Chucky is undeniably the star of the Child’s Play universe, but the original 1988 film had great performances all around. Let’s look at how their performances established the series!
The Obvious Star: Brad Dourif as Charles Lee Ray/Chucky
Brad Dourif is a great actor. Even when not in the greatest roles, he gives standout performances that instantly lift the project. Child’s Play is no exception, and is one of the biggest roles for Dourif. When we first see him, it is as Charles Lee Ray — AKA “The Lakeshore Strangler,” and it’s obvious right away that he’s in trouble. Although we know he’s a bad guy, Dourif plays Charles like someone in an actual crisis. He’s real, and one can almost relate to his predicament as he tries to elude capture by Chris Sarandon’s Detective Mike Norris (whom I’ll get to later).
Obviously, Charles goes through a transformation after reciting a voodoo spell, which is a bit far-fetched. However, Dourif lends his cinematic might to make the moment seem believable. He adds so much conviction to the scene! We just know some great moments are in store. Sure enough, as Chucky gradually becomes more “human,” it gives an opportunity for Dourif to take us along for the ride. We feel the character’s rage at those who betrayed him, and get a sense of what makes the maniac tick — and all through Dourif’s voice acting. His desperation for a new body becomes almost understandable, even as he leaves a trail of dead.
The Kid: Alex Vincent as Andy Barclay
Alex Vincent does an amazing job as Andy Barclay, whose whole world was turned upside down when his favorite toy threatened to destroy everything he loves. How does a child process that? How fast can someone be forced to grow up without totally losing it? Vincent shows this struggle with a mix of certainty and confusion — certainty because his character believes his experiences, but confusion because no one believes him.
It’s a pretty memorable transformation. Andy starts out as very naïve and innocent, interested in simple, childish things. This is, of course, represented by Chucky. His character loves and trusts the Chucky, and doesn’t even question a doll that’s freakily alive. Meanwhile, as Chucky becomes increasingly evil, the fear in Vincent’s eyes and voice becomes stronger, and his character is forced to either grow up or be complicit in evil. It’s not just a fear of something being scary, but of a world no longer making any sense. The adult world interprets the boy as insane, and it drives a wedge between himself and his mother. Again, this is all skillfully shown in Barclay’s changing demeanor, which is a mix of fear, sadness and abandonment.
The Concerned Parent: Catherine Hicks as Karen Barclay
Like her son, Andy, Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) starts as a relatively simple character. Her performance is a bit restrained at first, as she is basically just a normal mom trying to raise her kid. Through Hicks’ performance, we get the feeling that she’s a good mom, but always wants to be better. When she can’t be there for her son, it’s definitely distressing. Then, of course, she begins having freaky realizations about her son’s doll, which she had brought into his life. There are definitely detectable traces of guilt in Karen’s expressions, and she’ll do whatever it takes to set things right.
Catherine is in one of the scariest/most suspenseful scenes in Child’s Play. When she suspects the doll is actually real and that her son isn’t lying, she hits all the right marks. Obviously the scene is well written, and the music helps establish the tone. However, it would be nothing without a believable, dramatic performance, which Hicks delivers with realism and an expanding intensity.
The Jaded Cop: Chris Sarandon as Detective Mike Norris
When we first see Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon), he’s hunting down Charles Lee Ray. Norris comes across as an average man who tries to be stoic at all times. He is not only strictly rational, but feels obligated to remain so for his profession. This is shown in Sarandon’s performance, which makes his inevitable encounters with Chucky even freakier. Of all the performances in Child’s Play, Sarandon’s arguably goes through the biggest transformation.
In fact, Detective Norris is by no means an action hero character. He essentially joins Andy and Karen in victimhood, and one gets the sense of the character’s fatigue as the film goes on. Granted, Norris already seemed jaded by years of police work, but this makes that look like — well, child’s play!
Last but not least, let’s look at…
The Voodoo Doctor: Raymond Oliver as John “Dr. Death” Bishop
He doesn’t have much screen time, but Raymond Oliver is still compelling as John Bishop, the Voodoo mentor to Charles Lee Ray. In fact, Oliver actually conveys that John is disappointed in what Charles Lee Ray has become, a sheer abomination. As Bishop meets his inevitable demise, there is betrayal in his eyes. Yes, Charles Lee Ray really has lost his way, and there’s no coming back from what Chucky does to him. Ouch!
What are your thoughts? Does Child’s Play have decent performances, or is it all as plastic as a Good Guy doll? Tell us in the comments!