Believe it or not, I’ve never seen a Chucky movie. I know a lot about the franchise thanks to culture osmosis, but I’ve never sat down to watch any of the films. With SyFy working on a TV continuation of the franchise, I figured now was the perfect time to give the movies a watch. And what better place to start than at the beginning, with 1988 Child’s Play. It’s weird watching this movie and knowing that Chucky is going to be a cultural icon because while this is a great horror film it doesn’t have a lot of the trademarks associated with a Chucky film. The kills aren’t particularly gnarly, Chucky’s not cracking a bunch of jokes, and Chucky’s not even in the movie much. It’s more of a thriller than a horror movie, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
On the surface, it’s a pretty simple plot. A mom buys her son (Andy) a doll that’s possessed by the soul of a criminal (Charles Lee Ray/Chucky) bent on getting revenge against those who wronged him. And the doll pretty quickly goes about doing just that, making Andy look guilty for his crimes. Much of the film is spent trying to figure who’s doing these killings and why. At the time, the intent seems to have been to make the audience believe there’s a possibility Andy is killing these people, but knowing what I know about Chucky, it’s very obvious that Chucky is responsible. To the movie’s credit, though, it waits until about halfway through its runtime to show Chucky fully thinking and moving on his own. The whole movie is paced very well, with the first half building up the tension while the latter half leans into the terror of a killer doll, well, killing people. Sure, a lot of the film is very predictable when you have any knowledge about the franchise, but it’s still a lot of fun. All of the performances are great, with a lot of kudos given to Alex Vincent, who acts his heart out as Andy.
As far as slashers go, Child’s Play isn’t particularly gruesome or scary. Honestly, it feels more like a thriller than something like Friday the 13th or Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street. There aren’t that many kills in the film, and most of them are fairly tame. I know this is something that changes with the sequels, but it’s interesting seeing how the focus of this film is less on the horror and more on the drama of how this family deals with a killer doll. Chucky doesn’t register a whole lot as a character. Much of the development seen in later sequels isn’t present here. So, much like most horror movie icons, Chucky is less of a character and more of a vague threat. And that’s fine. I’d have liked to see a bit more of him, but I know I’ll get plenty of that in the sequels. For the purposes of this film’s narrative, Chucky is developed and executed very well. The puppetry that brings him to life has held up reasonably well, aside from a few moments here and there, and there is something quintessentially creepy about an evil doll like this. While Child’s Play doesn’t have most of the hallmarks found in later Chucky movies, it’s easy to see how this film sets up the franchise. It’s a very solid, very enjoyable film that leaves you wanting more of its delightfully destructive killer doll. (4 out of 5 wands.)