Friday, July 8, 2022

Child's Play - "I'm Your Friend 'Til the End!"

When the With Gourley and Rust podcast announced their next series was Child’s Play, I was disappointed. Typically, I like it when podcasts I listen to cover movies I’ve already seen, and that I like. But I’ve completely forgotten the first couple Chucky movies, and I didn’t bother with any sequels beyond that. Those movies terrified me as a child, and I didn’t want to revisit them.

Now that I’ve rewatched the original film, I’m glad With Gourley and Rust is covering the series. It gave me a chance to laugh at what I was once scared of, but it also revealed new fears that come with watching the movie as a parent.

I’ve written numerous times about how movies hit me differently now that I’m a parent. Usually, it just means I cry a lot easier when there’s a plotline involving kids and their parents. But with Child’s Play, it’s about not disappointing your kids when it comes to toys and stuff. We’re fortunate enough with our jobs and friends and family that my kids have way too much shit. So thankfully I haven’t had to deal with seeing my child’s supreme disappointment when they get an underwhelming toy for their birthday. 

But when Andy’s mom is able to give him the Chucky doll, and he immediately thanks her and gives her a huge hug, I felt that. Movies like this and (shudder) Jingle All the Way are a little less stupid in this regard when you’ve been in a situation in which you’re trying to get your kid the present that will make them love you even more.

That makes the horror element of this story even worse as the very toy you bought to bring joy to your child ends up nearly destroying your life. This is why I never buy my children toys sold by rapist hobos in alleys or toys that have been possessed by the spirit of Brad Dourif. 

Child’s Play worked for me so well this time around mainly thanks to Alex Vincent’s performance as Andy. Kid parts in horror movies can be tricky roles because there’s a fine line between scared and annoying. Andy is never annoying in this. It would be easy for him to brat it up and look like a dick when his mom can’t afford to get him the Chucky doll. But he’s just realistically disappointed. Likewise, his joyful reaction to getting the doll is realistic. Andy comes across as a lonely child who truly needs a friend, so you want to get that Chucky doll, even though you know it’s going to fuck shit up. And while the thought of your child being taken away from you to a mental hospital is devastating enough, Vincent’s pleading to get out when he sees Chucky coming for him is heartbreaking. Vincent has been a mainstay of the series, so I’m looking forward to seeing how he progresses through the later films, but this is a great start. 

Vincent’s performance makes it easy to imagine your own child’s reaction to a favorite toy, but there’s a universal creepiness to the premise that anyone can identify with: the imagination of children. When kids have to play by themselves and use their imaginations, it can be magical and amusing, and it can be fucking creepy. Thankfully, I haven’t had to deal with this, but I dread the day one of my kids comes to me telling me what one of their toys “said” to them. Imagining having to deal with that scenario is the scariest thing about this movie for me these days. 

That written, the Chucky doll is still creepy looking. But instead of being terrified when he comes to life and starts gleefully killing people thanks to voodoo magic, I found myself laughing quite a bit. The combination of Dourif’s voice and the goofy visual of a doll attacking people is hilarious. That isn’t to say it looks bad. The effects actually hold up quite well; I think that’s why it affected me so much when I was little (why was I allowed to watch this as a little kid, by the way?). 

Dourif’s voicework here is fantastic. All the angry shit he spouts while killing is great, but it’s all the grunts and stuff that make it special. When Chucky finally goes into a full on killing frenzy, Dourif just starts making these unintelligible noises that are amazing. I wish there was footage of him in the recording booth that day. It’s easy to see why Dourif has remained tied to the series. 

I’m not sure if I’ll be writing about each entry in the series as I watch them for the podcast (for fuck’s sake, I’ve been dragging my feet writing about all the Texas Chainsaw movies, so adding another lengthy horror franchise probably isn’t a good idea), but I felt compelled to write about this one because of the parental feelings it evoked and the general enjoyable goofiness of it all. I may have just traded my old fears for new ones by revisiting this film, but at least I had a few laughs with it this time.