‘Child’s Play’ Co-creator Thinks No One Can Get Laid Watching Modern Horror Films
Sources images via Wikipedia Commons | Art by Noel Ransome

‘Child’s Play’ Co-creator Thinks No One Can Get Laid Watching Modern Horror Films

Tom Holland thinks if you want to Netflix and chill, classic horror is the way to go.
October 26, 2017, 3:49pm

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada. Tom Holland is a monster. A strong statement I know, but you have to consider that this is my 11-year-old-self talking. The same 11-year-old-self that loved his toys like he loved his best friend. And the same 11-year-old-self that looked at those same toys like they were about to cut him.

"It was totally inadvertent, I'm so sorry!" Holland tells me over a phone call. He understands the accidental effect his directed masterpiece had on my mind; on a generation. Unlike the standard horror film of the late 80s in all their young-adult-horror, mixing a casserole of demons, serial killers, and ghosts, Child's Play (1989) messed with something that was innocent and fucked it all up—the idea that our toys could come to life.


The series that started with the ridiculous concept of a serial killer known as the "Lakeshore Strangler," getting trapped in a doll, reached its seventh iteration this year with Cult of Chucky. And within that conversation of success, people seem to forget about its director and co-writer Mr. Holland himself, whose twisted imagination invented the red-headed demon doll in the first place.

In my older years, I often wondered about the kind of sick, genius mind that would implant the thought of the "killer doll" in the minds of children for generations. The same man who was also behind Fright Night, Psycho 2, and interestingly enough, Stephen King's Thinner. So I had a talk with the man, Tom Holland himself, about Child's Play, horror, and getting laid.

Courtesy of Tom Holland.

VICE: Before we even get into Child's Play, it takes a certain kind of person to adapt themselves to horror. Why horror?
Tom Holland: Honestly, they were the entry-level jobs at the time. There's an old saying in Hollywood: Be careful what you first succeed at because you'll be doing it for the rest of your life. I did a lot of films and TV films in my day, which began with The Initiation of Sarah, this big TV film back in 1978. Think sorority girls fighting each other with magic. Then I went on to the Beast Within, and ended up doing Psycho 2. When you include Cloak and Dagger, I really didn't get tagged with that label until Fright Night and then Child's Play really sealed my fate. It wasn't the type of thing where I said I just wanted to do horror though.


You make it seem like it was a terrible position. Like the genre was frowned upon.
Oh yes, you got your finger right on it. You got no respect doing horror films. The very worst thing in Hollywood was to be stuck with horror in the late 70s. I was told to get out as quick as I could. It's one of the reasons why I did Fatal Beauty with Whoopi Goldberg, because I wanted to break out. With that mentality later on, I couldn't believe that I got a chance with Psycho 2.

Onto Child's Play: You didn't writer the original script, and the original script also didn't include Chucky as we know him. That was all your idea. Dolls are supposed to be these happy and cute things, most minds wouldn't go there, but yours did to create this villain. Explain yourself.
[Laughs] Christ, this is probably before you people were born, but it was around the beginning successes of the animatronic doll, My Buddy—they were these dolls with computer chips in them. Unlike other dolls that say, one thing like, I want to pee, this thing would say things at random. You didn't know what it was going to say. So that opened the door to… maybe it's alive. This was a universal theme that many people understood. Every little kid like yourself has thought at one time, wouldn't be fun if my toys came alive? We all thought that, and it worked.

In 1968, a TV film called Trilogy of Terror had an episode called "Amelia" by Dan Curtis, featuring a Zuni fetish doll, which was another thing that came into play. We're talking something that's 12 to 14 inches tall, that's made out of a piece of wood, and has no articulation whatsoever. But Dan would shake the goddamned thing in front of the camera, and from the doll's point of view, he would chase Karen Black around the apartment, and I thought it was one of the scariest things I had ever seen. Conceptually, it was amazing. I thought that if I could match that with something that was dynamic visually, I knew I could do a kickass movie, where I had sequences with the doll chasing you with a butcher knife or something in his hand.


