The plot of this flick is fairly simple: when a serial killer is finally caught, he is wounded and flees into a toy store. As he's dying, he uses a voodoo spell to place his soul inside the body of a child-sized doll. Now reanimated, he seeks revenge on the cop that caught him and his ex-partner, who abandoned him when he was caught.
Written by Don Mancini (all four CHILD'S PLAY films) and directed by Tom Holland (FRIGHT NIGHT, THINNER), the film isn't necessarily terrible. Realistically, it's pretty tough to mess up a purely revenge-driven plot. Provided for some suspension of disbelief (a plastic doll that is somehow stronger than the people it's attacking) and some general gaps in logic (at a few points, the doll travels alone through the city), it almost makes a good horror film.
The killer is Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif* of ALIEN: RESURRECTION, THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT, DEATH MACHINE, LORD OF THE RINGS: The Two Towers), who is known as "Chucky" once he enters the doll; a cute little red-headed guy from the Good Guys cartoon that young Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent, who returned in CHILD'S PLAY 2) is enamored with. Dourif continues on as the voice of Chucky, but as a grossly-underrated horror actor (and indeed, an under-rated actor in general), I would have loved to see him have more screen time.
The real trouble begins when Andy's mom brings Chucky home for Andy's birthday. Mom, Karen Barclay, is played by actress Catherine Hicks (DEATH VALLEY), who I'm convinced is the ultimate manic-depressive-psycho-bitch mother. Ever seen her as the mom in TV's Seventh Heaven? She's really cutesy and loving when she's being nice, and when she gets mad she turns pure evil. The expression on her face is just damned scary, and I think if she was my mom I'd be a neurotic wreck. Predictably enough, when our little scamp Andy starts saying "Chucky did it!", she turns into psycho mommy on him.
The cop who catches Ray and ends up helping the Barclays with their little Chucky problem is Chicago Police Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon of FRIGHT NIGHT and BORDELLO OF BLOOD). His character is very generic and you find yourself not even caring if he lives or dies. He also gets to be the "stupid victim" (the character in every horror flick that is so stupid he or she deserves to die): when Chucky attacks in the car, the guy doesn't even have the sense to take his foot off the accelerator, much less hit the brake or shift to neutral or something. Sarandon's had much better parts before, and he's played them better, too.
Where the film missed most is probably the over-simplified plot. I think with a little better writing, and by sending Chucky out to continue his serial killings begun in his human life, it could have been a Hell of a movie. As it is, we never see, nor are we told, what Charles Lee Ray did in the first place. He's merely alluded to as "the strangler." As the Chucky doll, he could have been passed along to a few families, wreaking havoc and killing people, until the cop finally figures out what's going on.
But despite all that, there's little denying that Chucky has become somewhat of a pop-culture phenomenon. Mention his name, and it's become just as recognizable as modern screen psychos such as Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, and Michael Meyers.
But "WHY?" you ask . . .
When this movie first came out, I was in junior high. I remember sitting in the back of the bus, and everybody was talking about how cool this killer doll was. Back then it didn't matter about the plot and the acting: it was a freakin' cutesy little red-headed doll, a good parody of cutesy toys like My Buddy and Cabbage Patch Kids, going around killing people!
In short, it was something for us to relate to. After all, these dolls were all over toy stores, and who's sister didn't own a Cabbage Patch Kid back then? It also beat the old black and white screen legends like the Wolfman and the original Dracula, as new movies, while not necessarily better to some, were in full blood-and-gore color with better effects and, *gasp*, dare I say it, nudity!
And I think the popularity has stuck with us. It was enough for the flick to generate three sequels, with number five, SON OF CHUCKY, due out sometime in 2000. Todd McFarland Toys has recently released a new series of movie psychos action figures, now including Chucky and his girlfriend, Tiffany. They'll hold shelf space right beside Freddy, Jason, Michael, and even the Species aliens (personally, I want to see him do some Aliens figures).
On a whole new level, you've got a sort of modern horror twist on the Pinocchio tales. Many of my friends were weaned on tame Disney flicks (not me - I was watching stuff like John Carpenter's THE THING since it hit cable when I was about eight years old), and suddenly here's a whole new type of doll that is slowly becoming human. Nevermind the dork with the phallic wooden nose; Chucky's got balls, a knife, and a seriously bad attitude! How'd you like to see that one on an MTV Celebrity Death Match?
Surf the Internet, and you'll find countless sites devoted to Chucky and his misdeeds as well. A good start is Chuckyholics. In browsing just a few minutes, I found tons of pics, downloads, and even a few games in some really dedicated sites.
According to one site, there's an interesting rumor how Child's Play 4: BRIDE OF CHUCKY came about: the 13-year-old daughter of Universal Studios Production Chairman Marc Platt attended a slumber party, during which they watched the first three CHILD'S PLAY flicks. This was only one month after CHILD'S PLAY producer David Kirschner (TV's EARTH: Final Conflict) first pitched BRIDE OF CHUCKY to Platt. Young Ms. Platt told Daddy how much she enjoyed the movies, and the green light was given for Child's Play 4.
And maybe, just maybe, young Ms. Platt is looking at that old doll resting in the corner of her closet in a whole new way . . .
!!!UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHE ALERT!!!:
I think a good move on the studio's part is to pitch the movies as both horror and comedy, and I gather Mancini is writing them that way. If you look at series like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH, they merely have become parodies of themselves, growing worse in proportion with the rising of the roman numeral slapped onto the end of their titles. They try to retain their seriousness, meanwhile trying to outdo number one. There are those that say NEW NIGHTMARE and HALLOWEEN: H20 did their originators justice, but for the most part it just ain't gonna happen.
It must be working, too. After all, Chucky's still hitting the theaters, while Freddy and Jason have lately been tossed into the purgatory of direct-to-video releases. Meyers may have hit the big screen again with H20, but after the slagging it received, I would bet it will be some time before he sees another premier party.
So, how to rate this one? Well, in pure analysis of the content and acting, I have to give it a measly two shriek girls. But I'll tell you what, that little Chucky is still damn cool.
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