horror podcast

Child’s Play

Childs-play-movie-poster1In The Horror of It All: One Moviegoer’s Love Affair with Masked Maniacs, Frightened Virgins, and the Living Dead, author Adam Rockoff asked, “Why is Halloween loved but Friday the 13th despised?” One word. Blood.

Critics love restraint and Child’s Play is mostly bloodless too. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t bloodcurdling. Roger Ebert, whose antipathy to horror was infamous, said the film was “cheerfully energetic,” undoubtedly due to it holding back.

But for true fans, it’s neither here nor there if horror’s got gore. That’s at odds with public perception. We’re open to getting frights where we find them, even if it’s Toys ‘R’ Us. And unlike critics, we don’t punish films for gore. (The word “punish is forever ruined by Silent Night, Deadly Night.)

In Child’s Play, like A Nightmare on Elm Street, the series’ quality is inversely related to the number of lines spouted by its antagonist. For most of the first installment, the Chucky doll’s utterances are of the Ned Flanders variety, a “hi-da-lee-ho,” paired with an innocent rhyme, “I’m your friend to the end.” And when the doll becomes animate, it’s actually the silence that drive the horror, not the one-liners.

The spirit of a serial killer, Charles Lee Ray (an amalgam of Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray) enters into a Good Guys doll, which is then purchased in a back alley by a penny-pinching Chicago mom for her son Andy.

One night mom has to work late and Maggie, a babysitter co-worker, is a last minute sub to put Andy (and his new friend) to bed. Director Tom Holland makes great use of the hulking 19th century Brewster apartment complex in Chicago’s north side, and the creepy, creaky building becomes a character until itself, almost like the sprawling Brooklyn mansion in The Sentinel. It’s in the apartment’s living room where Chucky comes to life, after making excuses via Andy to stay up late “to watch the 9 O’Clock news.” Dutiful Maggie balks, and for her troubles she’s pummeled with a hammer between the eyes, causing her to fall to her death from the kitchen window.

childs_play_movieChicago’s Finest is soon on the scene, including the former Mr. Susan Sarandon, Chris (speaking of The Sentinel).

The cops notice tiny footprints leading up to the crime scene, and eventually, they realize there’s a killer in their midst, the likes of which unseen in The Windy City since perhaps Henry in Portrait of a Serial Killer.

The animate doll, unwilling to be trapped in a plastic body for eternity, tracks down a Voodoo practitioner to “be a real boy,” to quote Pinocchio, and leads sweet Andy out on a CTA train to a seedy neighborhood (probably the kind President Obama once tried to “community organize).

Chicago PD finally comes around after dismissing mom’s tale of a doll minus its batteries that’s wreaking havoc.

The film holds up exceedingly well. A mere blink from the psycho ginger doll causes shivers. Creepy dolls may be overused in supernatural horrors, but killer dolls are a different matter entirely.

And here’s some advice: as collectors know, these toys retain their value when kept in their packaging.

***3/4 (out of 5)



SOCIETY_POSTER“You know what I blame this on the breakdown of? Society.” Of course that’s Moe from The Simpsons. In the movie Society, social relations crumble around young Billy, a teen lone-man out who noticeably doesn’t resemble his parents nor his sister and who is (unsuccessfully) trying to curry favor with the school’s rich and very popular kids.

If only it were that simple, from both a narrative and a normative perspective. You see, there’s something really amiss with Billy’s suburban Los Angeles family — really, really amiss.

Unlike the typical coming-of-age tale, it’s young Billy who is the moral center and is his center ever upended.

Blanchard, a prying schoolmate who’s been spotted hiding out in Billy’s sister’s closet, has some interesting information to pass along to him, but considering the source, Billy’s more than skeptical. Then, Blanchard presses forward and produces a smoking gun: an audio recording of some truly taboo-shattering chatter, some beyond-risque communication between Billy’s sister and parents.

Armed with the horrifying information that we won’t dare reveal, he marches into psychotherapist Dr. Cleveland’s office, but the audio recording “evidence,” appears to be harmless banter and fashion chat about an upcoming cotillion ball.

Undaunted, Billy presses forward while questioning his own sanity (a student council president hopeful, he hallucinates salacious behavior of an audience member during a candidates’ debate).

SOCIETY_MOVIEBut it’s only upon ditching his girlfriend and hooking up with sex kitten Clarissa that things really begin to sharpen into focus in this Lynchian landscape, the brainchild of Brian Yuzna, frequent Stuart Gordon collaborator.

How he went from Honey, I Really Messed up the Kids here to shrinking them later in his career is anyone’s guess.

What’ll also keep you guessing: Society’s unlikely narrative and oddball characters.

Proof that a constant undercurrent of dread is worth 1,000 pig entrails, Society is a paranoid Freudian nightmare and unfailingly original.

This is Beverly Hills 90201 by way of John Waters and the Marquis de Sade.

***3/4 (out of 5)