We need to start giving mandatory IQ tests in Hollywood and anyone in the industry who falls below a certain point needs to be fired…out of a cannon and into the Pacific Ocean. The movie business is fighting off a lot of challenges in the 21st century, from internet piracy to massive time-suck video games to the so-called “New Golden Age of Television,” but by far the greatest threat to the continued economic viability of motion pictures is that the profession seems to be overflowing with morons. Too many studio executives and filmmakers simply don’t understand what it is they’re trying to do, why they’re failing, and how to get better at it.
The latest example is yet another attempt to update an enduring horror classic of the 1980s and making a complete and utter hash of it. There’s been a boatload of these efforts and they’re almost uniformly horrible but this time around they managed to screw up in a particularly noteworthy manner by fundamentally altering the basic concept of the original in a way that only highlights their markedly inferior storytelling skills. It’s “Child’s Play” (1988) vs. “Child’s Play” (2919) in this edition of KIMT’s Remake Throwdown as we try to answer the question “Does anyone actually READ these screenplays anymore?”
"Yes, I do go to Pete Rose's barber. Why do you ask?"
“Child’s Play” (1988) spawned one of the last of the great horror franchises, one that churned out a sixth legitimate sequel in 2017 and has a TV spinoff planned for 2020, and carved out its own notch in American pop culture without ever truly breaking through to the mainstream like “Halloween” or “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” The story concerns a serial killer named Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) who is shot and tracked to a Chicago toy store by intrepid detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon). Before he dies, Ray uses a voodoo spell to transfer his soul into a two-foot tall Good Guy doll named Chucky.
The doll is eventually bought by harried single mom Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) and presented to her sad son Andy (Alex Vincent) as a birthday present. Ray uses Alex to get revenge on an unfaithful partner and then learns the only way he can get his soul out of the doll is to transfer it into Alex’s body. Meanwhile, Alex finds himself blamed for Chucky’s carnage with only his mother believing there’s more to the story. It concludes with a showdown between Karen, Andy, Detective Norris and the possessed doll that is perhaps the most bonkers 80s horror movie climax you’ll ever see. At the risk of overselling it, “Child’s Play” (1988) is that rarest of horror flicks that gets smarter as it goes along.
30 years later and they can't come up with a better special effect than this? We are getting stupider.
In many respects, “Child’s Play” (1988) looks and sounds like any other awful horror movie. It’s obvious they didn’t spend a lot of money on it. There’s nothing outwardly clever or stylish about its presentation. Its soundtrack is jammed with enough clichéd scary music to choke a horse. What elevates it from the horde, however, is its unassumingly intelligent story and the surprisingly strong performance from Catherine Hicks that holds it all together.
The quality of “Child’s Play” (1988) is paradoxically illustrated by the terrible performance of Alex Vincent as Andy. He sucks. He really, really sucks. But he should suck. Most healthy children should be atrocious actors. It’s not normal for them to have much emotional depth or control. That’s why Hollywood has such a troubled history with child performers because the competent ones wind up being rewarded for their abnormality, which is not a recipe for a well-adjusted life at any age. But the ineptitude of Alex Vincent as an actor doesn’t harm the movie in the slightest because screenwriters Don Mancini, John Lafia, and Tom Holland don’t craft a tale that hangs entirely on the thespian chops of someone young enough to still sleep with the light on.
Think about “The Sixth Sense” (1999). For all the brilliant work of M. Night Shyamalan and Bruce Willis, that film would have been a dud without the freakishly great performance of Haley Joel Osment. “Child’s Play “ (1988) doesn’t need that because the film is more about Karen Barclay’s transition from dealing with the hassles of single parenthood to fighting for her child’s life and Charles Lee Ray overcoming obstacles in his quest for vengeance and salvation. Andy is just there to be a sympathetic victim and you don’t have to be an Oscar-winner to pull that off.
Great performance. Bad hairdo.
The 2019 remake had one and only one decent idea. It abandons the supernatural for a science fiction approach where instead of possessed doll, Chucky is a high tech robot toy who has been misprogrammed and had all his safety features deleted. A product of the omnipresent Kaslan Corporation, this Chucky is able to interface with and control other electronic devices. When he’s returned to the store just before a new and improved version is released to the public, the archetypical woman-who-makes-bad-choices Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) keeps it for her antisocial son Andy (Gabriel Bateman). But after bonding with Andy, Chucky (voice of Mark Hamill) turns into the evil ex-boyfriend/lover/husband from every Lifetime movie and starts killing anything that gets between him and his “friend to the end.”
