Child’s Play (1988)

USA, 1988
87m
35mm film, colour, 1.85:1
Dolby Stereo, English

An American horror film directed by Tom Holland. It was the first in a series of films featuring the murderous doll Chucky, possessed by the soul of a dead serial killer, Charles Lee Ray (voiced by Brad Dourif). When it was first released in the States on 9 November 1988 protestors gathered at MGM’s headquarters demanding the film be banned as they felt in incited violence in children. Despite this the film received generally good reviews and was a box office success, opening at number one in that week’s charts and grossing $33,244,684 at the US box office and a further $10,952,000 overseas for a worldwide total of $44,196,684 on a budget of $9,000,000.

Plot Summary

Serial killer Charles Lee Ray (also known as Chucky) is shot and apparently killed by Detective Mike Norris but uses a voodoo ritual to transfer his soul into doll. The toy is bought by widow Karen Barclay for her young son Andy and Chucky is soon looking for revenge on the people who crossed him.

Credits

Crew
Directed by: Tom Holland
© 1988 United Artists Pictures, Inc.
United Artists presents a David Kirschner production. A Tom Holland film
Executive Producer: Barrie M. Osbourne
Produced by: David Kirschner
Screenplay by: Don Mancini and John Lafia and Tom Holland
Story by: Don Mancini
Director of Photography: Bill Butler
Edited by: Edward Warschilka & Roy E. Peterson
Music by: Joe Renzetti
Sound Mixer: James E. Webb Jr
Costume Designer: April Ferry
Makeup Artist: Michael A. Hancock
Hairstylist: Marina Pedraza
Chucky Doll Created by: David Kirschner
Chucky Doll Designed and Executed by: Kevin Yagher
Production Designer: Daniel A. Lomino

Cast
Catherine Hicks (Karen Barclay)
Chris Sarandon (Mike Norri)
Alex Vincent (Andy Barclay)
Brad Dourif (Charles Le Ray)
Dinah Manoff (Maggie Peterson)
Tommy Swerdlow (Jack Santos)
Jack Colvin (Dr Ardmore)
Neil Giuntoli (Eddie Caputo)
Juan Ramirez (peddler)
Alan Wilder (Mr Criswell)
Richard Baird (new reporter at toy store)
Raymond Oliver (Dr Death)
Aaron Osbourne (orderly)
Tyler Hard (Mona)
Ted Liss (George)
Roslyn Alexander (Lucy)
Robert Kane (male TV newscaster)
Leila Hee Olsen (female TV newscaster)
Ed Gale (Chucky stunt double)

Alternative Titles

La bambola assassina – Italy
Barneleg – Denmark
Brinquedo Assassino – Brazil
Child Play – Japan (DVD)
Chucky – Die Mörderpuppe – Germany
Chucky, el muñeco diabólico – Mexico
Chucky, o Boneco Diabólico – Portugal
Chucky: El muñeco diabólico – Argentina, Peru
Çocuk oyunu – Turkey
Decija igra – Serbia
Detská hra – Czechoslovakia
Djecja igra – Croatia
Dziecieca zabawa – Poland
Gyerekjáték – Hungary
Jeu d’enfant – Canada (French), France
I koukla tou satana – Greece
Laleczka Chucky – Poland
Die Mörder-Puppe – Austria
Muñeco diabólico – Spain
Den onda dockan – Sweden
Vaiko zaidimas – Lithuania

Sequels
Child’s Play 2 (1990)
Child’s Play 3 (1991)
Bride of Chucky (1998)
Seed of Chucky (2004)
Curse of Chucky (2013)
Cult of Chucky (2017)

Press

1989
Cinefantastique vol.19 no.3 (March 1989) p.54
The tired, overused “living doll” gimmick is resuscitated with surprisingly chilling results […] Chuckie, the murderous doll, created by producer David Kirschner and executed by Kevin Yaeger, is an unnerving creation, a mini-Terminator made even more malevolent by the brief opening presences of killer Brad Douriff. – from a review by Taylor White