So it was part inspiration.
Yeah. We were working off of a script called Blood Buddy that didn't include Chucky as we knew him to be. But I couldn't figure out how to make it effective. I just couldn't figure out how to make the goddamned thing work. In the original Blood Buddy—which we had to change the name because of the Buddy Doll—the doll would kill people that the kid in the film was mad at while he was asleep. A dentist, a teacher, that kind of thing. But it lacked conflict. It wasn't scary. So I thought of our villain should become Charles E. Ray. Don't ask me how I thought of this, but what if he was dying, so he had to put his soul inside of a doll—that idea was relatively popular. And let's have the mother buy it for her innocent little boy. It's a doll, but it's a serial killer, right down to the name—Charles, for Charles Manson, Lee, for Lee Harvey Oswald, and Ray for James Earl Ray.

A 1988 production still from the film Child's Play behind the scenes. Courtesy of Tom Holland.

There was also something really creepy about the way Chucky moved though, even down to the camera angles, which made him seem all the more like a doll through practical effects.
Well, we didn't have any CGI back then. This was moments before it became a thing, so if the doll didn't work, I was fucked. You had to create optical illusions, and come to a point where you can say, look, no wires. For instance, in the third act, where the little boy, Andy and his mother are battling Chucky, you see a high shot over her on the doll and you won't find wires there. You need those sparingly few moments in order to have the audience buy it. And let me tell you, it's a lesson; like a come and take my college course kind of lesson. You're trying to promote the willing suspension of disbelief in the audience and because it's fun, they want to go with you, but you've got to give them a reason, and you have to treat them with respect. Even if those reasons are as fantastical as a serial murderer putting his soul inside of a doll, if done right, you can get away with it. We used every trick in the book, but you have no idea how hard it was.


We had to build a set in LA, which was like four or five feet off the floor. There was a team of puppeteers that were under the set. Like when the doll is stalking down the hallway, smoke rising out of it, there's a hole behind the doll there. And seven to eight cables coming through the floor, connecting into its back. All these puppeteers worked different parts of him, his face, his arm, everything—to make it seem alive.

That seems… really annoying.
Remember that scene when the doll is out of focus and it runs behind the babysitter in the living room? I couldn't make that work in any way. So I'm here, looking around in desperation, and it's Alex Vincent's (Andy Barclay) little four-year-old sister. So I took her, put her in a little pair of Chucky pajamas, and she ran from her mother to the social worker, and that's who you see skittering behind the baby sister. It was one harebrained idea after another like that.

Still from Child's Play 3 via YouTube.

It also wasn't enough to just have this creepy doll. It was also his personality. He swears constantly, he's funny but he's an evil bastard. Tell me about that thought process.
Even going back to Fright Night, what I found was that horror is most effective when you leaven it with humor, but you can't do what so many people have done, which is constantly commenting on it. The humor has to come out of the situation, and stay within the three walls. You can't look down on your audience, because there's something intrinsically funny in a lot of these situations. A teenage horror fan becomes convinced that a vampire moved next door. A mother thinks her six-year-old son's doll has come alive. These ideas are so patently stupid, so unbelievable, so they're already set up for humor. But if it's wrong, it destroys it. One of my favorite devices, is to have someone simply say that something is impossible in a film; that it's dumb or ridiculous. [laughs] As long as you acknowledge it, and deal with it, the audience will say yeah, but it's true.


It also doesn't hurt that this cute doll curses like a sailor.
[Laughs] When the doll said "fuck you," [the audience] fell off their seats in the theater. But they fell off their seats because they wanted relief. You're doing something very dangerous in Child's Play—you're putting little kids in peril. I really had to find the humor, because I needed it. This is a family under attack. It's a single mother and a little boy. You really have to be careful. I mean, I got away with things I couldn't get away with now. You got a new Victorianism thing going on. First, they took away free speech now they're taking away fucking. That's funny, by the way, you can laugh.

I didn't expect you to say that.
I mean it's true. Who's going to get laid anymore like they did with older horror films? I mean Jesus Christ. Listen, I'm an older man, I'm past it. But I'm watching all these tame films and I'm thinking, shit man, you guys are really never going to get laid off of a horror flick again.

