As a horror fan, the original Child’s Play (1988) is an important movie to me. It was the first horror film I remember seeing from beginning to end. I was six years old, so this would’ve been around 1991. My dad recorded it off of TV onto a VHS and let me watch it though he managed to have the recording cut off a couple of minutes before the movie was over…twice. It took a little longer for me to see how killer doll Chucky (Brad Dourif) was killed, but I saw it at a formidable age. If I didn’t have nightmares from the film, I at least remember one particular dream. It involved Michael Jackson taking me, killer doll Chucky and kid protagonist Andy on a tour of the Child’s Play set. In hindsight, I wonder who would pose a bigger threat to a child: Chucky or MJ?
I think most of us had a fear (or fantasy) of our dolls or other toys coming to life. Child’s Play played to those fantasies. The original film saw a serial killer named Charles Lee Ray transfer his soul into a Good Guy doll moments before his death. The doll ended up in the hands of 6-year-old Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent). A few murders took place, all of which placed Andy at the scene of the crime. Andy tried to convince his mother Karen (Catherine Hicks) and Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) that his doll Chucky committed the murders. Of course, in Child’s Play, Andy’s story proves to be true.
The movie left an impression on me, and several moments stand out. Andy’s babysitter Aunt Maggie (Dinah Manoff) falling out a window; the moment Karen discovers that Chucky doesn’t have his batteries in. When she then threatens to throw him in the fire, the doll suddenly comes to life in her hands, spouting profanity. There’s also the psychiatric doctor being fried by Chucky in front of Andy’s eyes, despite the boy’s pleas for him to stop.
There’s the funny moment when an older woman looks at Chucky and remarks, ugly doll. As soon as Chucky is out of eyesight, we hear him reply, fuck you. The moment at the end after Chucky’s been killed, we hear the voice changing from the serial killer to the more friendly doll voice as it says, “Hi, I’m Chucky. Wanna play?” The scene I most remember rewinding time and time again is when Andy is about to light Chucky on fire. Chucky pleads with him, “Andy, no! We’re friends to the end, remember?” To which Andy replies, “This is the end, friend!” and throws the match at him.
Chucky the killer doll would go on to kill in six more movies. I like all of them to varying degrees. Child’s Play 2 ( 1990) sees Chucky go after Andy again, who’s been taken in by a foster family. That first sequel does what screenwriter Don Mancini had hoped to do in the first film. Chucky is basically Andy’s id, killing anyone who wrongs him or turns on him. It also has perhaps the best finale of the series at the toy factory. Not to mention one of the better sidekick protagonists in teenage Kyle (Christine Elise). Child’s Play 3 (1991) has Chucky following a now-teenage Andy (Justin Whalin) to a military school, with the finale taking place at a carnival. That’s actually my personal favorite sequel, though I’ve never been able to really explain why.
Bride of Chucky (1998) brought Jennifer Tilly (Bound) into the series as Chucky’s significant other Tiffany. It’s the most stylized, good-looking, and energetic movie of the whole series. You know you’re in for a treat when it’s credit song is “Living Dead Girl” by Rob Zombie. Seed of Chucky (2004) has always been my least favorite of the series. I have come around a bit over the years to it’s over-the-top Hollywood parodying. John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Multiple Maniacs) appears in a cameo, and he almost seems to be a representative of that sequel’s tone.
Curse of Chucky (2013) is better than it has any right of being as the series’ first straight-to-video sequel. It’s brought back to a more straight horror, enjoying playing with the audience’s expectations of when Chucky will come to life. And Brad Dourif’s own daughter, Fiona Dourif, enters the series as wheelchair using, Nica. She’s one of the series’ best characters, and she would return in Cult of Chucky (2017). That film would also bring back some characters from the past in more central roles as well as multiple Chucky’s. Don Mancini has been a constant through the series. He’s written all of the movies, directed the last three, and plans to continue the story next in a TV series. I personally envision a war; Team Chucky on one side and Team Andy on the other.
