Thursday, 18 October 2012

Child's Play (1988)

Think about how many movies you've seen that aimed high, then didn't follow through. Got a few (thousand) in mind? Now think about how many movies you've seen that set the bar low, then cleared it beautifully. Not quite as many, right? Child's Play (Tom Holland, 1988) is one of those rare movies that achieves everything it sets out to do, but doesn't really attempt much in the first place. As such, it occupies a rather Pyrrhic niche in the annals of film making, but it's still an enjoyable watch.

A perfect doll and a killer... BUT WHICH IS WHICH???
All grade-schooler Andy (Alex Vincent) wants for his birthday is a "Good Guy" doll. When his single, working mom Karen (Catherine Hicks) is able to snag one off the back of a black-market pushcart, it eases her guilt about having to work on her son's big day. She watches with all the maternal aplomb of the Virgin Mary as the talking doll (Brad Dourif) tells Andy its name -- "Chucky" -- and promises to be his friend forever. Unfortunately, Karen punches out a few hours later only to find that Andy's babysitter has been defenestrated and Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) of Chicago's finest doesn't believe Andy's "Chucky did it" alibi. The rest of the movie is horror duck-duck-goose: Norris chases Karen chases Chucky chases Andy. Once the obligatory skepticism is dispatched and everyone accepts that they've got a homicidal doll on their hands, there's a final showdown in Karen's apartment that doesn't even pretend not to be setting up the sequels.

Okay, so Child's Play is schlock. But I've seen schlock-ier schlock. The satire is dead-on; I'm just old enough to remember the pop-culture wasteland of Eighties fad toys, each with its own tie-in cartoon (my personal Kryptonite was Rainbow Brite). The acting is across-the-board decent, even when the actors are asked to stray way beyond the call of duty (and over the line of dignity). Raymond Oliver, for instance, playing Chucky's former black-magic mentor, is handed the most inanely offensive voodoo stereotype this side of Live and Let Die, but damned if he doesn't just act the living shit out of it anyway. The whole movie is like that. Its parts are so determined to be better than the whole that the whole becomes somehow elevated.

For a film that gave birth to a slasher franchise, there's surprisingly little slashing in Child's Play: I'm pretty sure the death count stopped at two (three if you count characters reincarnated over the course of the movie). Since it's already leaning towards suspense rather than horror, it might have been interesting to see the script play longer with the Andy-or-Chucky whodunnit setup. But, man, who am I kidding? This is mediocrity in its most honest form, and maybe that's a good thing. The fairest thing I can say about Child's Play is if you think you might like it, you probably will.

When you can't get Shelley Duvall....
FINAL GIRL: There's only two girls in this movie, so it's not like this was a hard-won title, but our Final Girl for Child's Play is Andy's mom Karen. I liked Karen, actually. She's a plucky, self-sufficient single parent who's able to keep her head on straight when things start going crazy (not to mention avoid the stupid romantic angle with Detective Norris that I assumed at the outset was a given). She also appears to have ripped her shapeless beige jacket straight off the back of Elizabeth Shue in Adventures in Babysitting. It's survival of the fittest out there in Hollywood.

No comments:

Post a Comment