Martin Amis Wrote a Review of ‘Child’s Play 3’

August 25, 2012

“In Britain, in recent months, two of the most sensational murder trials of the century have involved discussion of the same rental video; namely, Child’s Play 3. The first case was that of James Bulger, a toddler who was beaten to death by two ten-year-olds; the second case was that of Suzanne Capper, a teenager who was kidnapped, strenuously tortured, and finally set alight by a clique of young acquaintances. Child’s Play 3 has therefore been much in the news, and therefore much in demand. It, too, has been set alight, semi-ritualistically, by public-spirited managers of video-rental stores. When my two children (aged seven and nine) noticed Child’s Play 3 in its package, up on a high shelf, they regarded it with reverent dread. In their schoolyard voodoo, Child’s Play 3 was considered potent, venomous, toxic. It was like angel dust — a ticket to frenzy. So one afternoon I duly settled down to watch a routine little horror film about a children’s doll called Chucky that comes to life and starts killing people. The modicum of horror it inspires can be traced by to Freud’s definition of the uncanny: ambiguity about the extent to which something is, or is not, alive. Equally conventionally, such frights and shrieks as the film elicits have to do not with very scary things happening but with mildly scary things happening very suddenly. As the credits rolled on Child’s Play 3, I felt no urge or prompting to go out and kill somebody. And I also knew why. It’s nothing to boast about, but there is too much going on in my head for Chucky to gain sway in there. Probably the worst that Chucky could do to me is to create an appetite to see more Chucky, or more things like Chucky.

What we have to imagine is a mind that, on exposure to Chucky, is already brimful of Chucky and things like Chucky. Then, even if you mix in psychopathology, stupidity, moral deformation, dreams of omnipotence and sadism, and whatever else, Chucky is unlikely to affect anything but the style of your subsequent atrocities. Murderers have to have something to haunt them: they need their internal pandemonium. A century ago, it might have been the Devil. Now it’s Chucky. When the killers tortured Suzanne Capper, they chanted the catchphrase ‘I’m Chucky. Wanna Play?’ When the two ten-year-old boys began to throw bricks, James Bulger fell down and stood up again. ‘Just stand there,’ said one of the killers, ‘and we’ll get you a plaster.’ And then he threw another brick. This is Chucky’s way: the worthless joke, the worthless swagger. Here was a mind that had seen a lot of things like Chucky, and had nothing much in prospect but more things like Chucky. Perhaps, also, the child who spoke those words didn’t understand the meaning of earnest. As a result, he was all too ready to play.”

Amis and Chucky. Huh.

From The War Against Cliche: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 by Martin Amis, originally published in the New Yorker, 1994.

© Alison Nastasi, 2016