Wednesday, March 12, 2014

CHILD'S PLAY (1988)

I haven't seen that new CHILD'S PLAY movie, but some have and some of them say it's a return to form after the wanton goofiness of BRIDE and SEED.  It stands to reason that a movie about a talking fuckin' killer doll should be deadly serious business, but the outpouring of cheers made me want to take a second look at the original film.  I haven't seen it since my early teen years, when I was presumably in the prime consumer demographic for CHILD'S PLAY and still didn't care too much about it.  But times change and so do tastes, so avanti...


A cop named Norris corners a killer named Charles Lee Ray.  Incredibly, both wear ties, because they are professional in their respective professions.  The chase leads to a toy store, where Ray dies with his hand on a Good Guy doll while mumbling some poppycock.  Then lightning strikes and the movie's semi-hard-on for explosions begins.


I'm sure I'm not telling you anything new by saying that Ray's soul enters the doll.  And then the doll is sold to Karen Barclay by a hobo in an alley behind a department store.  Her son, Andy, is Good Guy-crazy.  The whole Good Guy thing seems to be a riff on the Cabbage Patch craze of 1984 or so, so we're almost veering into Larry Cohen areas of social commentary, but CHILD'S PLAY doesn't really get contemplative enough to pull that trigger.  It does give us this cheap and astounding-looking Good Guy TV show.


I wanted to see more of the show to get a better handle on Good Guy folklore, but nooo.  We must instead move on to scenes of the new doll, Chucky, furtively killing a smidgen of people.  Because everyone knows that dolls can't kill people, the authorities suspect young Andy of throwing grown women out of windows and sparking gas-based explosions.  You'll want to baste the credulity-handling parts of your brain with tar heroin before watching this, obv.  These early scenes are pretty draggy and would've hurt a lot more if the cast weren't pretty solid.  Catherine Hicks and Chris Sarandon are quite fine and even the waif Alex Vincent delivers a good performance, despite being a child.


The movie has a good look and is shot well as well.  The main porblem is that the script is logic- and sometimes pacing-illiterate.  It's a movie about a talking fuckin' killer doll, OK, fine, but showing a child walking outside a house moments before it explodes, then showing said kid unburned and unimpaled in the next scene is pushing it.  Not to mention there probably wouldn't have to be an incendiary scene if the early stages of the script weren't so sleepy and uneventful.  


A lot of this film announces itself as the kind of shallow, ostensibly "fun" horror that proliferated in the 90s.  CHILD'S PLAY, thematically and atmospherically, anticipates stuff like LEPRECHAUN (obv!) and WISHMASTER, movies where it is clear that not a lot of time was spent on constructing & revising a script.   No characters are too deep or detailed, especially not supporting characters, who are basically just props who need extra makeup.  Sometimes this works, like the scene in which Karen goes to Hobotown to track down the doll seller and finds hobos French kissing and urinating into their own hobo homes for no good reason.  But during other scenes, the thoughtless, tossed-off feel really hinders the enjoyment of this film.  Plus there's some unfortunate comedy in the early goings that is just utterly ineffective.


We Need to Talk About Chucky.  Definitely the least likely horror icon, he's at least immune here from post-Freddy disease, as we only get one one-liner ("Batter up!") and otherwise his dialogue is pretty solidly mean.  It's difficult to make a diminutive figure scary, especially one who acts alone rather than in a CRITTERS-style pack.  That might be why the body count here is so low compared to other films of the era.  You might think the blood-free time would be spent in ratcheting up tension and CHILD'S PLAY certainly tries to do that, but isn't totally successful.  The movie's really backloaded, as the first third or so is Yawn City U.S.A., then we get a finale that tries to shovel a whole bunch of plot at us.  And, please believe, I appreciate the hilarity of giving the doll a voodoo origin (voodoo doll!), but it doesn't really lead anywhere and really just builds a bridge to the disappointing final showdown.


Don't take this the wrong way, but there's no good reason for anyone to really like CHILD'S PLAY.  Anything that it does, other movies have done better.  If you want a mini-killer, ORPHAN and THE CHILDREN are superior choices.  If you like your horror sprinkled with comedy, opt for RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD or this director's own FRIGHT NIGHT.  Killer dolls?  Go for DOLLS or that one section of TRILOGY OF TERROR.  CHILD'S PLAY is professionally executed from top to bottom, but it's like you've got a team of master musicians working off a score that someone wrote on a diner napkin in ten minutes.  It doesn't have huge, glaring flaws and anyone who watches lots of horror will have seen worse than this, but overall it's terribly bland.


RATING: 5

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