I wanted to provide a bit of background before getting to the remake—which is what I’m here for. Because now it is time for me to confront that proverbial elephant in the room. Horror fans were in an uproar when the Child’s Play remake was announced and it seemed like moreso than your typical horror remake outrage. Now, in theory, I am against remakes. Often they prove to be forgettable throwaways, simple retreads that exist merely to capitalize on the earlier films. There are exceptions, of course. Even rarer, there’s the remake that is widely regarded to be better than the original (The Thing). Even when I’m against a particular remake, a morbid curiosity still usually gets the better of me.
With a lot of remakes, they are made when the original series is at a standstill or dead end. The reason why a lot of people were upset with a Child’s Play remake is that the series shepherded by Don Mancini was still going strong. There are future ambitions there—and I get it. I still consider myself more a part of Team Mancini. If this remake were to ultimately prevent that TV series from being made, then in hindsight I’d be more upset. But from the previews and early buzz, I saw more potential in this remake than others.
It seemed like it might be more of a corporate satire. If so, then it would go back to what I’m led to believe, from my research, were Don Mancini’s original intentions with the first film. I think that the original script was more focused on the corporation that created the dolls. Karen Barclay was at least a marketing executive for the company at one point. Some of the sequels also touched a little on the corporate side of things. The announcement of Mark Hamill being the new voice of Chucky was also a point of intrigue. Besides being “that Star Wars guy”, I’ve heard enough to know that Hamill is very well-regarded as a voice actor.
Now, was it the corporate satire I was expecting? Well, not so much. We spend little time inside the company. Tim Matheson is really just the face on the ads (though if there’s a sequel, he may become a bigger character). This time Chucky is turned into a killer doll by a jilted worker at the toy company’s Vietnam warehouse. This man turns off one of the doll’s safety features, causing its malfunction…and then promptly kills himself. This reminds me of Child’s Play 2 when an executive theorizes that someone inside the company must’ve tampered with Chucky’s voicebox. But yes, gone is the concept of a serial killer possessing the doll, courtesy of voodoo. Horror fans may consider this blasphemous, and I was a bit skeptical.
Having seen the film, approaching the killer doll concept from a different angle is what actually makes this remake worthwhile. By approaching it as technological satire, I think it doesn’t step as much on Don Mancini’s toes. Chucky in this film is basically an Alexa/Roomba/Uber/etc. gone wrong. It’s technology turning on us. The film opens with an ad for the doll. It’s meant to show it as beneficial and just another member of the family; but to see the doll placed in a baby’s crib and sing the “Buddi Song” is actually fucking creepy…and also strangely funny.
I thought the Karen Barclay of this film would work for Kaslan Corporation. Instead, she works at a department store that sells the doll. She deals with your typical annoying customers. One wants to return the doll because he didn’t realize it was a ginger, even though you can clearly see the doll’s hair in the box. I was a bit baffled when hearing that Aubrey Plaza (Life After Beth, Legion) was cast as Karen. Plaza just didn’t seem like the mom type. She plays a different style of mother than the widow that Catherine Hicks (7th Heaven) played in the original.
This Karen had Andy when she was young. I got the impression from a short piece of dialogue that Andy probably wasn’t planned and that the guy ditched Karen as soon as he found out. It appears that Karen may have struggled with the decision with whether she even wanted to have the baby, but she did. She seems to have been left alone to fend for the both of them and she and Andy have a good relationship though Karen doesn’t have so much of an authoritative presence to prevent Andy from telling her when she looks like shit.
One of Karen’s customers returns the malfunctioning “Buddi” doll. Karen thinks it would make a good birthday gift for her son. She blackmails her manager with knowledge of his affair in order for him to give it to her. Andy is a bit of a loner. He also has some hearing loss, a detail which seems to make him more self-conscious and shy. He’s also maybe an inch away from being too old for dolls.
Andy is played by Gabriel Bateman, who already has a bit of horror cred. He appears somewhere in Annabelle (2014), and also stars in Light’s Out (2016), which I haven’t seen. I most know him from a music video called “Wolfie’s Just Fine: A New Beginning” by Jon Lajoie, which is a tribute to Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985). Upon receiving the doll, Andy tries to name it Han Solo. The malfunctioning doll instead simply decides he heard the boy say “Chucky”. The boy and doll have bonding scenes that are actually strangely sweet. They feel reminiscent of the bonding scenes in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Probably not a coincidence.