Cinefantastique vol.19 no.4 (May 1989) pp.44-45
Child’s Play is satisfying entertainment with no strings attached. Holland […] takes his time setting things up and scores a series of direct hits only to careen into kitsch in the final reels. As ever, narrative closure remains the stumbling block for the contemporary horror film. […] Hicks, who once played Marilyn Monroe in a TV movie, is convincing even when called on to do those “why won’t anyone believe me?” scenes. The kid too is a resourceful young actor (he bawls real good) though his voice seems to be dubbed by an adult professional (automatic dialogue replacement is so seamless these days, it’s hard to tell for sure). Of course, Dourif is a gifted character actor who has long since cornered the market on screen wackos. Although he appears only briefly in the opening sequence, his spirits is imbedded [sic] throughout the film no less than in the doll. […] As a pint-sized Terminator, Chucky’s not half bad, practicing voodoo, experimenting with electro-shock therapy, and wielding a mean kitchen knife. […] The ending is a mess, overlong and laughably excessive. Chucky has more lives than Jason, more persistence than Freddy – he’s shot, burnt, blown apart, and though little more than a shredded, smoldering trunk, he continues comin’ at ya! And though he looks thoroughly dead, the end-credit freeze-frame of little Andy is a sure sign of still another horror, the dreaded sequel. Let’s hope Tom Holland is at the helm – he’s one director who knows mature horror is never mere child’s play. – from an illustrated review (Director Tom Holland knows horror is never child’s play) by Thomas Doherty

City Limits no.400 (1 June 1989) p.21
Tom Holland has a thing about the ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf‘ plot – he’s used it in Scream for Help, Cloak and Dagger and Fright Night to date – and this is just another go-around for that old chestnut with only little Alex Vincent knowing that his doll is a psychopathic killer and nobody else believing him until they’ve been brutally stabbed in the ankles. The monster’s size is a problem for the scare scenes, which require victims to trip over things so Chuckie can reach them with his favourite carving knife. Given the worn-out plot, seriously stupid characters and plot holes you could toss a grapefruit through, Child’s Play isn’t all that bad. Once it’s got through the setting-up-the-plot contrivances, the monster’s familiar unstoppable rampages are well enough done, with the doll turned through clever special effects into an acceptable substitute for Brad Dourif. It’s a bottom-of-the-barrel idea for a horror movie, and has all the subtlety you’d expect from the screenwriter of Cellar Dweller, but it’s been given a hefty enough budget and good enough actors to put some life into the tired old killer doll concept. It’ll look better on video. – from an illustrated review by Kim Newman

Monthly Film Bulletin vol.56 no.665 (June 1989) pp.173-174
The homicidal dummy of Child’s Play […] owes less to the berserk avengers of Westworld than to the psychotic instruments of Dead of Night and Magic, in which animated models take the pain and blame for their deranged owners. Sadly, the more serious explorations suggested by Child’s Play seem to have been briskly discarded. All that remains as potential insight is a weak and woolly observation about the vulnerability of infants to the cynicism of hard-sell television advertising, and the obvious but unforced irony that, in one child’s experience, the much-touted ‘Good Guys’ turn out to be a lethal nightmare. […] It may be unreasonable to expect logic within a tale of such amiable contrivance, but Child’s Play seems constructed on the basis that if we’ll accept the idea of a mass murderer spiriting himself into a doll we’ll accept anything. No amount of exchanges between the central characters that they don’t believe what they’re seeing can convince us that they’re wrong, chiefly because, despite industrious performances (both Catherine Hicks and Chris Sarandon manage to suggest complex private commitments without actually giving any details at all), both characterisation and context are sparsely sketched. […] The vampire neighbours of Fright Night were more fun, but the signs remain that Holland can handle a good story when he finds one. His most accurate stroke of horror in Child’s Play is neatly mundane: the birthday kid’s loving preparation of his mother’s breakfast tray produces a mound of lurid cereals and charred toast congealing in a lake of fruit juice and milk… – from an illustrated review by Philip Strick

