[All this week, leading up to our top ten horror films on Halloween, the staff at Flixist will be presenting ‘Scared Flixist.’ Here we will be talking about movies that really, truly scared us. There’s plenty of great horror out there, but a movie that truly gets into your head and creeps you out for years to come is a rare creature. These are those movies.]
The year is something circa 1990… I’m 5 or 6 years old at my grandparent’s place. It’s late, probably around 7:00, WAY past my bedtime. My grandfather stood before me and asked what I would like to watch. I said Child’s Play.
Hold it, let’s back up. Now, evidence has shown that, even as a kid, I was always up for a good thrill. Apparently, I had my eye on this movie for quite some time. Perhaps the title intrigued me, or perhaps the commercials at the time persuaded me to pursue it further. Whatever the reason, I somehow got my grandfather to do me this dirty deed. I can’t tell you my exact thought process during this time, because it’s mainly an emotional two hours for me. All I can recall are specific moments when I started to freak out in terror as I sat silently watching.
All the lights in the house were off except for some dim table lamps in the living room that just barely kept things lit. It was one of those ancient, Jewish houses with the plastic still on the furniture and all the furniture was from the 1930’s or something. He had tons of VHS tapes that lined these incredibly intricate, wooden bookcases. He was a big Westerns film buff and a huge fan of John Wayne. I had asked him to record something for me a few weeks back and he pulled it out of the bookcase. The label read “CHILD’S PLAY.” Unbeknownst to him, it was a horror film that he had recorded. That’s right, I tricked my grandfather into recording a horror film for me. He probably thought he was recording some kid’s movie (the title sure didn’t hurt my cause). Only his VHS player knew the truth…
I sat back on the retracted foot rest of my grandfather’s chair between his two feet as he sat back in that comfy recliner. The movie started up and the title popped up on-screen: Child’s Play! How exciting! Directed by Tom Holland and written by Don Mancini… That’s for your benefit; 6-year-old me probably couldn’t tell you that.
As I’m watching, I’m having a pretty good time identifying with the main character, Andy Barclay, who also, eerily, was about 6 years of age and played by Alex Vincent (a horror actor’s name if I ever heard one). From an adult perspective, I must say that this kid’s acting ability is incredible. Not only do you believe every moment of his performance, but you actually fear for his well-being. Are they treating this kid right? Is he actually acting or is he genuinely afraid? Fret not, for I know that this kid was completely okay during the entire making of this film. That’s more than I could say for myself at the time…
Chucky had just killed the babysitter. I looked up for some comfort, but my grandfather had fallen asleep. All support systems had gone out the window. It was dark as shit outside and the only sense of safety that I had were those two damn, dimmed table lamps barely keeping the place alight. I was scared Flixist–er, shitless… but I couldn’t stop watching. I had to see this to the end. I had to have CLOSURE.
The mother, Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks), had just discovered that Chucky was operating this whole time without batteries… This was it. This was the most terrifying point of the film so far. I watched with bated breath… Suddenly, Chucky came alive. My eyes shot open. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t move. Something was keeping me there, unflinchingly. Maybe it was me challenging myself to not look away. Whatever it was, I kept watching.
Fast-forward to the climax when Karen and Andy are trying to escape from Chucky in their own apartment. Chucky is cursing and knocking around while being barricaded in the fireplace by Karen. Andy is just standing there, scared shitless (as was I) as he watched his mom trying to keep Chucky in the fireplace. He snaps out of it as his mom turns on the gas in the fireplace and Andy gets a match. He runs over as Chucky suddenly calms down and says, “Andy, we’re friends till the end… Remember?” and Andy says with a match in his hand, “This IS the end, FRIEND” and throws the match in with him. Chucky is on fire as he’s cursing up a storm and is let loose to flail around in flames.
At about this time, I’m sufficiently traumatized. But that wasn’t enough. There had to be death fake-outs and a creepy ending that stays with you until you’re, like, old and dead. It’s perhaps one of the creepiest end scenes in existence. Chucky’s burnt, decapitated head is just lying there on its side as you see a calm expression slowly wash over the doll’s face as it utters the last line, “Hi, I’m Chucky, wanna playyyyyy…?”