I really want to include that quote by the way.
OK, fine, you can include it. But now it's like, things are so fucking dangerous at this point, you're afraid to say the wrong thing and end up never working a day in this business again. Listen, the newfound censorship that can impact film is everybody's fault, let me put it that way. So elaborate on that. What was the risk in making it a doll? How do you remember the industry taking on a risky thing like a murdering doll?
I think now it's gone so far in the other direction compared to what it was. Television was a lot looser in the late 60s then it was in the late 70s, because I did The Initiation of Sarah and it had all kinds of problems in late 70s. You could look at Trilogy of Terror and try putting that on ABC today, and you'll have a heart attack. It would never happen today. Throwing a girl in a fountain because you wanted the audience to see her hard nipples because of sex appeal? No way. And that was the biggest calling card for the ABC movie. So what's acceptable and what isn't changes with time.


So you never got blowback from regular people away from the industry?
Well I believe Child's Play ended up with an R-rating, because something went very wrong in England. Two kids killed another kid and they blamed it on seeing Child's Play. Thanks to some English teachers, I got boxes of letters from grade school children in England protesting how Child's Play was destroying their toys and making things frightful. This didn't happen in America. It's a crazy world out there, and it's getting crazier. Now, I'm running into people your age where they saw Child's Play when they were around six years old. And I'm horrified. That was just too young. As a filmmaker, I certainly had a sense of responsibility for it too, but Child's Play was not just this Gonzo fun. And I certainly never meant for anyone to get hurt, that's horrifying.

But obviously, it was a success regardless. I'm here interviewing you about something from 30 years ago. What does it feel like to see the franchise grow off of that first movie?
I think it's just terrific except that I'm not making any money off of it and everybody else is. But at the same time, what they've done is make my film famous forever because if there was no Child's Play, there would be no Chucky. You've got to remember, I named him and… anyway, let's not get into that stuff. But I'm thrilled that they keep pumping them out because everybody goes back and looks at the original. These days, you realize that very, very few movies last. So really, everything that's happened to me has been a shock. I'm amazed. And I'm terribly pleased and happy and thankful. I never expected anybody to talk to me 30 years later about a movie. I never expected to even live another 30 years!

But thankfully you've lived, and you've seen the genre grow. How do you view the progression of the horror genre today,?
In some ways, it's still the red-headed step child but it's the most creatively alive of any of the genres because it can be done so cheaply. You and a couple of buddies can get together with an iPhone and you can go out and make your own horror films, and you can cut it on your laptop. There are no excuses left anymore. If you want to be a filmmaker, get off your butt and go out and make a film. Horror allows you to do that because with horror, it used to be a boys genre, but now, I came to know what the audience is, and it's pretty much split in half between women and men. Horror used to be the date night movie. Now, it's more than that. You can even feel it with the new IT. Now you're going to get hundred-million dollar horror movies, and it's going to be fucking death. The minute you get committees into this craft, you're in trouble. And you can't not get that when you have that kind of money on the line. Marvel better sit back, horror is coming.

You've scared many with Child's Play, including myself. Do you want to say anything to the adults who watched this movie when they were younger an it messed them up forever?
[Laughs] It was totally inadvertent, I'm so sorry! But that's because it's a universal fear. That's because, not only did they experience it when they were kids, I experienced it when I was a kid. I'm looking around the room and I'd say, oh my god, is Raggedy Ann alive?

Oh god, I remember sitting with Tony Perkins [ Psycho], and Tony was mudding the fact that at that point in his career, Norman Bates was following him around, and that Norman had boxed him in. And I said to him, how wonderful it was in what he created with the character Norman because he created this fully rounded character. He created somebody that scared the hell out of you but also made you want to cry for him. And what an accomplishment that was. I don't think it made him feel any better (laughs), but I guess that's how it's like for me now, too. I may have scared some kids more than I ever wanted to but I gave their parents a hell of a laugh and a lot of thrills along the way. And here we are 30 years later, and you probably can't go anywhere in the world where the name Chucky isn't known.

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