Starburst no.131 (July 1989) pp. 20-21
Child’s Play is about right – Holland could have directed this in his sleep and found time to dress Sindy in ten new Day for Night outfits! But for all its faults – thinly stretched material, po-faced acting, tiresome exposition, an audience always three steps ahead of the Action Man – Holland’s Terminator in Cabbage Patch drag does provide a steady stream of standard scares along a well-worn route. […] [I]t does have a certain novelty value because the technical skill involved in making the deadly dummy walk, grimace and raid the toolbox is a remarkably versatile gimmick. Everything else may be a no-strings attached near miss in Child’s Play but the sinister merchandising aspects of tied-in cartoon series is spot-on. Despite straining credibility and being more superficial than expected, Holland’s Matchboxed Fright Night is a painless, though predictable, diversion. – Alan Jones

References

Periodicals

  • Cinefantastique vol.18 no.5 (July 1988) pp.24-25 – illustrated article (Child’s Play by Steve Jongeward)
  • Cinefantastique vol.19 no.1/2 (January 1989) pp.27, 119 – illustrated article (Child’s Play by Frederick S. Clarke)
  • Cinefantastique vol.19 no.3 (March l989) p.54 – review (by Taylor White)
  • Cinefantastique vol.19 no.4 (May 1989) pp.44; 44-45 – illustrated article (Pulling the special effect strings in Child’s Play by Steven Jongeward); illustrated review (Director Tom Holland knows horror is never child’s play by Thomas Doherty)
  • Cinefantastique vol.20 no.1/2 (November 1989) pp.38-41 – illustrated article (Producing, made child’s play by Taylor L. White)
  • City Limits no.400 (1 June 1989) p.21 – illustrated review (by Kim Newman)
  • Empire no.1 (June/July 1989) p.85 – illustrated review (Empire directory by Kim Newman)
  • Fangoria no.177 (October 1998) pp.20-24, 81 – illustrated article (Here comes the bride of Chucky by Michael Rowe)
  • Films and Filming no.416 (June 1989) pp.34-35 – illustrated review
  • The Hollywood Reporter vol.300 no.32 (12 January 1988) p.20 – credits
  • The Hollywood Reporter vol.300 no.37 (19 January 1988) p.16 – credits
  • The Hollywood Reporter vol.305 no.1 (9 November 1988) pp.5, 13 – illustrated review
  • Monthly Film Bulletin vol.56 no.665 (June 1989) pp.173-174 – illustrated review (by Philip Strick)
  • Screen International no.708 (10 June 1989) p.22 – illustrated review
  • Screen International no.936 (3 December 1993) p.23 – illustrated article (Trial sparks debate on video violence by Amanda Harrison)
  • Starburst no.131 (July 1989) pp.20-21 – illustrated review
  • Starburst no.347 (March 2007) pp.66-67 – illustrated article (Top 10 Living Dolls!)
  • Time Out no.980 (31 May 1989) p.47 – illustrated review
  • Variety 9 November 1988 p.18 – illustrated review

Books

  • 500 Essential Cult Movies: The Ultimate Guide by Jennifer Eiss with J.P. Rutter and Steve White p.237 – illustrated credits, synopsis, review
  • Anatomy of the Slasher Film: A Theoretical Analysis by Sotiris Petridis pp.137, 141
  • The Films of the Eighties by Robert A. Nowlan and Gwendolyn Wright Nowlan p.93 – credits, synopsis
  • Horror and Science Fiction Films IV by Donald C. Willis p.81
  • Horror Films by Subgenre: A Viewer’s Guide by Chris Vander Kaay and Kathleen Fernandez-Vander Kaay p.75
  • Horror Films of the 1980s by John Kenneth Muir pp.641-645 – illustrated credits, synopsis, review
  • Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Film Sequels, Series, and Remakes by Kim R. Holston and Tom Winchester pp.80-81
  • The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror by Phil Hardy (ed.) p.429
  • The Mammoth Book of Slasher Movies: An A-Z Guide to Over Sixty Years of Blood and Guts by Peter Normanton pp.119-121