The Horror Honeys: CHILD'S PLAY Through the Eyes of a Child

CHILD'S PLAY Through the Eyes of a Child

A Monster Honey Gateway Horror Analysis by Jennica


As an 80s baby, I have lived through some of the hottest, most brutal toy crazes in the history of early childhood materialism. I had a room full of Cabbage Patch dolls (some were "borrowed" from my older sister), I raised my share of digital pets, and I was fortunate enough to have parents who survived the Great Furbie War of the late 90s. Appropriately, my first horror film-- my gateway horror film, if you will-- was Child's Play (1988) at the ripe age of three years old. Don't worry, I'm used to the gasps and the mouths hanging open after I reveal my age at the time of my first viewing. Yeah, yeah... Monster Honey's parents must be monsters. 

Well, duh!

In actuality, although I have told the story of my first time dozens of times to friends, relatives, and complete strangers while standing in line for late night double features, there is a small detail that I have often left out to maintain my bad-ass reputation. When I first saw Child's Play, I was terrified. So terrified, in fact, that I later crept downstairs with as many of my dolls as I could carry under my arms with the intention of stuffing each one in the garbage. Just as I was lifting the lid, my mom caught me and calmly explained to me that Chucky was not real and that my dolls were not alive.

"Don't be scared. It's just pretend," she told me. 

Just like those old exploitation movie posters that stated repeatedly "It's only a movie," I climbed back upstairs while reciting my mom's mantra, "Don't be scared. It's just pretend." 

... Right, mom?
Despite my mom's guilt for allowing her baby monster to be subjected to such a violent, obscene movie, her words felt like magic to me. I proceeded to watch Child's Play 2 (1990), and then Child's Play 3 (1991), and then I moved on to other horror franchises. I would stay up late watching The X-Files and Tales From the Crypt, and quoting all the humorous one-liners. There wasn't a maniac killer or grotesque mutant that could leave even a scratch on my psyche because I knew those were actors playing a game of make believe on the screen. In no time at all, a horror fan was born. And to this day, I owe my career and my horror lifestyle to Child's Play.

The Plot: Single working mother Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) wants more than anything in the world to give her six year-old son Andy (Alex Vincent) the best birthday possible. This year's must-have toy is a battery-operated talking, blinking Good Guy doll. Strapped for cash, Karen meets a peddler in an alley where she gets a helluva bargain on Good Guy doll Chucky (Brad Dourif). However, just when Karen earns the mother of the year award from Andy, he discovers that his new pal is possessed by the famed Lakeshore Strangler, Charles Lee Ray. But who will believe him? 

What could possibly go wrong?
Over the years, Child's Play and its sequels have received a significant amount of backlash mostly from concerned parents who lazily point their fingers at the film for encouraging violence among children. In 1996 Australia, Martin Bryant committed one of the continent's largest massacres and it was revealed that his favorite film was Child's Play 2. Child's Play was also believed to inspire the murder of two year-old James Bulger by a couple Chucky-obsessed ten year-old boys in England. 

And then there is little ol' me. Growing up, I watched Child's Play about as often as some children watched Barney & Friends. I might get in the occasional vicious mood, but I'm not a serial killer. Hell, as a kid, I never even repeated the profane lines of dialogue from the film. I could have picked up on "You have a date with death" or "Goodnight, asshole," but instead I remembered "Hi, I'm Chucky! Wanna play?" Perhaps adults underestimate the innocence of a child.

So, how is it that the same violently bloody film could turn some kids into dangerous inmates and others into docile horror fanatics? Call me biased, but I don't think it's the movie that makes the monster. Time and time again, writer/director Tom Holland has defended his film, urging the public to take a closer look at each individual case of real life violence. 

In the case of Martin Bryant, for instance, teachers as well as a psychologist described him as being different and destructive, often the target of school bullying. In addition, he maintained an I.Q. of 66 and was believed to be unphased by reality. It's possible that he derived some of his murderous strategies from his favorite slasher film, but the intent to act was likely already coming to a boiling point long before his first viewing.

Even Chucky isn't so sure about this guy.
While I do not believe that Child's Play is to blame for sadism among children, I also do not consider the film to be a traumatic experience or a threat to the well-being of young minds. Quite the opposite, to be honest. If ever I decide to reproduce, I would likely follow in my parents' footsteps by introducing my spawn to the horror genre with the same plastic-covered evil. 

Horror films often unite teens and adults by projecting their universal fears onto a screen through imaginative storytelling. Child's Play is a wise choice in gateway horror because it doesn't just acknowledge a parent's worst nightmare but it also addresses normal childhood anxieties, allowing children to relate. 

At a very early age, children are taught what to do in a "stranger danger" situation. Don't talk to strangers. Don't accept gifts from strangers. Don't get into cars with strangers. Just don't. But what parents tend to leave out of the lecture is that sometimes the hypothetical "bad person" could be someone least expected and could be dangerously convincing. In Andy's case, he befriends a stranger-- or bad guy-- disguised as a Good Guy. Chucky talks to him, says they will be "friends 'till the end," gradually earning Andy's trust... and then Chucky's true identity is revealed. 

So, what's the refund policy on this thing?
Children are also taught that if they witness inappropriate or threatening behavior directed at them or someone else, then they should tell an adult. But it is never explained what a child is to do if their story is dismissed by adults. When we're young, we are so dependent on others to care for us and protect us that our world is shattered when faced with the knowledge that other people might not always be there.  

Child's Play may not be recommended for all children as it obviously contains some heavy content about life's dark realities. But for an especially mature budding young horror fanatic, the film is more than just a respectable introduction to the horror genre. It trains children to become aware of their inner anxieties and it opens up a conversation about fact versus fiction, as well as the issue of child safety. 

So, as far as a child's exposure to the horror genre, where should the line be drawn?

Earlier this month, I attended a double feature of The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II as part of the lineup for Beyond Fest 2015 in Hollywood, CA. A concerned mother wrote to the Beyond Fest organizer to ask permission for her eight year-old son to be able to attend the screening. The Evil Dead, a film featuring one of the most notoriously unusal rape scenes in horror history, is this eight year-old boy's favorite movie. He has seen the movie multiple times, according to his mother who has yet to find a movie to frighten him. Sure enough, the boy and his parents were granted entry into the festival. 

There is unfortunately no clear answer for deciding what is age appropriate as it depends on the child, their mental maturity and stability, and their upbringing. Personally, I don't have a problem subjecting a small child to a woman getting a hammer to the face... but tree rape? I suppose all a parent can do is use their best judgement, keep the discussion with their children going, and hope they won't find their kiddo's mugshot on the nine o'clock news later. 

"Don't be scared. It's just pretend." 

Friends 'till the End!
Is there a horror movie that you are hesitant to show your little monsters? 
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