FANGO Flashback: “CHILD’S PLAY”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
While the horror genre has its fair share of great sequels, prequels, spin-offs and reboots, there’s nothing quite like the original. Yet sometimes, after seeing some of the insane or bizarre places a fright franchise can go, memories of the original can become cloudy or perhaps even heightened in status without a proper and timely re-examination. But then there are the fright franchises that have always had that weird subversive streak to them, and there’s few whose concept has helped usher in such eerie and odd material as well as CHILD’S PLAY.
Make no mistake, CHILD’S PLAY can be a scary son of a bitch when it wants to, allowing Tom Holland to take on darker and more grim thematic material than FRIGHT NIGHT while still toying (no pun intended) with the supernatural side of horror. But for Holland’s sensibilities in the genre, paired with his rewrite of John Lafia and Don Mancini’s script, CHILD’S PLAY might not be the kind of film you’d expect from the filmmaker. After all, large stretches of CHILD’S PLAY go without dialogue and rely on suspense and reveals, while Holland’s penchant for dialogue-driven horror comedy takes a back seat, even if his sensibilites for over-the-top action set-pieces lend themselves to punctuate each scary scene with a bit of spectacle. In any case, the concept of CHILD’S PLAY conveys the slasher movie construct against the backdrop of a possessed doll, which is an inherently silly notion if not handled with as seriously and intensely as Holland does.
CHILD’S PLAY, however, works because there’s no intent on hiding the silliness of the concept; hell, it’s the dismissive attitude towards that silliness that propels the narrative in the first place. But beyond that, CHILD’S PLAY marries the silliness of the concept to the portrayal of some of the larger-than-life elements of the film, whether it be the dark arts, voodoo, or even certain death scenes. In doing so, CHILD’S PLAY is not only has tension on its side, but levity as well, which makes the heightened part more forgivable and establishes a tonal continuity. And it also does one thing that the sequels often failed at doing: making Charles Lee Ray, a/k/a Chucky, a legitimate antagonistic force that is as creepy and coarse as he is dangerous.
CHILD’S PLAY also has the benefit of being an expertly made film as well, with an incredible visual construction and top notch SFX that makes the film feel like an actual story as opposed to an exploitation of a high concept. The cinematography from Bill Butler is really great, especially in terms of the reveals and POV sequences that put the audience directly into the eyes of a character. Joe Renzetti also delivers an exceptional score, which adds a greater sense of intensity to the proceedings while giving the production a more fantastical atmosphere. And the SFX/VFX team, which included the likes of Peter Donen, Howard Berger, Richard O. Helmer and Kevin Yagher, truly knock the film out of the park with their lifelike and genuinely terrifying animatronic and effects work on the film.
Director Tom Holland also gets the opportunity to stretch his muscles as an actor’s director, offering incredible performances from across the cast. Catherine Hicks and Chris Sarandon do fantastic work in CHILD’S PLAY, and ultimately sell the hell out of their scariest sequences across from an evil doll. Likewise, Alex Vincent delivers one of the genre’s best and most iconic child performances, which makes his situation all the more dire and terrifying. And, of course, there’s the phenomenal work, vocal and otherwise, from Brad Dourif as Charles Lee Ray / Chucky, who is undoubtedly responsible for intricately crafting the character as much as a sinister horror legend as he is to this date.
Overall, CHILD’S PLAY is a film definitely worth an occasional revisiting, if only just to remind yourself that before the pun-wielding days of BRIDE and SEED, there was an ingenious tale of a murderer in the body of a Good Guy doll. CHILD’S PLAY might be scarier than your memory might remember, and it’s definitely a better crafted film than you might remember as well. Hell, even the sillier and over-the-top nature of the action sequences or black magic reveals have a nostalgic sense of authenticity to them, as if Holland and Co. 100% believe those to be as important to the tale as character development or gorgeous visuals. It’s a rightful classic of the genre, and as much as it’s fun to see a toy stalk and kill skeptical adults, it’s a damn well made film in its own right and shows just how effective Tom Holland could be without the crutch of comedy to play around with.