Credits roll. The news comes on from when it was originally recorded. I feel a calmness wash over me, but I know that everything I had just seen changed me forever…
What’s amazing about the films is how rational everyone always is and how unwilling they are to accept that this doll is walking and talking all on its own. One of the last few lines of the movie is the detective talking to his partner after the doll is killed, saying “Do you believe me now?” while the other detective says, “Yeah… but who’s gonna believe me?” Despite this rationalization, it makes people act irrationally when faced with such a threat. That’s why my mother couldn’t tell me “It’s just a doll,” or “It’s not real,” or “It’s just in your imagination” when trying to put me to sleep at night. Despite these logically-minded people in the film, they still inevitably came face to face with the fact that, yes, this doll is possessed by a serial killer… and you better believe it, or you’re next. This is what kept perpetuating my fear of this doll for more than a decade.
There’s a certain takeaway that a kid has with this film, especially a kid with such an overactive imagination as me at that age, and that’s the thought that, even if Chucky WERE real, who would believe me if I suddenly saw him standing in my shower as he ducked out quickly enough before my parents came to my aid? Fortunately, this never happened, but even as an adult, I have these irrational thoughts. Sometimes I’m showering or sometimes I’m falling asleep or typing at my computer… but the thought always comes back to me, “Is this the day that Chucky comes to kill me?”
Yeah, I know it’s just a movie… Tell my traumatized 6-year-old self that. God knows my parents tried to, but it didn’t do any good. I laid in bed awake throughout the night with the light on. I couldn’t get to sleep for years without some kind of aid; a night light, the TV, chatter coming from other rooms, basically anything that would allow me to get some sleep at night. I would have nightmares about Chucky all the time, and the funny thing was that I didn’t see the movie again for years. Hell, I would just flip through channels sometimes and the movies would randomly pop up scaring the shit out of me.
Fast-forward to 1998. I’m 13 years old and I’m at the movies with my mom watching God-knows-what. She bought me some nachos and cheese and a large coke. As we were watching the previews and getting settled in, I suddenly see a 90-foot tall Chucky face on-screen as I’m trembling in fear. It was the Bride of Chucky trailer. I dropped my nachos on the floor and my soda squished in my hands as soda fell all over my lap. We walked out of the theater and pleaded with the barista to get me some new snacks and refreshments. They agreed and chuckled quietly to themselves.
I made it my mission from then on to beat my fear. I prepped for months leading up to the release of Bride of Chucky. I tried watching Child’s Play 2, trying to convince myself that it wasn’t real and that he was just a puppet. The only problem with that plan was that Chucky was animatronic, so there were no strings holding this thing up. I would later see a making-of featurette on the DVD showcasing all of Chucky’s inner workings and that it took about four people to even operate the damn thing. Turns out this thing was made to seem as real as possible, and to a 6-year-old, that’s damn realistic. After multiple attempts at trying to cure myself of this trauma, I decided that, ready or not, I was going to see this damn movie… and see it I did. Lucky for me, they put a decidedly parodied spin on the film and Chucky seemed more human and less scary. He even made jokes, which seemed to help me get over the fear. By the end, I felt accomplished coming face to face with my fear. It may have been hard to do, but that’s the very definition of courage.
But what was it that scared me so much? Was it the piercing blue eyes? The fiery red hair? The child-like face mixed with the face of the devil staring back at you from the 9th level of murderers and traitors? Probably a combination of all that stuff. I can’t really express what it was that truly scared me about Chucky and that continues to scare me even as an adult (most likely a residual effect from the trauma). I can’t even watch the movies by myself to this day; I need to have people with me, and in trying to sleep that night, it’s still somewhat difficult to put my imagination to rest. I’m not nearly as scared anymore as I’ve desensitized myself over time to the movies, but they’re still pretty damn scary, even speaking from an objective standpoint.
Despite this, people have made fun of Chucky over the years because it’s a doll and “Who’s afraid of a doll?” One argument I’ve heard is that you could just kick him or take the knife out of his hand. Obviously he’s not that easy to dispatch or else people would have tried that already. Keeping in line with the mythos of the story, Chucky inhabits the body of this doll, so he’s capable of so much more than what the actual doll is capable of, since he is, essentially, human. As time progresses, he becomes more and more human, and his rage as a serial killer is unmatched by the victims he crosses paths with. You think you can outmaneuver him, but Chucky knows his strengths; he’s easily tucked away and he uses the shadows to get the drop on his prey. That’s what makes Chucky a force to be weary of. It’s that fear of the unknown, that any given point he’ll come out from the shadows and gut you, and you’ll only have mere seconds to come to grips with the fact that this doll is walking and talking all by itself…