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Child’s Play: AI gone haywire replaces psycho/voodoo as terror source in clunky killer doll remake
June 20, 2019
The latest cine-carnation to adopt the theme is (surprisingly) Child’s Play (2019): a remake of director Tom Holland and writer Don Mancini’s cult horror from 1988, fronted by the infamous psycho killer doll, Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif). The original film spawned six sequels and a still to be aired TV series. Chucky was one of the key horror villains of the decade, alongside the likes of Freddy Krueger (Nightmare on Elm Street), Jason Voorhees (Friday 13th), Pinhead (Hellraiser) and Michael Myers (Halloween). He even briefly appeared in Steven Spielberg’s retro 80s hat-tip,Ready Player One.
Holland and Mancini’s original Child’s Play (1988) told the tale of Charles Lee Ray: a serial killer who evades police / death by using voodoo to transfer his spirit into the body of a “Good Guy Doll” during a toy shop shoot-out. Ray, as doll, adopts the name “Chucky” and is bought then given to a young boy named Andy (Alex Vincent) by his mother Karen (Catherine Hicks). Chucky befriends Andy with the quiet intention of possessing his body and starting a new life, but Andy and Karen discover the doll’s ulterior motives and are forced into battle with the demented, dungaree donned, plastic freckled plaything.
Three decades later, and only a couple of years since the last Child’s Play sequel (Cult of Chucky), comes this inevitable remake. This new script (by Tyler Burton Smith) and characters are not too dissimilar from the original in terms of names and narrative. What is unique, are the doll’s origins and design. The serial killer/ voodoo components from Holland and Mancini’s Child’s Play have been replaced with a corrupt software/ AI system uploaded within the doll. This pairs it with apps and enabled appliances, turning Chucky into a vicious kitchen knife wielding psycho, like a sadistic Alexa or Siri made marionette.
Reasons for the supernatural/ voodoo to tech switch could have maybe been to help the remake connect with younger, app tapping viewers, or reflect a contemporary cultural shift of fears of and feelings towards religion and voodoo practices (are they still frightening?). But Chucky, in this guise, lacks both a distinctive human and supernatural presence, making both the new film and doll feel completely void of character.
Mark Hamill gabbles Chucky’s raspy tones as though sieved through an obsolete voice manipulator, but with that subtle maniacal glee that made his Joker so memorable. Sadly though, his Chucky lacks the venomous rage, psycho wit and jittery angst that made Dourif’s so distinctive. Not that Hamill is solely at fault. Chucky is now an AI/ robot without a human soul, which was an imperative component that made the original film and villain work so well. At times Hamill sounds like he’s relaying lines via Skype, possibly during a Rise of Skywalker coffee break, such is the lack of a charismatic presence. This mirrors the chasm at the heart of the new Child’s Play.
This remake falls short of being frightening or entertaining enough to retain attention, so it’s hard to imagine the revamped Chucky fronting a follow-up, unless box office returns later suggest otherwise. Script and human character wise, Child’s Play (2019) isn’t a huge leap from the 1988 original. Detective Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry), originally played by Chris Sarandon, has been rewritten into a less central role, but Aubrey Plaza nails it as Andy’s mother, Karen. While the decision to incorporate AI/ sci-fi and do away with the voodoo is undeniably pertinent, Child’s Play (2019) feels like nothing more than a lightbulb moment during a studio exec meeting, as evil robots/ AI are probably being more accessible to contemporary audiences than voodoo horror has ever been.
If the same innovation had been applied to crafting a braver, fuller story, punctuated with sharper frights and better developed characters, like the same producers did with Stephen King’s It (2017), Child’s Play (2019) could have bettered the original (which was far from a masterpiece). However, as it wasn’t, for future reference, to quote Charles Lee Ray in Child’s Play 3: maybe it’s best they “don’t fuck with the Chuck”.
Child’s Play is out in cinemas, 21st June 2019.
Words by Daniel Goodwin.
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