Child's Play (1988) poster

Child’s Play (1988)


USA. 1988.


Director – Tom Holland, Screenplay – Tom Holland, John Lafia & Don Mancini, Story – Don Mancini, Producer – David Kirschner, Photography – Bill Butler, Music – Joe Renzetti, Visual Effects – Apogee (Supervisor – Peter Donen), Mechanical Effects – Richard O. Helmer, Chucky Doll – David Kirschner & Kevin Yagher, Production Design – Daniel A. Lomino. Production Company – United Artists.


Catherine Hicks (Karen Barclay), Chris Sarandon (Detective Mike Norris), Alex Vincent (Andy Barclay), Dinah Manoff (Maggie Peterson), Tommy Swerdlow (Jack Santos), Brad Dourif (Charles Lee Ray), Jack Colvin (Dr Ardmore)


Pursued by police, mass murderer Charles Lee Ray flees into a toy store. Dying of a bullet wound, he performs a voodoo ceremony that transfers his soul into one of the walking-talking Good Guy dolls. Karen Barclay’s son Andy is disappointed when she does not get him a Good Guy doll for his birthday. Karen then finds the one from the toy store being sold off cheaply as damaged goods and snaps it up for Andy. Andy is elated, naming the doll Chucky. A mysterious series of deaths then start to occur and Andy insists that Chucky is responsible. Karen eventually realises that Chucky is conducting the killings and that the spirit of Charles Lee Ray is trying to possess Andy in order to regain human form.

The possessed doll story is a theme that recurs with intermittent regularity in film – the first was The Great Gabbo (1929) starring Erich Von Stroheim and has been followed by the likes of Devil Doll (1964), Magic (1978) with Anthony Hopkins, Black Devil Doll from Hell (1984), Dolly Dearest (1991), Dead Silence (2007), Annabelle (2014) and Goosebumps (2015). Although, the one that everybody remembers is the famous final segment of Dead of Night (1945), which still remains the conclusive word on the subject. The major difference between Child’s Play and the assorted ventriloquist’s dummy films made up to this point is that this film abandons the idea that the doll is all in the ventriloquist’s head or taking over his personality and makes it a character that has a life of its own.

In Child’s Play, the theme was resurrected by Tom Holland, who had just done similar things for the vampire in Fright Night (1985). Child’s Play was a modest hit and was quickly turned into a commercial franchise, with Chucky becoming another badass monster a la Freddy Krueger.

With a plot that begins with a dying killer transferring his personality into a child’s doll – in a voodoo ceremony that takes less than thirty seconds – one knows they are not exactly in high credibility stakes but that hardly prepares for the extraordinary silliness that results. A scene with the doll trying to kill Chris Sarandon in his car is the height of unintentional hilarity – with cigarette lighters being used as weapons, knives jabbed up through the seat resulting in Sarandon driving with feet on the dashboard, Chucky on the pedals and a laughably overblown scene with an overturned car skidding. In another hysterical scene, psychiatrist Jack Colvin is ECT’s to death by the doll. The climax with the charred Chucky still continuing on while gradually being blown away by a revolver has its amusements, but the double-double return-from-the-dead climax with the armless, legless and headless charred lump hanging from Tommy Swerdlow’s neck is absolutely ridiculous.

Chucky prepares to sacrifice Andy (Alex Vincent) in Child's Play (1988)
Chucky prepares to sacrifice Andy (Alex Vincent)

Tom Holland regrettably lacks what it takes to turn the affair into the parody as many of the sequels did. He treats the film reasonably seriously, which is what makes everything seem even more ridiculous. The plot throws in incredibly stupid devices, including one that with vapid obviousness demands Chucky have to take over the mind of the first person he revealed himself to. There is a mushy blandness to the characters – the whiny voiced Alex Vincent is a cutsie irritation – a scene where he makes a hopelessly inept breakfast for Catherine Hicks is so banal and silly it collapses off the screen.

The sequels were:– Child’s Play 2 (1990), Child’s Play 3 (1991), Bride of Chucky (1998), Seed of Chucky (2004), Curse of Chucky (2013) and Cult of Chucky (2017), as well as the tv series Chucky (2021- ). Child’s Play (2019) is a remake. Child’s Play was spoofed in Stan Helsing: A Parody (2009). Chucky also made an amusing appearance in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One (2018).

Tom Holland has a considerable career as a genre screenwriter and director. He wrote the screenplays for The Initiation of Sarah (tv movie, 1978), The Beast Within (1982), Psycho II (1983), the invisible companion film Cloak and Dagger (1984), Michael Winner’s revenge film Scream for Help (1984) and the story for the remake of Fright Night (2011). Holland debuted as director with Fright Night (1985) and has since made the psycho-thriller The Stranger Within (tv movie, 1990), the office psycho-thriller The Temp (1993) and the Stephen King adaptations The Langoliers (mini-series, 1995), Thinner (1996) and Rock, Paper, Scissors (2017).

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