Episode 2: Child's Play

Child's Play, 1988

Child's Play came out on November 9th, 1988. It was co-written by Tom Holland, produced by David Kirschner, and based on a story by Don Mancini. Don Mancini was in college when he wrote the story as a satire about the effects of marketing on children. It was originally titled Batteries Not Included but Steven Spielberg had been doing a movie with the same name so it went out as Bloody Buddy. In Mancini's original script, the doll was had fake blood that would seep out if played with too roughly. The doll comes to life from the boy's rage when he mixes his blood with that of the doll's. United Artists eventually accepted the script and hired John Lafia to rewrite and tweak the story to make the boy, Andy, more sympathetic. It was then that the idea of Charles Lee Ray, a notorious serial killer, would die and his soul would be transferred into the doll. Fun fact: the name Charles Lee Ray came from infamous killers such as Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald, and James Earl Ray. The film was produced for $9 mil and grossed over $33 mil in the US alone and over $10 mil internationally. The movie received mixed reviews, my favorite of which is that the movie was "ludicrous supernatural gobbledygook". Regardless of the 67% positive rating, the film has become increasingly influential and successful as a horror franchise.

A quick plot rundown if you've been living under a rock and haven't seen Child's Play: a serial killer named Charles "Chucky" Lee Ray is chased down by a cop and shot down. While he's dying he recites a spell to transfer his body into that of a "Good Guy" doll as he was conveniently gunned down in a toy store. It's Christmas time and Karen Barclay wants to get her kid the hot new toy: a Good Guy doll. She buys one from a back alley cellar, and she just happened to hit the horror lottery and get the Chucky doll for her son Andy. Things go down pretty quickly from there. This movie is one of my absolute favorites. It's the movie that made us all terrified of dolls. I remember staying at my grandmother's house after seeing the film and she had Victorian dolls everywhere. I had to sleep with my head under the blankets in fear I might see one blink or turn its head. This movie shook me to my core as a kid, and that's what horror is all about.

The Haunting

Luckily, when I saw the film I hadn't heard the idea came from a true story or I probably never would have slept in the same room as a doll or stuffed animal ever again. The true story is that of Robert the Doll. Robert the Doll was manufactured by the Steiff Company of Germany and purchased in 1904 by a grandfather for his grandson, Robert Eugene "Gene" Otto, as a birthday gift. Gene was an artist belonging to a prominent family in Key West. He was obsessed with the life size doll and named it after himself.

Legend has it that the doll was haunted and could come to life at will. The Ottos and their servants would often hear Gene in his bedroom having conversations with the doll in two different voices. Gene would also wake up in the middle of the night screaming and all his furniture had been overturned. He would blame Robert every time. The family found mutilated toys and could hear giggling around the house. Neighbors swear they saw the doll moving from window to window. Gene talked about Robert constantly in the first person as if he was a living entity. The family moved Robert to the attic where he remained until Gene's parents had passed. After that, Robert liked to reside in Gene's old bedroom. I say he liked to reside there because no matter how many times Gene locked him in the attic, he always found him right back in the rocking chair by the window in his old bedroom.

Gene eventually married Annette Parker in 1930, and it was very clear she was not a fan of Robert. When Annette died, rumors said she died of insanity from Robert's antics. Otto also died in 1974 shortly after. Myrtle Reuter purchased the house and claimed Robert would change his expression and after 20 years of giggling and footsteps in the attic, Myrtle donated Robert to the Fort East Martello Museum in 1994.

There have been several eyewitness accounts of Robert's activities. Some claimed Robert would lock them in the attic. Another account said Robert was found at the foot of a bed with a kitchen knife in hand. One plumber who was hired for repairs in Gene's house could hear children's laughter when no one was home. He would look around the room and Robert would be in a different place than before. He also said that toys and objects left in Robert's lap would later be found on the other side of the room as if he had thrown them. Myrtle Reuter's ten-year-old daughter even claimed that Robert was alive and wanted to hurt her. She claimed the doll would move about around the room. In the museum, a staff member had cleaned up and turned off all the lights and left for the night. When returning the next day, he found the lights on and Robert sitting in a different position with a new layer of dust on his shoes.

Gene Otto in his sailor suit that Robert still wears to this day

Thousands of people visit Robert at the museum every day. He sits in a sailor suit that once belonged to Gene with beady black eyes and a stuffed lion in his lap. It is said that you need to be polite with him or he will curse you and your companions. Those who take a selfie with him need to ask permission and wait for a slight nod before doing so or else.

People send letters regularly to Robert which are often apologies along the lines of this one:

Dear Robert,

I want to express my deep regret for the things I said while I was visiting you along with taking your picture without asking. Before meeting you, my life was going along okay. Since meeting you, life has gotten very hard for me. I would very much appreciate it if you release me of the curse you have on me so I can get on with my life.