The other thing that makes this Child’s Play worthwhile is a wicked sense of humor. I wasn’t expecting this, but I welcomed it wholeheartedly. The simple mechanics of the doll are funny in that they’re also creepy or strange. When Chucky asks Andy, “Are we having fun yet?”, and Andy responds, “Yeah, I guess,” the way Chucky looks when he goes “Yay!!!” made me chuckle. Or when Andy finds Chucky standing over him in his bed as he tries to sleep, and then sings the “Buddi Song” to him, despite Andy’s protests.
Other humor is found in the way the doll malfunctions. Chucky comes to Andy saying, “You forgot your science book,” with a roll of toilet paper in its hands. It brings Andy a present one day…a broken popsicle stick with a ribbon tied to it. But Andy not only bonds with the doll. Chucky also brings more friends. Some kids down the hall named Pugg (Ty Consiglio) and Falyn (Beatrice Kitsos) basically recruit themselves as Andy’s new friends after Chucky impresses them with his foul mouth. These kids have no problem fondly calling Andy “dick-turd” in front of his mom or remarking how hot she is.
Chucky’s main motivation seems to be just to play with Andy. Things occasionally get in the way of that. There’s one scene where Chucky wants to play, but Andy and his friends are watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986). I give the filmmakers credit for going with the sequel for a change. As Chucky watches them laughing at Leatherface and company mutilating their victims, it forms a connection. Violence seems to make Andy happy. Some might think the movie is trying to say something serious here. With the movie’s tone, I think if anything, it’s mocking people who think horror movie violence influences real-life violence.
The doll also has a hard time hearing simple expressions as just that. It hears things literally. Andy complains about their cat, or about his mom’s boyfriend who treats him like a jerk. Chucky hears this and interprets that as these things need to go. After the cat hurts Andy, Chucky avenges him. It also plays back the recordings of the cat’s screaming from the shadows as Andy tries to sleep.
When Chucky presents a decapitated head to Andy as a gift, complete with a bow on top, Andy calls his friends over to help him take care of it. I love this one shot depicting his friends’ horror upon witnessing this, with an accompanying musical crescendo. Then the film quickly cuts to Pugg throwing up. To dispose of it, they decide to use wrapping paper to get it to the trash. But they’re intercepted by Karen, and Andy makes up a story of how it’s a gift for a neighbor. Instead of being off the hook, Karen takes Andy to the neighbor to give her the “gift”. Yes, there’s tension in these moments, but it’s one more of hilarity.
What I find interesting though is that even after moments like this, the filmmakers still find some way of making us feel sympathy towards Chucky. It’s as if the doll simply doesn’t know any better; or that it’s serving its purpose—to play. Anything that gets in the way is simply preventing his objective. Its lack of safety features are, in essence, a lack of any sense of morality. It’s only after the doll is killed and then reassembled by the apartment’s maintenance man (who looks like Jack Black), that the doll seems to become wholly diabolical.
The doll seems to form feelings of jealousy the more that people get in the way of his and Andy’s “playtime”. The woman down the hall is detective Mike Norris’ (Brian Tyree Henry) mother. When she jokingly calls Andy her new best friend, Chucky takes it seriously. He not only takes care of these people; he tries to manipulate Andy into believing that they’re abandoning him as he takes them out.
There are some other gleefully funny moments. Chucky exclaims, “This is for Tupac!” as he kills someone, at the influence of another kid. An expectant little girl has her face sprayed with blood as she waits for the new “Buddi” doll to be released. It feels as if some cuts were forced by the MPAA. I’m left with the impression that there might be an ultra-violent cut out there, but I suppose we’ll see. I don’t want to oversell this version of Child’s Play. It’s not as if it’s an outstanding landmark of the horror genre. As a remake, it excels in approaching its subject matter from a different angle. For me, it puts any fears brought on from its existence to bed.