31 Days of Wicked Watching [DAY 4]: Where the Toys are

From our homes to our dreams to our summer camps, horror doesn’t exempt any location from its pain. While the first three days of my viewing this month focused on teens and their unfortunate face-to-face with horror giants and icons, today’s movie stepped outside of that model, brought us to the city and introduced children back into the narrative. “Child’s Play,” the 1988 horror giant written by Don Mancini and directed by Tom Holland (and not that Gemini that the world is currently obsessed with thanks to his British charm and spidey senses–he wouldn’t even be born for six years), finds our greatest fear of our children being hurt at the center of the story.

Like many, I find dolls to be some of the oddest and creepiest toys. And while these items would become driving forces to a number of films in the 2000s and beyond, it is arguable that some of those films (“Dead Silence” and “Annabelle” to name a few) wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Chucky’s arrival on the scene. This film, which still has the ability to send chills up my spine, always had me looking under my bed just before I’d crawl in it. There is something about that red hair and piercing blue eyes of the Chucky doll that I couldn’t escape.

The “Child’s Play” franchise, much the like “Nightmare” franchise began with a deep darkness to it. The emphasis was on psychological and physical torture, and the storytelling was done by the characters who were being tormented. “Child’s Play” borrowed a lot of those psychological tropes from its Craven predecessor and elevated its audience an innate of toys coming alive. In this case, you also were able to see the emergence of solid special effects, which, yes, if you were to watch the film today certainly look dated or out of place. It is a product of its time. What slowly happened to the series after the initial film was a release from darkness and an emphasis on dark comedy, again, much like the “Nightmare” series ultimately went. I’m not knocking either series for it; they created niche markets and attracted hundreds of thousands of adoring fans to see what Chucky or Freddy would say next. It is something that became iconic in itself in this series, but I’m happy that the reboot (and possibly with “Curse” and “Cult” that would emerge in 2013 and 2017 respectively) attempted to bring that back.

Regardless of the later laughs, the first, the original, won’t leave you laughing. Instead, it will convince you, like me, that one of those toys in your house may just be waiting for something much worse beneath your bed.

As a final point, while I do love this film, I am not one of the overtly supernatural undertones of how Chucky came to be; however, I find the fact that it results from the tradition of Voodoo being a unique and interesting detail in the story. My concern is that the use of Voodoo is genuinely misplaced and lacks that racial connection that comes with that magical experience. What I did then appreciate, as the film was recently remade/revamped/rebooted, is that the remake chose to capitalize on the age of automation and left the Voodoo in history where it belonged.

Published by Patrick R. Johnson

Patrick is a Ph.D. student and graduate instructor in the SJMC. He comes from nearly a decade of teaching high school journalism and English, and an adjunct professor of journalism and media studies at Marquette University (where he received both his bachelor's and master's degrees). He is a former Dow Jones Distinguished National Journalism Teacher of the Year. His research interests include the intersection of news literacy, journalism ethics, journalism studies, and professional boundary work. He also focuses his attention on issues of deviance within the media industry, particularly as it relates to issues of sex and issues resulting in paradigm repair. Patrick is also deeply passionate about teaching and the role of journalism schools in the professionalization of their students. He focuses a lot of his thinking on mass communication and journalism pedagogy and identifying ways for journalism courses to be both rewarding in content and enriching in skill. He currently teaches Journalistic Reporting and Writing in the SJMC and taught a number of courses at Marquette, including Media Ethics, Visual Communication, Magazine Design and Production, Digital Journalism 1-3, Strategic Communication Writing, and the Journalism Capstone course for the department. His work in curriculum, instruction, and educational leadership includes serving as the Journalism Education Association’s Mentor Program Chair, designing curriculum to accompany Pulitzer Prize winning content for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, reviewing the Praxis national journalism certification exam, and developing a number of courses at the high school and collegiate levels. Patrick served as a 2021 Public Humanities Intern through the Obermann Center where he worked specifically with University Special Collections to develop public-facing exhibits and curriculum materials related to the Tom Brokaw Collection.

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