As children we all had fears, rational and irrational. Some of us feared sharks in the ocean, spiders in our hair, the boogeyman waiting in the closet, the monster under the bed, or some just simply afraid of the dark. These fears are rather common in our early years; however, these fears have the potential to be enhanced when a horror film is introduced to our young and highly impressionable psyche. This brings us to another common if not irrational fear, one shared by both children and adults alike: pediophobia, the fear of dolls.
I wouldn’t say I outright suffered from this phobia in my early years, but I certainly had a distrust or wariness towards dolls as a kid. Whether it was my big sister’s Raggedy Ann doll, the odd cartoonish red doll we had in the house when I was growing up, or this creepy clown doll my best friend had whose laugh feature would activate on its own during sleepovers like the infamous clown scene in Poltergeist. The next level of my doll fear was introduced to me by my older brother, who for some odd reason thought that it would be a good idea for me to watch the Zuni fetish doll segment of the Karen Black classic Trilogy of Terror at the age of 6— can you say traumatized? He and I watched this in the living room at 1am, lights off, head first at the end of the sofa bed close to the TV staring into pure terror. I was too scared to set one foot off that sofa bed because I was certain that maniacal little monster doll would start screaming and tear my feet and legs up as soon as I would set one foot on the cold hardwood floor. Without a doubt, this solidified living evil dolls as the bane of my existence for the foreseeable future. After witnessing the Zuni fetish doll terrorizing Karen Black for 20 or so minutes, the good news was I knew it couldn’t possibly get any worse…or so I thought.
Growing up in a family who was very much into Halloween and horror, I already had my initial run-ins with Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Leatherface and Jason Voorhees by the age of 9. They certainly scared me and kept me awake for a few nights, but I was able to handle watching those movies without much of a hitch other than the usual minor scares; however, that would all soon change. I wish I could pinpoint the exact moment I was first exposed to Child’s Play, but I know it was before its theatrical release. The earliest memory that pervades my mind were the TV spots. The two things that stood out in those spots for me as a kid were the teaser glimpses of Chucky we see, the first being his shadow walking down the hallway and the second being the close up from the same scene of his hand holding the knife as he walks down the hallway. There was something about the shadow’s jerky movements that creeped me out. There was another TV spot that had Andy (the little boy who Chucky torments in the films for those not familiar) saying “Chuuuucky” that had a great creep factor because you never actually saw Chucky. I wish more movies nowadays would stick to keeping their surprises. I guess the reason I was really taken back by this is because I didn’t know what this thing was. I knew it was some sort of little creature or doll, but with the new TV spot , the source of my new fear now had a name: Chucky. I had enough at that point and, from there on out, I tried to avoid the commercials when anyone in the house was watching TV. I did a pretty good job of steering clear of anything to do with the movie, but that would all go down the drain the day I went to my Dad’s apartment to spend the day.
At my Dad’s apartment that day I came across a Fangoria magazine with the title: “Gore Drenched Halloween Special.” Perfect reading material for a 9 year old, right? As I got closer to the magazine, I saw Michael Myers on the cover and focused on the release of Halloween 4. As my eyes scoured the cover, I slowly turned my gaze down towards the left corner, and there he was. This was the first time staring directly at the thing that would be the prime source of my biggest fears and nightmares for the next few years. This wasn’t just a picture of Chucky in his Good Guy form, this was Chucky fully transformed, holding a large knife, peering back at me with his sinister stare. It took a moment to process what I was looking at but I was freaked out; from then on I hated him. Once the movie left theaters, I thought I was free and clear, but Chucky continued to haunt me to the point I avoided the neighborhood video store on the way home from school because Child’s Play posters covered the entire storefront. This went on for months until I finally decided enough was enough, it was time to face my fear and finally watch Child’s Play.
I clearly remember having my mom rent the movie for me. After popping it into the VCR, what followed was every bit as creepy and scary as I had imagined. I certainly couldn’t dissect a film like I do now, but I did realize it wasn’t cheesy. It had a serious tone and the skills and technology used to bring Chucky to life was as impressive as it was terrifying. One of my favorite things that is often lost on non-die-hard fans is F/X artist Kevin Yaghers’ decision to give Chucky’s appearance a gradual visual shift from doll to human form (which was abandoned after the first film). In doing so, Chucky ends up looking more like a distorted version of the human figure than a doll brought to life by a puppeteer and animatronics towards the film’s end, and it’s very effective. In the final act of the film, Chucky is burned in the fireplace and thought to be dead, but when he shows up again, he is even more nightmarish looking. While burnt to a crisp and still smoldering, he stalks Andy and his mother throughout their apartment in one of the film’s best scenes. A scene that really freaked me out, mostly because Chucky is after this little kid close to my age and wants to kill him to transfer his soul into Andy’s body. All of the other killers I had seen in horror films never went after little kids, but this was Chucky’s main goal!
Looking back on the film, everyone involved was on their A-game. Tom Holland directs the film with a great deal of restraint, leaving Chucky to lurk in the shadows for a large portion of the film until his big reveal. The urban setting of Chicago in the dead of a snow-filled winter was also a great choice, adding to the overall sense of dread and despair that permeates the films overall tone. It’s a cold film with a sadistic touch that can easily be lost on the casual viewer. The idea that Chucky tells Andy that he’s been sent down from Heaven by his dead father to play with him is just creepy and sick, and that’s something I love about the movie.
Last but not least is the acting. In a movie about a killer doll possessed by the soul of a serial killer, things can go awry really fast when it comes to casting and acting. That is not the case here. Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, and of course Brad Dourif all deliver convincing performances that really help sell the otherwise outlandish material. Whenever a movie hinges on the performance of a child actor, it can be a recipe for disaster, but in Alex Vincent the filmmakers cast someone who was not only likeable but believable. Most importantly they cast Brad Dourif as Charles Lee Ray and subsequently the surprisingly vulgar and masculine voice of Chucky. I know I couldn’t have been the only person who was not expecting that voice to come out of that doll when it is finally revealed to be alive, especially after the hearing the doll speak in its friendly and innocent Good Guy doll voice in the first half. To me, his voice has been the key attribute crucial to Chuckys popularity throughout the years.