Child’s Play

(Reviewed in 2002.)

Like many horror films that spawned innumerable sequels (well, four of them), “Child’s Play” — the one about the evil doll named Chucky — is not especially good, and certainly not worthy of producing sequels, innumerable or otherwise. It is not funny enough to be a comedy, but not scary or gory enough to be a worthwhile entries in those genres, either. It does, however, star a malevolent talking doll, which scores a lot of points in my book.

The perambulatory, sentient plaything who murders people is an idea almost guaranteed to be laughable, though a memorable “Twilight Zone” episode managed to do it quite creepily. The trick there was that we never actually saw Talky Tina move about as if possessed. She only spoke — something the doll did anyway — and said eerie things, and then we’d see the aftermath of her movement, which occurred off-camera.

“Child’s Play” begins that way, teasing us only with hints of Chucky’s abilities, but even then we catch glimpses of him scampering about, darting in and out of doorways and such. By the mid-point, when he’s standing on a counter, gesticulating wildly and threatening an acquaintance, he has ceased to be frightening, but has not yet gone far enough to be legitimately funny. (The innumerable sequels, of which there are four, explored the inherent humor of the situation far better.)

Chucky is a Good Guy, a line of dolls based on a popular children’s cartoon, or perhaps the other way around. This particular Good Guy came to be alive when notorious killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) was pursued by an incompetent police officer named Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) into a toy store, whereupon Charles Lee Ray was mortally wounded and, before his death, transferred his soul into the nearest item — the aforesaid Good Guy doll. Charles had been dabbling in voodoo, hence his soul-transferring prowess.

The doll — which looks evil even when it is not inhabited by serial killers — for some reason falls into the hands of a thief who sells merchandise in an alley, which is where one Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) buys it for her 6-year-old son, the slow-talking, dim-witted Andy (Alex Vincent). Chucky converses with Andy and moves under his own power, and Andy — being dim-witted, as I mentioned — sees no cause for alarm in this. He is even slow to realize after the babysitter is killed that it must have been Chucky who did it. Andy is indeed the perfect patsy. Every killer-turned-toy should have him for a companion.

Chucky’s deal is he has to do some more voodoo stuff to transfer his soul back into the body of a human being before the temporary doll housing becomes permanent. But first, he has to get revenge on his old partner, and kill the cop who killed him, and stuff like that. Your standard psycho-becomes-doll-then-seeks-vengeance plot.

I have issues with 3-foot Chucky’s ability to tackle and fight with grown men. I doubt he would have the leverage or weight necessary to do any serious damage. Clearly this film was not based on a true story.

It was directed with occasional grim humor by Tom Holland, and written by him, Don Mancini and John Lafia; they all had previous horror experience, and had more afterward. As I said, the sequels found Chucky’s niche more readily, and this first film is worthwhile primarily because it allows you to see Dinah Manoff — one of the frigid daughters on “Empty Nest” — fall from a sixth-story window.

C- (1 hr., 27 min.; R, some harsh profanity, a fair amount of violence.)