Grindhouse Review: "Child's Play"

“Child’s Play” (1988)
Directed By Tom Holland
Starring Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent and Brad Dourif

On a cold rainy night in the city of Chicago, Illinois Charles Lee Ray (Dourif), the notorious Lakeshore Strangler, is being pursued by detective Mike Norris (Sarandon) after a simple robbery has gone awry.

While being chased through the grimy streets of the downtown area, Norris chases Charles to a local toy store where a massive shoot out commences, leaving Charles shot and mortally wounded. Before he crosses over to the other side, Charles grabs the closest item to him, a Good Guy Doll, and begins to transfer his soul into the body of the doll by using a voodoo ritual.

The next morning, six-year-old Andy Barclay (Vincent) tells his widowed mother Karen Barclay (Hicks) that he wants a Good Guy Doll for his birthday. Unable to afford the full price, Karen buys a stolen doll from a street peddler, which happens to be the same doll that Charles transferred his soul into.

Later that night, as Andy is playing with his birthday present who has introduced himself as “Chucky” to Karen’s friend, Maggie Peterson (Dinah Manoff), who is babysitting Andy, scolds him for turning on the evening news and placing Chucky in front of the TV. When Andy tries to deny the accusation, she doesn’t believe him and sends him straight to bed. Maggie is later violently struck with a hammer by an unseen figure and falls out of the apartment kitchen window to her death. Andy, when questioned, insists that Chucky has revealed himself to be alive and that he’s responsible for Maggie’s death.

Following these events, the story propels into a twisted realm of murder, mayhem, with a clever hint of the supernatural and some preposterous moments that could have easily been avoided.

For many years, I’ve tried so hard not to ignore this franchise as I find them to be an embarrassment of cinema and of the genre I worship and adore. During one of the “bad movie nights” I hold every once and awhile at my place, my closest friend brought along all five films of the series for us to watch. So after getting my arm twisted, I caved in and decided to give it a shot. Before I move further with my review, I’m going to explain all the flaws and ridiculousness of that I found to be so inexcusable for an attempted of a horror flick.

For the most part, the plot was very clever and ambitious to from an effects standpoint to create the real life movement of Chucky. Whenever there are shots of the doll moving across the room to claim his victims they are smooth, slick and very effective. But it’s Dourif’s performance as the wise cracking villain that steals the show amongst the very stale cast that has potential to play their characters to the fullest degree. Even Sarandon wasn’t able to keep up the spitfire performance that was played by Dourif’s, and he’s supposed to be the films hero. Not to mention he’s another one of my favorite actors in the business. It’s like watching an episode of “Knight Rider” and having the shows co-star, the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, have more personality than the lead. I’m not saying that Sarandon or the other cast members are bad, it seems a little unstable and unfair to the rest of the cast to have a “killer doll” steal the show when everything should be equal to create a much more better and in-depth coherent story.

All is not bad. There is some slick but rough suspense scenes that keep you nailed to the edge of your seat until the scares, which are predicable, come into play.

I did find the scene where Andy visits the run down house of Eddie Caputo played by Neil Giuntoli, Charles Lee Ray’s accomplice, who had betrayed him during the robbery to be very sly. Chucky sneaks into Eddie’s house and blows out the pilot light on the stove and turns up the gas. Before the story leads to its predicable death scene, I did like the fact that Chucky and Andy were wearing the same shoes throughout the scene. With this approach, it manipulates your mind into thinking that Andy was the one that was setting up the explosion because you don’t see Chucky leave his side. You just see low-angled shots of the shoes hitting the ground. It completely takes you away from the angelic little boy and focuses on the fear and anxiety that is solidly played by Giuntoli.

But another plus is I think the Chucky character is freaking hilarious whenever he goes on his warpath: The kicking of his little legs and over-exaggerated smirk did make me bust out laughing whenever he was attacking someone. Not to mention his great yet corny one-liners. But that cancels out whenever someone is trying to get away from him and pulls out all the old horror clichés that make the audience yell at the screen.

I have to say out of all films in this franchise, this one is much more effective and somewhat endearing and a rare gem compared to the rest. My advice: Check it out if you’re curious. But if you’re expecting to be scared hardcore, you’ll be sorely disappointed because it works more as a slapstick comedy rather than an effective horror film.

2 out of 4 stars

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