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'Child's Play' : (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 10, 1988

"Child's Play" is, of course, no such thing, but another in a surprisingly short list of films supposing what would happen if a doll came to life.

This being the '80s, that doll -- Chucky, a big red-headed, blue-eyed, marshmallow-cheeked product of the "Good Guys" assembly line -- comes to life via soul transference, and the transferee is none other than Chicago's latest homicidal maniac, the much-hunted Strangler (Brad Dourif, briefly). Chased into a toy store by Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon), the Strangler gives up the ghost but slips it into a new host, who ends up as a last-minute birthday present for 6-year-old Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent), already hooked on the "Good Guys" television show, Good Guys cereal, pajamas and assorted paraphernalia.

That night, the baby sitter is somewhat incredulous when Andy turns to her and says, "Aunt Maggie, Chucky wants to watch the 9 o'clock news." Instead, Andy and Chucky are trundled off to bed, with Chucky dangled rather brusquely by one arm. Two hours later, Aunt Maggie herself is on the news, having in the meantime "fallen" somewhat clumsily out the kitchen window. And say, aren't those little sneaker prints in the spilled flour?

This is certainly not "Pinocchio" or "Babes in Toyland," and it may not do much for the sale of large boy dolls between now and Christmas -- though the whole Good Guys marketing strategy, from the commercials to the packaging, is so well thought out that it seems eerily familiar.

The first half of the film is mostly illusion and implication: Chucky doesn't really do anything except move his head and mouth kid-platitudes like "I'll be your friend to the end." Once revealed, Chucky goes bananas and the subsequent effects vary from the inane and silly to the shocking, with just enough humor to keep things level. The acting is decent, with Sarandon solid and subtle as the detective, Catherine Hicks genuine as the mother and Vincent pretty believable as the 6-year old (well, he is 6).

Following up his auspicious debut with "Fright Night," director Tom Holland keeps things moving without rushing them. Unfortunately, "Child's Play" gets a little ugly at the end, not only because the finale seems a rehash of virtually every shock movie of the last 10 years, but because it involves the very realistic terrorizing of a 6-year-old. This seems to be a new trend ("Halloween 4") and it's a bit unsettling. Have these filmmakers suddenly run out of teen-age victims?

Child's Play is rated R and contains profanity and violence

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