“Child’s Play” (2019) is an unrelentingly bad film. It’s never so excessive that it crosses over into the realm of “so bad it’s good.” It’s just one stupid and poorly thought out scene after another until it’s less like the movie ends and more that it collapses from brain death. This is the sort of motion picture that thinks openly acknowledging a truly stupid part of its script, namely that this Andy is way too old to be playing with dolls, somehow makes it less stupid.
That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.
Yeah, this is something people would want in their homes.
I could list every bit of idiocy stinking up this movie but both of us have better things to do with our lives, so let me focus on two examples.
1. One of the murder scenes involves a character hanging from a pipe over a table saw. Literally all the character has to do is swing six inches one way or another and they’d be completely safe. Instead, despite all instinct and common sense, the character just hangs motionless from the pipe until they lose their grip and fall on the spinning saw. Between the time that scene was written and it was shot, not only had months gone by but the screenplay itself had probably gone through two or three rewrites to adjust this part or that. Yet no one noticed how incredibly dumb the saw scene was or bothered to try and improve it. I thought about it for 10 seconds and came up with “He tries to swing away but the pipe breaks and he falls uncontrollably, landing on the saw.” That’s no more than five seconds of screen time to change a scene from one that makes no sense into one that makes some sense.
Yes, Aubrey, I'm wondering where all that sweet "Parks and Recreation" money went too.
2. When Alex and his new friends, including the now mandatory obnoxiously woke girl who is smarter and tougher than all of the boys, realize Chucky has killed someone, there’s a suggestion to tell the police about it. That’s rejected because supposedly the police wouldn’t believe Chucky had done it and would instead blame Alex. But why wouldn’t the police believe it? This Chucky isn’t a lifeless doll animated by mystical forces. It’s a robot made of plastic and metal which can walk and talk and pick up knives and light matches and pull a trigger. Why wouldn’t the authorities accept that one of these machines went berserk and killed a guy? THE WHOLE MOVIE IS BASED ON THE IDEA OF SOMEONE REMOVING THE SAFEGUARDS THAT PREVENTED CHUCKY FROM HURTING ANYONE. WHY WOULD SUCH SAFEGUARDS EXIST UNLESS IT WAS UNDERSTOOD ROBOTS COULD HURT PEOPLE WITHOUT THEM? It’s like getting into an auto accident because your brakes failed and then not reporting it because you think the cops won’t believe your brakes failed. And no, it’s not that the kids make a panicky error in judgment. The movie goes on to explicitly show people NOT believing Alex when he tries to explain that Chucky is the one killing people.
"Let's make his eyes red so the audience knows he's evil."
"Won't they know that just when he kills people?"
This Throwdown goes to the original “Child’s Play” by about as big a margin as you can imagine. It’s not because the original is some sort of masterpiece. It’s just a well done slasher melodrama. The remake is simply crap and it’s this sort of crap that is killing Hollywood. You can get people to go to movies like this, though in steadily declining numbers, but you can’t make people love going to the movies with crap like this. No one who sees “Child’s Play” (2019) comes out excited to see another flick or imbued with an emotional connection to cinema. It’s merely another way to kill time and if time is all you are looking to kill, there’s a million and one other ways to do that.
Child’s Play (1988)
Written by Don Mancini, John Lafia, and Tom Holland.
Directed by Tom Holland.
Starring Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif, Dinah Manoff, Tommy Swerdlow, Jack Colvin, Neil Giuntoli, Juan Ramirez, and Alan Wilder.
How good were movies back in the 1980s? This guy did "Fright Night," "The Princess Bride," and "Child's Play" in the space of three years and STILL wasn't an A-list star!
Child’s Play (2019)
Written by Tyler Burton Smith.
Directed by Lars Klevberg.
Starring Gabriel Bateman, Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill, Brian Tyree Henry, Tim Matheson, David Lewis, Beatrice Kitsos, Ty Consiglio, and Trent Redekop.
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