Today marks the 25th anniversary of Child's Play, the horror classic that gave the word its favorite killer doll, Chucky. The love, though, has been lost on one particular horror fanatic.
Before I was old enough to realize that toys can't be more than imaginary friends, and, thus, before the world became crappier, I had two best pals. Both were what you'd call inanimate.
The first was furry and colorful, and went by the store-bought name of My Pet Monster. All blue and red, with orange shackles and a mug that resembled a mutant, tetched version of the Looney Tunes' scene-stealer Tasmanian Devil, My Pet Monster—or, simply, Monster, as I liked to call him—was my personal bodyguard; whenever I needed to walk around my house alone, or if I'd just watched a scary movie, Monster would always accompany me, nestled beneath in armpit. For those times when things weren't at all frightening, there was my other buddy, Billy Bologna, the funnyman of our triumvirate. A home-friendly version of the obscure Pee-Wee's Playhouse character, my puppet-like Billy doll rocked his suit jacket, gray slacks, and red tie with elegance. He made me smile, when my parents weren't around, when my older brother was off doing almost-grown-up things, and when Monster was holding down the fort through inanimate intimidation. We were all pretty tight.
Since my young mind worked in strange ways, I'd often wonder what would happen if Monster and Billy got tired of me bossing them around, came to life, and started killing everyone I loved, on their way to ultimately finishing me off and driving away in my mother's 1988 Buick LeSabre, Thelma & Louise style. Strange, right?
At the time, in my early grade school days, those were terrifying thoughts to have. Monster and Billy were smaller than me, but not by enough to where I'd easily overpower them. Either doll could have handily terminated me. What I didn't consider back then, however, was that anyone older than 12 would have seen Monster and/or Billy coming their way and laughed, before kicking the possessed dolls across the room or picking them up and tossing them through the nearest window. In real life, no doll or toy would be able to take down a grown-up—that's just common sense.
And now that I'm an adult, and, yes, I still own both Monster and Billy, that's even more apparent to me. They're currently stashed in away in the closet of my old bedroom, in my parents' house, and, every now and then, I'll pull them out and mentally cruise down memory lane. I'll also chuckle about how I once rationalized that they'd ever defeat me.
Which is why, and this isn't an easy thing to confess as a passionate horror movie fan, I've never been able to enjoy Child's Play. Originally released on November 9, 1988 (making today its 25th anniversary), director Tom Holland's cult classic has rightfully earned its place amongst the genre's hallmark 1980s entries, alongside Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Like those films, Child's Play has done so through its face, the same antagonist who's led fans through five sequels: Chucky, the Good Guy children's doll.
In the original Child's Play, the doll becomes the vessel for dying serial killer Charles Lee Ray's (Brad Dourif) soul via a last-minute voodoo ritual. The next day, widower/mother Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) buys her son, Andy (Alex Vincent), a stolen Good Guy doll from a back-alley peddler, and as Andy grows closer to his new pal Chucky, people start dying. The cops suspect Andy, due to the miniature footprints left at the first murder scene. The little guy says Chucky's alive, but, of course, no one believes him. Chucky's a doll—it can't walk around, talk, tell Andy to call his mom's late friend Maggie a "bitch," and kill people. Right?
It's a very '80s set-up for a horror movie, and one that's delighted the genre's most discerning and respectable supporters for the past 25 years. A lot of that has to do with director Tom Holland, an under-appreciated master of horror who also the critically beloved vampire flick Fright Night (1985). But, naturally, the bulk of Child's Play's staying power should be attributed to Chucky himself. Or itself.
In the first movie, he's a stone-cold killing machine, but as the franchise progressed, Chucky became funnier. The filmmakers behind the Child's Play series wisely started taking advantage of its inherent silliness and fashioned Chucky as the diminutive kindred spirit of Freddy Krueger, dropping morbid one-liners before murdering folks and hamming it up whenever a scene gets too serious. Last month, the straight-to-DVD sequel Curse of Chucky brought some of the O.G. film's laugh-free darkness back into the mix, but, for the most part, the Child's Play brand has thrived on twisted humor.
And I can dig that, but after the first Child's Play, the damage was done for me. Admittedly, I didn't see Holland's film until I was 17 years old, tuning into the USA Network one uneventful Friday night. At first, I was game—finally, I'd be able to catch up with one of my favorite cinema genre's staples, bringing one step closer to being the ultimate horror junkie. But the excitement quickly evaporated once Chucky began offing characters. The imagination I brought to Monster and Billy as a kid was gone, replaced by the ever-growing cynicism of my burgeoning adulthood. Yes, the suspension of disbelief goes hand-in-hand with horror movies—I know zombies aren't real, yet I love George Romero's first three Dead movies, and, indeed, there's no such thing as an undead slasher who dispatches of teenagers in their sleep, but I still can't get enough of Mr. Krueger. But at least Romero's living dead and Freddy Krueger would pose legitimate threats if I were to encounter them in reality. But if Chucky ever came at me? Like this:
I'd punt him into the ceiling without breaking a sweat.
That's the belief I've been unable to rid myself of whenever re-watching Child's Play or any of its sequels, which, sure, always qualifies as hate-watching. Why do I knowingly spend 87 minutes with a film I don't find scary, or even much fun? The need to revisit Chucky's antics time and again comes from the respect I have for the countless number of horror critics and historians who cherish Tom Holland's Child's Play as one of the genre's most enjoyable '80s treasures. Maybe, if I keep giving it more and more chances to win me over, Child's Play will click in my head. After all, I didn't understand the acclaim bestowed upon Fright Night until a few years ago, when I finally managed to ignore my personal disinterest in vampires not named Nosferatu, Dracula, or Martin and openly embraced the cleverness and intelligence at work in Holland's Fright Night script. But, alas, no dice. Child's Play will probably never work for me, and I just need to accept that.
After watching Child's Play and Child's Play 2 (1990) again earlier this week, I was taken aback by how much the movie's kiddie protagonist, Andy, and little me circa 1990 have in common. We both treated our favorite dolls as our end-all, be-all friends. We did so because, frankly, it was difficult to make friends at school. I grew up with both of my parents, so the comparisons halt at a certain point, but one Child's Play scene in particular made me empathize with Andy. It's when he says:
Well, "hate" may be too strong of a word here. It's actually a zero-vitriol "dislike" that leads me to scoff at Chucky whenever he's doing his bloody work. Instead of shrieking in fear or shock when he attacks Karen and bombards her with profanity ("You stupid bitch! You filthy slut!"), I laugh. The fact that Chucky dominates the much larger Karen is too ridiculous for me to buy. It's no matter that Holland his fellow Child's Play screenwriters Don Mancini and John Lafia do their best to combat this issue—Chucky kills one guy with a voodoo doll, and another victim is pinned inside a flipped-over car, physically incapable of fighting back. The attempts to infuse some realism and practicality into the film's otherwise hokey conceit is admirable, but, for me, inconsequential.
In closing, I'd like to apologize to Chucky for being one of the few hardcore horror fans who'll never like Child's Play. I just hope he and the great Tom Holland can understand why.
Screw you, then. My dudes Monster and Billy can whoop your ass, anyway.
Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)