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Fears, Faced

Trudging down the creaky set of wooden stairs I took to my parents’ basement, I selected Child’s Play from an expansive VOD menu. This was it. Hovering over the “Play” button, thinking about how I let fear control my life for years because I wasn’t [insert reason] enough to do anything about it – but tomorrow’s never guaranteed. Screw it. I pressed play and so began Tom Holland’s toonish horror flick about Charles Lee Ray, Chucky and a legend born from scorched innocence. And you know what? I loved it.

No stopping there. Child’s Play 2 came next, then Child’s Play 3. The Good Guy toy factory act, all the military school kills. It couldn’t possibly get better could it? Considering how Bride of Chucky will always be one of my favorite horror movies, it did. Then Seed of Chucky, which, say what you will, has some extremely fun throw-away moments, and finally, Curse of Chucky – a dark icon reborn. Every single Child’s Play movie in two days. Talk about facing your fears like Andy Barclay, right?

It was more than that. It was a realization that all these things I’d avoided for so long could actually bring me joy if I just tried them. Chucky – a giggling cinema prop who pretend-killed victims – helped push me out of my comfort zone for the first time in…ever? I could feel ripple effects as simple as finally riding a rollercoaster or swallowing my stage fright before a celebrity interview on camera. Nothing is ever as bad as our minds may trick us to believe and Don Mancini helped me realize this. So many years spent hiding from something that now brings me immense joy. It’s the adrenaline from fear that makes us feel most alive, and that acceptance shattered the steel bars of my own mental prison. A symbol of all I hated now a goddamn addition to my personal crest. Life’s funny, sometimes.

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These Movies Are Still Pretty Great

Circumstantially, you’ll agree that I can’t compare a first Child’s Play watch to a second-go some years later – since, you know, I couldn’t stomach more than two nanoseconds of Chucky at a time. Instead, my reaction is based on whether Chucky was worth all those sleepless nights as a youth. My first watch was technically in the latter half of this “Nostalgia Bomb,” but it’s still an impactful one given how Child’s Play remains – in my eyes – the strongest horror franchise to date.

From zero to hero. Isn’t that how all good redemption stories go?

Acknowledging that the first three Child’s Play movies all occurred before 1991, puppetry and effects withstand the rust of Father Time. It’s like Jurassic Park and how Steven Spielberg’s T-Rex still looks infinitely better than 99% of mainstream CGI today. Chucky’s ability to wander without a master is eerily human even by 2017’s standards, due in large part to a mixture of cable-connected puppeteers and human, physical actors (Ed Gale/Debbie Lee Carrington). Mechanics are fluid, facial recognition emotive. His eyes especially. At the time of my first Chucky encounter, this is what made him so horrifying. As an adult, it’s more a recognized achievement in bringing life to the lifeless.

Although, the pitter-patter of murderous feet only accounts for half a character. You still need a personality, voice, and all the vitality that comes from having a (blackened) soul. Now close your eyes and imagine Chucky without Brad Dourif’s tone. Doesn’t work, right? Of course not – Brad Dourif is Chucky just like how Robert Englund is Freddy or Warwick Davis is the Leprechaun. Chucky’s cackle belongs in the Horror Hall of Fame and Dourif’s devious line-chewing spits the best kind of insults. Whether Chucky’s threatening Andy or trashing Martha Stewart, Dourif loses himself in the rubbery form that comprises his dolly alter-ego. Not even Seed Of Chucky could dampen his spirits. Dourif has been perfecting his vocal craft for years, and Mancini should be eternally grateful.

Like the greats, each Child’s Play film advances creative deaths and evolves in some way. Mancini and his team were never happy with wiping the guts off a tired slasher formula and hitting “Replay.” Child’s Play is about shocking, tension-driven thrills that remind of a Saturday Morning cartoon drawn up by Charles Manson. Child’s Play 2 and 3 go the more routine slasher route, indulging in creatively varied kills like the assembly-line eye replacement or Chucky’s disappointed face after a no-fun heart attack. Bride makes for a perfect horror comedy, Seed a less-than-perfect example, and Curse gets back to the terrorizing nature of Tom Holland’s original – ambition has always been paramount for Chucky. My appreciation for franchises like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th immediately downgraded as I held a constant buzz throughout my Chucky marathon.

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Long Live Chucky

There’s a reason why Chucky is a mainstay horror heavyweight after all these years, as Don Mancini’s serial slasher ages with wisdom, reinvention and a sinister sense of humor. Maybe it’s that “Damballa” magic, but even “Chunky Chucky” brings the thunder (some jokingly commented on his Curse physique). Or maybe it’s that my (now) beloved Child’s Play franchise has something for everyone; shattered innocence for the kiddies and genre jubilance for adults. Both reactions are heartily enjoyed, only increasing appreciation for a collection of movies that can be newly appreciated as a viewer’s taste in cinema changes. Never forgotten, only rediscovered with a new perspective. If that’s not a testament to quality over decades, I don’t know what is.

Chucky’s not just back, Jack – he’s never going away. Young Donato would have ran screaming at the very thought, but now I’ll never be able to thank him enough for slashing away the strings that controlled me for far, far too long. Me and Chucky, friends to the end. Score another one for the Good Guy(s).

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