolation from setting their stories in small town, or abandoned, out of the way locations. Child’s Play creates this separation by setting much of their action in some of Chicago’s most dangerous-looking slums. Sure, there are people out there, people who may even be able to help, but when they all look just as likely to knife you as the killer doll, you’re better off keeping to yourself, and you are effectively isolated.
And of course, I can’t get into the greatness of this movie without talking about Brad Douriff’s scenery-chewing portrayal of the murderous doll, Chucky. Channeling his best Jack Nicholson voice, he laughs and screams across the screen with reckless abandon. There are many horror movie killers out there, but most of them are silent and stoic. There are very few who take as much glee with what they do as Chucky, and almost all of that is thanks to Douriff’s stellar voice performance.
I have no shame in saying that Child’s Play scared the crap out of me, and maybe still does a little, but at least now I’m old enough to enjoy that fear.
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-- Matt Carter
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