Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: Tom Holland
Written by: Don Mancini, John Lafia & Tom Holland
Starring: Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Brad Dourif, Dinah Manoff & Tommy Swerdlow
Arguably the most well-known killer doll movie out there, CHILD’S PLAY was a big financial success during its original theatrical run. Besides introducing an unforgettable face to the pantheon of slasher killers, this film was equal parts goofy and creepy. When people usually think of CHILD’S PLAY, they’re likely to snicker at how cheesy it is or shudder at how freaked out they are by Chucky. There are legitimately great scenes to be found in this film, alongside lots of silly fun to be had, and you have to give the performers props for playing this ridiculous material with a straight face.
After serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) is gunned down in a toy store, it appears that Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) has done a public service by wiping another scumbag off the Chicago streets. Before he was gunned down, Charles was chanting something strange over a toy doll and lightning struck the building…but I’m sure that’s just a normal occurrence in Chicago. Single mom Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) buys her six-year-old son Andy (Alex Vincent) that very same (surprisingly not bloodstained) doll for his birthday. Soon, deaths begin to occur around young Andy and he keeps pointing his finger at the doll. You can see where this is heading, unless you somehow didn’t already know about Chucky or the long-running CHILD’S PLAY series.
CHILD’S PLAY’s first act has a surprising less-is-more approach to the material because director Tom Holland keeps Chucky’s deadly antics to a minimum. Yes, you see people die, but you don’t get a full-on glimpse of the killer doll running around until almost the halfway mark. Before that point, there are a couple of head-turns from the supposedly inanimate object and you spot a quick blur of something running in the background. This filmmaking decision evokes some actual creepiness and real suspense.
It’s worth noting that damn near every scary element flies out the window when we finally see the animatronic doll and occasional little person in a doll costume. Luckily, this effects blending doesn’t reach an unintentionally silly level to become downright bad. However, things do get comical and quite funny in moments. There is a ginger-haired, possessed doll in suspenders running around and offing people after all. At some point, you’ll just be giggling about that sight alone. Still, there are unexpected stakes as doll-bound Charles Lee Ray begins to find new motives about possibly offing Andy and those around him.
For the first entry in a decades-long slasher franchise, CHILD’S PLAY has a surprisingly scarce body count. Chucky’s methods of murder are unique (though not nearly as ludicrous as the kills in the sequels) and no two kills are alike. There is one moment (with a voodoo doll that comes right the hell out of nowhere) that’s cool in its broken bone effects but seems a little far-fetched…even for a movie about a killer doll on the loose. A certain other death feels like it was included as an obligatory kill to stack Chucky’s victim total a little higher, but this scene’s execution (pardon the pun) felt like a lazy afterthought. The best scenes in the whole damn film come from Catherine Hicks’s first violent encounter with the possessed doll in its true form and an altogether great moment that has Chris Sarandon fending off the evil toy whilst driving a car with no brakes.
Hicks and Sarandon play this whole affair with a straight-face and that deserves a round of applause by itself. This material is pretty silly, but they sell their characters’ reactions as believable enough. This especially goes for Hicks’ devastation at her son’s seemingly hopeless situation and Sarandon’s utter disbelief at the idea that a doll is behind the latest string of murders. Brad Dourif is a blast as the voice of Chucky. He sells this killer doll as a fun antagonist to watch, though it’s hard to be scared of him after he cusses out Hicks in an over-the-top manner. Alex Vincent was roughly the same age as Andy in this film and his acting abilities were…lacking, to the say the least. However, he does get a bad-ass one-liner in his final scene with Chucky.
CHILD’S PLAY is every bit as silly as its premise would suggest, but there’s also a remarkable amount of well-executed suspense during the film’s first half (where we don’t see the murderous, red-haired, suspender-wearing Good Guy running around). There’s plenty of fun and entertainment to be had in this goofy 80s horror flick. The franchise that CHILD’S PLAY spawned is one of the most consistent slasher series out there in terms of quality. The CHILD’S PLAY series was never great, but it was always fun. The same can be said about this first installment!