“Oh, those terrifying symbols of normality, dolls, I thought.” –Donna Williams, Nobody Nowhere
Don Mancini, screenwriter of all the Child’s Play movies (and director of Seed of Chucky) wants to remake the first movie. From the scarce but tantalizing rumors, it sounds like a series reboot. “[U]nless we really screw it up, I think it has the potential to be scarier than the original,” Mancini told Ain’t it Cool News. On learning about this my first thought (after “Sweet Lord, why? Enough with the remakes, already!”) was “Is a 100% scary, totally unsilly Child’s Play even possible?”
If it is possible, the movie would have to be completely different than the original Child’s Play was. Different than just about every single killer doll movie ever made. Before Child’s Play and after, almost all movies about dolls that kill people run smack into the uncanny valley.
Roboticist Masahiro Mori’s uncanny valley theory says that people will have more and more warm feelings for a machine the more humanlike it becomes. (Hence, obviously mechanical robots WALL-E and Short Circuit’s Johnny 5 have very large and expressive eyes, for instance). But if a machine becomes too realistic, if it is almost-human-but-not-quite, people become frightened of or repulsed by it—like the idea of a walking corpse or the film The Polar Express.
Dolls occupy the space between “Aww…” and “Ew!” just by sitting on shelves. Most of the dolls on my bookshelf look like they’re planning my murder; the rest are trying to look like they aren’t. (That smile doesn’t fool me, Huggins). I can see where the urban legend that Cabbage Patch Kids were designed to look like survivors of a nuclear war came from.
Thus, dolls acting like dolls can be plenty scary on their own. The problem, the endearing flaw with most killer doll movies is that the dolls eventually start acting like people. They run; they swear at people in inflected, un-dollish voices; they attack with weapons. And while the characters are terrified, in the audience I think it’s hilarious. It’s as if, while making things that are supposed to be heartwarming look scary, the uncanny valley makes things that are supposed to be scary look silly.
I think one reason the original Child’s Playis so successful is that the filmmakers knew how ridiculous a doll acting like a person would be and had fun with it. Chucky is literally a person in a doll’s body; at the start of the movie, he’s a perfectly human serial killer who possesses a doll to escape death and the cops. He soon learns that being a doll sucks; he’s at least three feet shorter than he used to be, it takes twice as long to get anywhere and when he finally does get there, some adult grabs his arm and drags him back to where he started.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Chucky is one of the fouler-mouthed possessed toys. As with the cherub-faced kids on South Park, saying “F*** you!” after an old lady tells her husband what an ugly doll they’ve found exploits the humor inherent in the gap between what Chucky looks like and what he is.
For Child’s Play to be completely devoid of silliness, this gap cannot exist. The only killer doll that truly, unequivocally creeps me out is The Twilight Zone’s Talky Tina from the episode “Living Doll.” Tina is so scary, I think, because she’s a doll that acts like a doll. Her high-pitched, recorded speech (June Foray, who also voiced Chatty Cathy) and jerky movements are the very things that make dolls naturally creepy. We’re never sure if Talky Tina has killed anybody at all. But her eerie not-quite-human ways make us feel that she could have, which is enough.
The only way I could see Chucky accomplishing such unmitigated creepiness is if he spoke only in his dolly-voice (sorry, Brad Dourif), saying things like “I like to be hugged!” and “Aunt Maggie should die!” with equal cheerfulness. Walking is probably out of the question; so are facial expressions outside of a frozen smile or haunted stare—and he can only have one or the other for the entire movie. No trademark butcher knife, either; I wouldn’t believe him capable of (allegedly) orchestrating anything but the most Omen-esque of accidents.
In short, Chucky’s human-ness would have to be destroyed. And although that would certainly make the movie scary, it would make it much less fun. Chucky’s conflicts and character flaws are part of why there’s a Child’s Play franchise to begin with. After all, Talky Tina never got a sequel. She didn’t even make it into Twilight Zone: The Movie.