Up until now I was primarily familiar with Chucky from the various sequels, which are all more comedic, so the first Child’s Play proved to be a lot darker and better written than I was expecting. It’s in that really sweet spot of being released in the late 80s when you still had good horror films made relatively often. The 1989 film Warlock featuring Julian Sands for example comes to mind as another great horror classic that came out around the same time. what this means in practice of course is that it’s insanely dark and gritty and it knows the importance of emphasizing mood building over splatter porn and body count and doesn’t try to get cute with the genre tropes. Oh how long for the days when most horror directors still understood this. The story is simplistic as hell that it just works, no questions asked. It works out so well in fact that it doesn’t even strike that odd to you that a serial strangler is able to transfer his soul into a doll via voodoo magic with no foreshadowing at all at the beginning of the movie, or that a mom would buy a giant doll from a homeless vagrant who just happened to be selling it behind a department story she was working in. You just roll with it.
I have to say, Alex Vincent was pretty good for a child actor in this. Often I find child characters to be really obnoxious in movies, but he was actually adorable as Andy. I was genuinely impressed by his acting and how quickly he won me over. I liked him so much in fact that the prospect of him being chased by a homicidal serial killer doll was pretty menacing. I was actually a little bit worried for the kid’s well being, despite knowing that he’d survive, rather than fruitlessly begging for his quick demise which usually tends to be the case in these situations.
One of the smart decisions that works great for the movie is how it prefers to take its time in establishing Chucky as a killer doll. It plays around with the POV shots when he’s stalking his first victim and for the longest time has Andy innocently act like he’s just his imaginery friend, which works perfectly to build the scaryness of the absurd concept of a doll being a scary serial killer. By the time Chuckt finally stops the charade and starts terrorizing Andy and his mother, he comes off as truly menacing, rather than laughable. I also rather appreciated how they managed to give the voodoo that Chucky practiced to have a logical in-story reason why he has to go back and target Andy after he escapes from the home and kills his former partner in crime. Slowly turning more human inside the doll, losing the protection of being a plastic vessel with no pain receptors and the prospect of eventually being stuck in that form is a good central motivation for Chucky and it also gives the heroes a way to destroy him, when they shoot him through the heart.
The ending was a bit odd though because it doesn’t really work at all going by how the second movie started, where Andy’s shipped to a foster family. There are more than just the mother and Andy witnessing Chucky being a killer doll, two cops in fact, yet (at least going by the wikipedia synopsis) the sequel somehow had the mother shipped out to the nut house because nobody believes her story. I only remembered that the mother was nowhere to be seen in the sequel, so I was anticipating gleefully the mother being brutally murdered at some point and it never happens. It’s one of those things that bugs you at the back of your head a little when you’re all excited and then get no psy off for it, but it doesn’t really drag down how excellent the movie otherwise was. It’s more of a retroactive minus point to the sequel.