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Day 4: Child's Play

Day 4 of Calloween Movie Month

Recommended?: Yes.

Content warnings: mild blood/gore, child abuse, gaslighting, electrocution, forced institutionalization, ableism, classism, demonization of voodoo/voudou/vodun

Spoilers and discussion of many of these topics below. You have been warned.

I've never been to Chicago, but I can only imagine this is what an average day there is like.

#Horror from Shots of Horror

Child's Play is about Andy and his mom Karen. Karen, after Andy asks for an expensive toy for his birthday, buys it from a reseller for a much cheaper price. Unbeknownst to them, this particular doll is possessed by the spirit of a serial killer who fused his soul to it as his human body was dying.

Horror and comedy are two genres that, despite not always harmonizing very well together, are often made to sing the same tune. It's hard to build tension when the tension is being cut with jokes, and it's hard to tell a good joke with a killer on the loose or a pile of bodies behind you. Nevertheless, Child's Play is a film that manages to strike this balance well.

The horror and comedy exist simultaneously together, boosting each other up. It's not common to have a scene that has one but not the other, and in this case that works to it's benefit. It creates an honestly bizarre and absurd atmosphere that gives it a feeling all it's own.

Movies don't scare me often, though there are exceptions. Both Creep movies left me looking over my shoulder for a few days and Hereditary made me nauseous for a good bit of it's runtime, but those are more the exception and not the rule. Although I wouldn't say Child's Play left me shaking under my covers, or will leave me sleepless tonight, it did manage to unsettle me a few times. And I think part of that is due to it's strange atmosphere, although the excellent puppetry and prop design definitely helped.

You'll be watching, and Chucky will open his mouth with a deeply creepy expression and bite a woman so hard it bruises her and draws blood, and then hilariously toddle off like a child on his stupid little plastic legs. He'll get under a car seat and seemingly try to stab a man in the balls while also making him swerve wildly and nearly choke him to death. He'll make a sports joke as he remorselessly beats a six year old child over the head with a baseball bat so he can steal his body. Not knowing what to expect and how to feel make this extremely fun to watch in a way that horror for adults doesn't often get to be.

The characters are pretty effortlessly charming. In slasher movies, the cast is often hit or miss. This I think is due to how big some of them can get. And the fact that some of them inevitably just have to be there to add to the count or have another character discover their body. Child's Play keeps it's cast limited and well rounded. They feel like real people thrown into a situation no human could reasonably prepare for and that makes them deeply sympathetic and easy to root for.

I want to highlight how well made this thing is. I don't expect a lot from low budget 80's slasher horror comedies in terms of high quality filmmaking, but this surprised me. I was impressed by, as previously mentioned, the extremely effective puppeteer that brings this witty, sarcastic, morally bankrupt serial killer turned child's doll to life. But I also really loved the cinematography. I was especially impressed with the Chucky POV shots. It really made everything feel more real and lived in while giving you a better idea of the playing field between Chucky and his opponents.

Another thing I want to highlight is the small nugget of, in my opinion, a genuinely important message. Maybe this wasn't intentional, but it was something I picked up on.

There's a very strong through-line of the consequences of not believing victims. Underscored by Andy crying about how he'll be killed if the adults in his life don't believe him, and by Chucky describing his attempt to literally take a child's body as "a date with a six year old boy".

Andy gets forcefully hospitalized and called crazy for telling people what's really happening to him. Even his own mother, who defends him to everyone else, doesn't believe him until it happens to her. Detective Norris similarly disbelieves Karen, even going so far as to say he simply knows it to be false because he's sane and rational, right up until it happens to him. The leveraging of the good will of people who should be caring for and protecting a victim is a big part in abusers continuing a cycle. The only thing that can stamp it out is trust and the willingness to protect the people who need it most. And that's something that can only become more and more important to learn as time goes on.

I think the ending confrontation is pretty great. Tattered, burnt black, melted plastic, hacked to pieces Chucky slowly crawling around and saying he'll kill everyone is genuinely unsettling and I love the subversion of the other detective messing with Chucky's head onto have his torso pop up and attack instead. And it ends on as happy of a note as it could've.

In the end, Child's Play is a fun, well made horror comedy with a few words of wisdom to those willing to look understand them.

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