No Play-Thing

Childs_PlayPossession. It’s one of the scariest concepts in the religious arsenal. The idea that a person could be taken over by a different entity and surrender his or her selfhood to a malevolent saboteur is frightening indeed. Horror films have been deft at exploiting this. As a college student I was slow to watch the latest horror flicks. Some I’m only now beginning to find. Over the weekend I watched Child’s Play for the first time. Like most people who have some sense of popular culture I knew that Chucky was an evil doll, but I never really knew the backstory. Despite the utterly untenable hypothesis of the movie, it still manages to be scary in our CGI world, despite the bogus lightning. The frightening part comes from what is an admittedly creepy doll in the first place becoming possessed by a religious serial killer. Charles Lee Ray, named after three infamous assassins, displays facility with a religion that some identify as voodou, although that association comes primarily from the voodoo doll that Chucky uses to dispatch his mentor.

At least Child’s Play makes the effort to explain what forces exist that might bring plastic and stuffing to life. In true horror fashion, it is not the Christian god, but forces that are somehow more powerful, more malevolent. It would hardly behoove the maker of all the universe to inhabit a Cabbage Patch knockoff. The Lakeshore Strangler has been in training to cheat death and remain alive forever. He takes lessons from a mystical character whose religion is referred to only obliquely, yet whose efficacy is obvious in the malevolent toy. Willful suspension of belief is necessary to make this resurrection story plausible, but that disbelief must include belief in religious powers. The horns of this self-same dilemma hoist all religious believers in a scientific world.

Chucky is participating in one of the oldest of all religious traditions—death avoidance. Some of the earliest evidence that we have showing that hominids were developing religious sensibilities is the burial of the dead. There is really no reason to bury if we are only carrion like every other meat-based product. Whether it is out of fear or reverence, we turn to religion to assure us that there’s something more. It may not be scientific, but that’s largely the point. For many even today, a concluding scientific postscript leaves a body cold. Time for a leap of faith. Horror films are often decried as lowbrow and unsophisticated. Chucky, however, like many mythic monsters, is rapping his inhuman fingers on the door of religion. Specifically resurrection. Although in this case, it might be best to keep that door firmly closed.

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