Retro Review: It’s Simply CHILD’S PLAY: Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre Throw a 25th Birthday Bash for Chucky!

Posted on: Jan 7th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema present CHILD’S PLAY (1987); Dir: Tom Holland; Starring: Brad Dourif, Chris Sarandon and Catherine Hicks; Tue. Jan. 8 @ 9:30 p.m. and Fri. Jan. 10 at 11:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Who could have predicted that a child’s doll would boast a career of evil spanning 25 years?

By 1988, the slasher film had seen its peak. The A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise delivered a fourth movie that fell far short of 1987’s well-received third entry. The FRIDAY THE 13TH series offered up a lackluster seventh film that attempted to pit Jason Voorhees against a distaff CARRIE knockoff. Producer Moustapha Akkad attempted to revive Michael Myers in an ineffective fourth HALLOWEEN film without the participation of John Carpenter. Meanwhile, the horror film world was looking across the pond for its new icons of terror: the Cenobites of Clive Barker’s groundbreaking HELLRAISER.

It might have seemed laughable on its face to combat this by saying, “well, what about a serial killing doll?” It’s not like the premise of a killer doll had never been done before. From the ventriloquist dummy with a mind of its own of 1948’s DEAD OF NIGHT to THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s Talky Tina, and from the possessed clown of 1982’s POLTERGEIST to the Zuni fetish doll of 1975’s TRILOGY OF TERROR, the killing machine posing as an innocuous inanimate figure was a familiar face on the horror landscape. But resting a relatively big-budgeted slasher film on the stuffed shoulders of a Good Guy doll must have seemed a risky proposition.

And in the wrong hands, it could have been. Thankfully, the screenplay was tightly executed, displaying a surprising intelligence and wit. The film finds serial killer Charles “Chucky” Lee Ray (Brad Dourif of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, WISE BLOOD and the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy) mortally wounded and pursued by Chicago homicide detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon of FRIGHT NIGHT and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS). On the verge of death, Chucky takes refuge in a toy store and uses a voodoo ritual to pass his soul into a handy Good Guy doll. The doll finds its way into the Barclay family home, where the now-sentient doll seeks to continue the mortal Chucky’s killing spree…and find a way to get out of his molded plastic and rubber holding cell.

The film was helmed by veteran horror writer-director Tom Holland (CLASS OF 1984, PSYCHO II, FRIGHT NIGHT) with a seriousness that served as a perfect counterweight to the cartoonish possibilities that an ersatz Cabbage Patch Kid slaughtering Chicagoans might pose. And his cast of familiar faces (and voices) helped sell that premise. In particular, the sardonic performance of Brad Dourif as Chucky walked the tightrope between threatening and humorous deftly, simultaneously communicating Chucky’s thirst for violence and his recognition that being stuck in a doll’s body is almost some kind of cosmic joke at his expense.

The novel concept, combined with the effects of the incredible Kevin Yagher and Dourif’s indelible voice work, quickly established Chucky as a most unlikely horror icon, and the film spawned several sequels in a franchise that continues to this day. Filming on the most recent installment, CURSE OF CHUCKY, was completed in Fall 2012.

Wanna play? Come out to the Plaza Theatre and celebrate Chucky’s quarter-century of slaughter with a special presentation of CHILD’S PLAY from Splatter Cinema. It’s not every day a doll turns 25.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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30 Days of the Plaza, Day 28: TRICK ‘R TREAT and the Grand Tradition of the Anthology Horror Film

Posted on: Oct 24th, 2012 By:

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007/2009); Dir: Michael Dougherty; Starring Dylan Baker, Brian Cox, Anna Paquin; Tues. Oct. 30 7:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; $10; Trailer here; Advance tickets here.

Michael Dougherty’s TRICK ‘R TREAT is more than simply a great horror movie (though that alone should have been enough to save it from having been shelved by Warner Brothers for 2 years). Beyond its well-crafted story, inspired performances and cleverly-executed direction, the film is also a loving tribute to both Halloween and a staple of horror cinema throughout the 20th century: the anthology film.

Though other genres have tackled the anthology to varying degrees of success, the anthology format has long been perfectly suited for horror. At the dawn of the previous century, there was the celebrated Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol. Parisian audiences taking in an unpleasant night at the theater would experience five or six short and brutally horrific plays per show, and success kept the blood flowing for 65 years. It made sense, then, that the emerging art form of cinema would take some cues from the Grand Guignol. The first anthology horror film popped up in 1919 with Germany’s UNCANNY STORIES, and filmmakers returned to the well again and again, resulting in classics like 1924’s WAXWORKS and 1945’s DEAD OF NIGHT.

It was during the 1960s and ‘70s that the genre really took off, however, thanks to the efforts of Great Britain’s Amicus Productions. Their series of anthology horror pictures began with DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1964) and continued through to THE MONSTER CLUB (1980). Frequently directed by British horror veterans Freddie Francis and Roy Ward Baker, and often written by American horror legend Robert Bloch, the movies were extremely successful on both sides of the pond and rivaled the popularity of Amicus’ chief competitor, Hammer Films (it helped that many of Hammer’s stars—including Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee—were featured in many of the films).

The emergence of the slasher genre as horror’s chief moneymaker shuffled the by-now quaint anthology film to the backburner in the 1980s. Few major studios took the risk on helming them, and as a result, those that emerged were often cash-strapped and threadbare productions with few real “stars” to pull in crowds. Sure, there were exceptions, such as the George Romero / Stephen King collaboration CREEPSHOW (1982) and Stephen King’s CAT’S EYE (1985), but by and large the anthology films that have emerged since the genre’s heyday have been either conceived or promoted as throwbacks rather than as part of a viable tradition.

And while you could say that TRICK ‘R TREAT does just that—present itself as a tribute—it also pushes forward by taking storytelling risks that are rare in the anthology genre itself. Rather than just presenting a handful of stories connected by a framing device (which is typically how these films are structured), Dougherty threads all of the stories together over the course of a single Halloween night. Characters cross paths continually and their stories intersect, while each story reveals details about events that have transpired elsewhere by presenting different perspectives.

A scene from TRICK R TREAT. Warner Brothers, 2007.

The stories themselves are short and simple. A serial killing principal (Dylan Baker) just can’t get rid of a body. Pranks centering around a decades-old massacre turn on the pranksters. A party in the woods turns bloody. A curmudgeonly, Halloween-hating old man (Brian Cox) gets his comeuppance from Sam, the living embodiment of the spirit of Halloween. (Sam appears in each segment.) But it’s how the stories are fleshed out, and how they interact with each other, that takes the film to another level. It’s like the horror film equivalent of Robert Altman’s SHORT CUTS or Quentin Tarantino’s PULP FICTION. Just a hell of a lot more fun.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

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