That Voodoo Bone Busting Moment in Child’s Play (1988)
Child’s Play is a 1988 horror film about a serial killer whose soul possesses a toy doll, given to a boy on his birthday. A surprise critical hit and box office success, it started a lengthy franchise and is considered a highly influential work in the genre. Plus, it’s a red-haired, smart-alec talking killer doll. What’s not to like?
Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), is a wanted serial killer known by his alias “Chucky.” He is not a nice guy. On the run and cornered in a Chicago toy shop, he is trapped and shot by detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon), but before he lets go his mortal coil, he does a little voodoo hoodoo to transfer his evil soul into a “Good Guy” doll. The incantation ends up exploding the store in a ball of fire and sending the child-sized doll into the hands of a street tramp who later sells it to Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks), a windowed mother desperately trying to buy a birthday gift for her young son Andy (Alex Vincent). Thing is, that spell Chucky used actually works and now he’s living in the doll. With that, he gets a second chance in life and goes on journey of love, spreading cheer and joy throughout the world as a child’s plaything. Just kidding. He flips out and pretty much just does what he did before, mainly murderous rampage stuff.
Directed by Tom Holland, Child’s Play is a clever bit of horror fun that, let’s admit, is never really all that scary because, well, it’s a doll, right? And no matter how hard Hollywood tries to make dolls scary (sorry Annabelle and that creepy clown thingy in Poltergeist), eh, they just aren’t. But what Chucky the movie does right is run full-throttle amok over the tropes and clichés of the genre, and thanks to some great production and a rock-steady commitment to creating what is without a doubt one sick-twist of a character–Chucky–it’s all pretty impressive. Sure, the plot is ridiculous. A story about a freaky killer doll doesn’t exactly lend itself to comparisons with film’s about newspaper moguls and their favorite sleds. But, held up by solid performances, the movie treats the whole thing sort of like a challenge, seeing how far it can bend before it breaks. It bends well. And like every movie, it has one great (decidedly icky) moment.
Voodoo Bone Breaker
Andy (Alex Vincent) really likes his new doll, especially since it can talk, even if it says some rather unconventional things. The first small sign things aren’t right though is when Andy’s babysitter gets hit square in the face with a hammer and tossed out a window. Okay, not so small. Naturally, given the choice between a two-and-half foot tall plastic doll and Andy, a live six-year-old boy, police go with the kid as a suspect ’cause you know, little boys hate bed time.
Meanwhile, Chucky begins to see just how powerful the spell he cast actually is and what it all means for him the longer he stays in the body of the doll. At first, it seemed he was invincible, and good on him, his murder spree gets blamed constantly on poor little Andy, who, because he keeps saying the doll did it, ends up sent to the kiddie loony bin. That leaves Chucky free to roam about on his own. And he does. Problem is, he’s starting to change, and in fact, learns he can now bleed, even though his skin is plastic. Turns out, the guy’s pulling a Pinocchio and becoming a real boy . . . the size of a Howdy-Doody.
Frustrated, Chucky drops in on one Dr. John (Ray Oliver), the voodoo witch doctor who trained Charles in the art of the black magic. Needless to say, the good doctor is a little shocked at Chucky’s transformation, and rightfully so. It’s not every day you have a conversation with a toy. Unless your cell is padded.
Horrified at what his former student is turning into, he exclaims that the reason he is feeling this way and why his wounds bleed is that the longer he remains trapped in the shell of the doll the more human he will become. Oh, and he calls him an abomination. Let’s not forget that. Quick tip: If you’re ever having a conversation with an angry two-and-half-foot talking doll possessed by the soul of a demented serial killer, try to steer clear of possibly incendiary descriptive words that might offend. Abomination, for example.
Chucky demands the John tell him how to be free of the curse, and while the voodoo practitioner initially refuses, Chucky has a little surprise of his own. Seems he carries around a toy of his own, a voodoo doll in the very shape of the good doctor. It just makes cooperating a lot easier.
A snap of a leg here. A crack of an arm there. Honestly, it’s not long before Dr. John is happily spilling the beans on how to shed the plastic doll parts and take over the body of Andy. Writhing on the floor in agony, it’s a ghastly sequence, and of course, we get to see the doctor’s limbs splinter in wonderfully queasy detail. Okay, obviously fake queasy detail.
But what’s great is just how thoroughly convincing Chucky is. There is no redeeming element to the guy. This isn’t going to be some half-baked redemption story. There’s no winning him over or showing him the light. The man is irredeemably evil, and the filmmakers do right by keeping him so, even as the franchise sputtered along. But why is he so darned fun to watch?
Mostly it’s with how authentic Chucky looks. Using only practical effects, he looks and acts like a doll because, well, yeah, he kinda sorta is. The fact that he is stiff and unable to move “naturally” is exactly what makes him so effective as feeling like a doll come to life. I like in this moment especially though, how we begin to see his possible vulnerability, as it’s learned his is coming back to life, and therefore will be at the mercy of some elements of natural law. This gives Chucky a sense of self-preservation, the very thing that will make him even more dangerous. Plus, busting up that doctor is hysterical. Er, I mean terrifying! You go, Chucky.