Child’s Play (1988)

Child’s Play
Child's Play

As a fan of horror, I am embarrassed to admit that, until yesterday, I had never seen Tom Holland’s iconic Child’s Play (1988). There are a few reasons for this: Chucky’s phrases, which were used extensively in the marketing, rub me the wrong way. I found the taglines neither funny nor scary, but irritating as overused advertising slogans often are. Also, while no doubt impressive for its time, the effects used to animate the doll seemed cartoonish to me. 

Now, I understand that Child’s Play isn’t really about Chucky at all. Rather, like so many 80s horror movies, it’s a meditation on the dangers of single motherhood. While that fear seems quaint today, it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the film. I was invested in the story of Karen, a nice woman who struggles, emotionally and economically, to raise an awful child. And let’s face it–he’s awful: That opening scene of him preparing breakfast is hard to watch and her gentle response to his destructiveness only makes sense in the context of a woman who is at the end of her rope. It’s all very Babadook. Holland could have easily improved and thematically lightened her situation by doing the conventional thing and giving her a love interest–I mean, Chris Sarandon, who will always be the irresistible Jerry Dandridge, is right there. However the film rejects that easy way out, and I’m glad. Mike Norris, Sarandon’s character, believes Karen’s crazy, and his feelings for her don’t intensify when he discovers that she’s telling the truth. I only wish that Holland had made her a divorcee rather than a widower because using death to justify her single status feels like a cop out. 

Against this intense and somber storyline, Chucky adds humor in ways I didn’t anticipate. Misogyny is always wrong. That said, when the phrases of a hardened criminal erupt from a doll’s mouth, I can’t help but laugh. 

If, like me, you have put off seeing Child’s Play, delay no more. I’m not generally into doll horror, but this movie is an entertaining snapshot of 80s’ anxiety.