Child’s Play 30th Anniversary: Franchise Fred’s Little Boy Is All Grown Up

In 1988 I was just getting brave enough to watch horror movies. My neighbor got me into the first three Nightmares on Elm Street which I loved because of the dream world. Nightmare 4 was my first horror movie in a theater. I started reading Fangoria and catching up on Jason and Halloween. Then a new slasher came out. I wanted to see Chucky the killer doll in Child’s Play so I begged my dad to take me. He did, probably thinking he could just catch a 90 minute rest, but he thought Chucky was hilarious too, just the idea of a little doll swearing and killing people.

Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) stands in for Mrs. Topel in Child’s Play.

As a kid I certainly related to the latest toy craze. Good Guys were very Cabbage Patch and my big toys were He-Man and Transformers. My mother fought other parents in toy stores to make sure my collection remained complete. If Optimus Prime turned out to be a serial killer she’d still have bought it for me. However there is a scathing satirical indictment of the toy industry that I only appreciate now.

The premise of the Good Guys is so targeted at lonely kids. They come from the sky to be your friend and play with you. I feel bad for the kids just watching the snippet of the cartoon, then I think about how manipulative it is for toy companies to promise this artificial friendship to children (complete with a commercial instructing them to ask their parents for the toys). Then I see how happy it makes Andy (Alex Vincent) and I think it may be worth it. Then I know this whole movie is about destroying the image of childhood comfort and it’s all the more delicious.

In a way, Child’s Play is a warning not to worship material goods. Don’t fall in love with false idols because they will destroy you. And also Chucky says “fuck you” to old folks in the elevator.

God, just seeing a toy store is nostalgic now. Aisles of board games like Fireball Island (which I had), She-Ra’s Princess Power Castle and Barbie’s Rockers Line. What would Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) do with his soul now, log onto Amazon? Does Prime include transferring your soul into toys?

I’d forgotten Chucky told Andy he was sent from heaven by his father. That’s evil AF. And so much of Chucky’s deception is delivered by Andy when it sounds like a kid playing imaginary friend with his doll. Child’s Play has Andy create the evil of Chucky before he shows himself in the movie.

Chucky also uses the preprogrammed Good Guy sayings to endear himself to Andy. When he says “I like to be hugged” and Andy says “that’s good because I like hugging you” I feel so much for Andy. A child who misses his father, with a busy working mom and no friends at school just wants to give his love to someone. And by the end of Child’s Play he has to stand up for himself literally burn his childhood things.

Chucky also gets Andy to skip school and take him to catch up with his old partners. Maybe in Chicago, eight-year-olds taking the L train into the city was normal. In Annapolis, Maryland, where I grew up, that would seem scarier to my parents than any of the murders in Child’s Play.

The Child’s Play franchise continued with a trilogy in 1990 and ‘91 that largely continued in the same slasher formula with Chucky coming back and coming after Andy. It got really deep in 1998 with Bride of Chucky. Bride ran with the Scream era post modern self-referential horror and expanded the Chucky mythology to include Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly). Seed of Chucky went even crazier. After another long pause, Curse of Chucky revived Chucky in Universal’s home entertainment division, giving DTV movies as much quality as the theatrical sequels. Returning the tone to more horror with comic relief it too expanded the Chucky world with Nica (Fiona Dourif). Cult of Chucky was the most ambitious yet and there’s going to be a TV series.

Had the original Child’s Play stuck to Mancini’s script, we’d be in a very different world. Mancini’s original concepts sound more interesting, but then these changes became integral to the franchise.

There was no voodoo originally. Looking back, we can agree voodoo is silly, and actually kinda racist. In 1988 it just seemed like a thing that happened in horror movies so why wouldn’t it be voodoo? And without this artistic compromise we wouldn’t have the brilliant Voodoo for Dummies joke in Bride or the ability to transfer souls that continues through Cult.

But the original idea was Good Guy dolls has fake blood, so Andy did blood brothers with Chucky and brought him to life. The end goal of a killer doll would still be the same, but it would have different thematic resonance. Although as I discovered above it has no shortage of thematic resonance as it is.

And it could still be franchisable. Even if he still defeats Chucky in Child’s Play, Child’s Play 2 could still jump from the toy company rebuilding it to prove there was nothing wrong with their product. And I have every confidence Mancini could have created a version of Bride with those rules. Would they still have Seed with the dolls invading a movie production of Chucky based on the blood brothers concept? Sure, probably. And Method Man would still direct Mary Magdalene.

Chucky would have gone after people who’d done Andy wrong, fueled by Andy’s unconscious.  It would make Andy more complicit and sets him up even worse as a patsy for the murders. I could also see this continuing the franchise. Every time Chucky comes back, he’d be fueled by new opponents in Andy’s life. The older Andy gets the more conflicted he is. He’d try to control it but there’d be no denying his rage.

There would have been no Charles Lee Ray though. Charles Lee Ray has become a vital component of Chucky especially with the flashbacks in Curse. There would be new creative avenues with a living doll with no human soul, but then no Tiffany, Nica’s connection would be different, it would be a whole butterfly effect. For Charles Lee Ray alone, the voodoo compromise might have been worth it.

The rules of Child’s Play would be different too. With Voodoo, Chucky has a ticking clock before he becomes human as a doll. That makes him bleed and especially makes him able to get Tiffany pregnant in Bride. Perhaps Andy’s human blood could have similar properties. Anything’s possible.

None of those possibilities came to be though. In 1988, Chucky was the voodoo incarnation of Charles Lee Ray and I have lived with this reality for 30 years. Mancini sort of took it back and owned it from Bride on anyway. As horror icons go, Chucky is mine and I am proud to see all the creative paths he’s taken in his adult life.

Written by
Fred Topel also known as Franchise Fred has been an entertainment journalist since 1999 and specializes in writing about film, television and video games. Fred has written for several outlets including About.com, CraveOnline, and Rotten Tomatoes among others. His favorite films include Toy Story 2, The Rock, Face/Off, True Lies, Labyrinth, The Big Hit, Michael Moore's The Big One, and Casablanca. We are very lucky and excited to have Fred as part of the We Live Entertainment team. Follow him on Twitter @FranchiseFred and @FredTopel

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