The Wild Trip That is the 'Child’s Play' Franchise

Horror franchise remakes continue to go hard with their slashers, erasing the memory of the goofy paths they often travel in their sequels.

Child's Play
Orion Pictures

Even among the weird crop of horror slashers that the 1980s produced, the Child’s Play franchise is pretty damn odd. What began as creepy, satirical revenge against those foolish parents that partook in the great Cabbage Patch Kids doll riots of 1983 quickly descended into straight murder spree sequels. After Parts 2 & 3, Child’s Play ultimately returned itself to quirky, gory sendups of the genre. The fact that these films have always been an extension of one creative vision only makes them more unique within Hollywood.

As a screenwriter, Don Mancini was there from the beginning. Each film sprung from his scripts, and in 2004 with Seed of Chucky, he took control of the directing reins as well. He went on to helm Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky and was gearing up to launch a Child’s Play television series before it was announced that a remake was in the works. While that show is still apparently a go at SyFy, the conversation this week has shifted to the incredibly earnest trailer seen below.

Killer dolls are one of those primordial evils that send shockwaves through our tiny lizard brains. I may prefer the Child’s Play films when they stick to social commentary, but mass audiences want to be terrified, and the pitter-patter of tiny toy feet does the job quite well. Toss in supporting performances from Aubrey Plaza and Brian Tyree Henry and even we cannot help but get a touch giddy. Check your societal concern at the door and pray that Andy (Gabriel Bateman) can save his mom from that butcher knife clasped in a little mitt.

Yeah, okay. That’s a fairly effective trailer. In keeping Chucky to the shadows, the marketers continue to stoke our caveman fear for the littlest slashers. Lots of close-ups of Plaza and Henry add respectability from the cool kids in the crowd, and there is no denying the genuine sense of terror Mom is emitting as she’s bound and gagged at the climax. This is certainly not Cult of Chucky, and it doesn’t really even feel like the original horror film experience.

Director Lars Kelvberg (Polaroid) and screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith (Kung Fury 2) apparently want to legitimize the rogue Good Guy Doll amongst the slasher line-up, which falls into the pattern of previous franchise remakes. Once you take a series of movie killers into double-digit sequel numbers, the creators are bound to lean into comedy or splatstick to keep the energy up in the room. The Jason Vorhees and Leatherface of Jason X and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation are not the same characters they were in their original films. When the time came for Marcus Nispel to reboot those horrors, in 2009 and 2003, respectively, the resurrected Jason and Leatherface were even more extreme versions of their original selves. The same can be said for the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake and the latest Halloween rebootquel. To stay contemporary, you gotta get mean.

Do-overs are always a tricky business and generally speak to Hollywood’s lazy grab for quick cash. As an optimist, I prefer to anticipate the possibility of improvement, or at the very least, the pleasures of a new POV applied to a story I already adore. My favorite films are not going away. This Child’s Play trailer is enticing, especially considering the stars they’ve convinced to join them, but I can also understand the dismay Mancini must feel at the sight of his acerbic slashers getting robbed of their satirical bite.

Child’s Play hits theaters on June 21st.

Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.