Friday, June 3, 2016

Don't Watch This Alone!: CHILD'S PLAY

Welcome to another installment of DON'T WATCH THIS ALONE!, where we review the best, worst and everything in between in the world of horror. This week we review 1988's CHILD'S PLAY.

Howdy fellow film freaks, Robert here. While there are a great many things I love about the 80's, the horror movies of that time aren't among them, generally speaking. The movies of the decade are known for a certain silliness in general, but the horror movies of the time seem to take a bridge too far. While there are exceptions, the average 1980s horror movie feels to me like a hokey campfire story with pictures. They just don't take themselves seriously enough. Child's Play, the first in the ongoing horror-cum-comedy series starring Chucky the Killer Doll, is one such disappointment.

The movie opens with known strangler and general public menace Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) being pursued by police officer Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon). Abandoned by his accomplice and badly injured by Officer Norris's attempts to apprehend him, Ray flees into a toy store. Near death, Ray speaks a Satanic rite over one of the store's stock of Good Guy dolls. The spell also obliterates the store in glorious 1980's fashion, for good measure.

Now over to Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent), who is living the typical little-kid-in-the-80's life. He spends his mornings before school munching sugary cereal and watching his favorite cartoon show, "The Good Guys", a generic take on every "magical creatures who are friends to all children" cartoon you've ever heard of. Since it's his favorite show, he wants the related merchandise: Good Guys pajamas, playsets, etc. And now there are talking Good Guy dolls, so of course Andy wants one of those, too. You see where this is going, right?

To hurry the story along and unite our picture of Reagan-era innocence with the fruit of those previously mentioned Dark Arts (here serving as a none-too-subtle metaphor for destructive materialism), the movie allows its characters to make a couple of decisions that are hilariously ill-advised, even by horror movie standards. Andy really wants a Good Guy doll, but his mother can't afford one. But never mind that, it's Andy's birthday, so Mom makes up her mind to get him one Right Now. And so it is that, later that day, she buys a Good Guy doll from a homeless person. This is Bad Decision #1, and virtually assures us that the doll she has bought is the one with the curse on it.

Bad Decision #2 will probably sneak past you, O Modern Viewer, unless you remember some of the home truths of toys in the 80's. Mom brings the doll home, Andy opens his present, and is naturally overjoyed. He takes the doll out of the box and begins to play with it. The doll promptly responds with a cheery "Hi, I'm Chucky, and I'm your friend to the end. High-dee-ho!" So what was the bad decision? No one thought to put batteries in the damn thing. In the 80's, every toy required batteries (every halfway-decent one, anyhow), and none of them came with batteries pre-installed. I grew up in the 80's, so I'm kind of embarrassed that I missed that. If you did, don't sweat it; the movie will remind you later.

For the first half of the movie, or at least after Andy recieves his doll, the story's actually pretty good. Weird things start happening, people start turning up dead, but it looks as though Andy himself is the killer. After all, his doll only sits there and plays cheery, pre-recorded phrases, and all we've been able to see is a child-sized shadow right before someone buys it. After Chucky's true nature is revealed, however, the story quality plummets to the level of the typical 80's slasher flick, with Chucky dropping vicitms and one-liners in equal measure. There's also lots of stock false drama tropes, including my favorite: the runaway car. Seriously, why is it that people trapped in runaway cars in movies never think to just shut the engine off? Or take their foot off the gas, in this case?

The film does have one memorable moment, coming after the movie enters the "kill the creature" phase, and Andy and his Mom try to kill Chucky by burning him in their fireplace. In typical 80's horror movie fashion, this fails to stop Chucky's rampage, but it does give him an outside to match his inside, and here credit is very much due: he looks scary as all crap after getting burned to a crisp.

Other than this, there's no reason for me to recommend this movie. Even if you like quips and quotes, you'd be better served watching some old Schwarzenegger movies; this one only has two (which I won't spoil). Want a capering clown of a movie monster? Freddy Krueger did it better. Want an unstoppable force of moral retribution? Jason Voorhees did it better. Heck, even The Simpsons did this movie's story better, way back in Treehouse of Horror III.

Maybe Child's Play was fun when it was released, but everyone knows this story now. There's no surprises, even if all you know of the story is the "killer doll" bit. Watch it if you want to see how Chucky got his start, watch it if you need to feed your unhealthy addiction to 1980's movies, but otherwise, leave this one on the shelf.

Child's Play is rated R for violence, language, and being a horror movie in general.

Robert's Score: 4 / 10

Special thanks to Autumn for recommending this movie.

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