Thank you so much,

Kristie in Port St. Lucie

So don't mess with Robert.

Since Child's Play there's been a booming interest in haunted dolls. So much that eBay has put some bans on the selling of such objects. They have a policy that specifically forbids the selling of souls. According to a statement from the company back in 2000, “eBay does not allow the auctioning of human souls for the following reasons: If the soul does not exist, eBay could not allow the auctioning of the soul because there would be nothing to sell. However, if the soul does exist then, in accordance with eBay’s policy on human parts and remains, we would not allow the auctioning of human souls.” In 2012, eBay further banned metaphysical items including spells, hexes, potions, and magical services.

The Murder of Suzanne Capper

We can see influences of Child's Play everywhere now but it was received very differently when it came out. On the day of the Child's Play release, a large crowd of protesters met outside of the MGM studies calling for a ban on the film. Luckily, Jeffrey Hilton who worked in the producer’s office was able to quickly quell protest. Although it is our opinion that horror movies are not able to create killers, two murders have been linked to the film.

Suzanne Capper

The first murder was the murder of 16-year-old Suzanne Capper and occurred in December 1992. She was born in Manchester England and was described as a gentle and easily influenced girl. She started babysitting for Jean Powell at the age of ten years old and in 1990, her parents separated. This caused her to start skipping school and instead spend

more and more time at Powell's house. During this time, Capper's sister Michelle also briefly lived with the Powells but ended up moving out when she became uncomfortable with the living situation. Powell dealt drugs out of her home and was involved with handling stolen motor vehicles. Powell had also started becoming close friends with Bernadette McNeilly who ended up moving into the house. This caused many strange relationship dynamics in the house. Powell had an ex-husband named Glyn, but they were still friends, so he often came around just to hang out. Powell's younger brother Clifford Pook also frequently stopped by. Bernadette had a boyfriend named Anthony Dudson and Anthony was also having sex with Jean. Powell was also having sex with Jeffrey Leigh who often stopped by the house to buy amphetamines. Moreover, both Bernadette and Powell bullied Capper but she chose to stay anyways. Michelle stated that Capper stayed not because she was not afraid of them, but because she would do anything for them.

On December 7th, Jean Powell lured Capper to their home and Glyn and Dudson were waiting there. Glynn held her down and shaved her head and eyebrows. They placed a plastic bag over her head and walked circles around her, repeatedly hitting her head. Then, Jean and Bernadette beat her with a 3ft long wooden instrument and a belt. They then took her to the bathroom and made her shave her pubic hair. Jean locked her in a cupboard overnight and the next day she was taken to Bernadette's house where she was tied spread eagle with electrical flex on a bed. She was held there for 5 days and underwent continuous torture. She was beaten, injected with amphetamines, burned with cigarettes, and was forced to listen to recordings of the gangleader repeating, "I'm chucky, wanna play?" through headphones at maximum volume. Bernadette would always say, "Chucky's coming to play" right before she started to torture her. Clifford Pook also used pliers to violently and haphazardly remove two of her teeth. Since she was left to sit in her urine and feces, they placed her in a bath filled with concentrated disinfectant and scrubbed her so aggressively with a stiff brush that it removed skin. On the 14th of December she was taken to the countryside and forced into the woods completely naked where Bernadette, the Powells and Dudson poured petrol over her and set her on fire. During this, Bernadette sang, "burn baby burn! Burn baby burn!" and they even stopped to buy drinks on the way home, showing just how much they did not care about murdering their so-called friend.

Miraculously, Capper did not die and was able to crawl to the edge of a road where Barry Sutcliffe and two colleagues found her and brought her to a nearby house owned by Michael and Margaret Coop. Capper's parents were called to the hospital because they had previously filed a missing persons report. The physical trauma was so severe that they were unable to identify her, but luckily she had one partial fingerprint left on her thumb that they were able to positively identify her from. Sadly, on the 18th of December she passed away in Withington hospital from multiple organ dysfunction syndrome caused by severe burns.

From left to right: Jean Powell, Anthony Dudson, Clifford Pook, Jeffrey Leigh, Bernadette McNeilly and Glyn Powell.

Thankfully, justice was served, because Jean Powell, Glyn Powell and Bernadette McNeilly were sentenced to life imprisonment. Jeffrey Leigh was jailed for 12 years for false imprisonment, Clifford Pook was sentenced to 15 years in a young offenders institution for false imprisonment and conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm and Anthony Dudson was found guilty of murder and sentenced to be detained at her Majesty's Pleasure.

As commonly happens, the media sensationalized the connection between this murder and the Child's Play 3 movie, even though throughout interviews with the accused, no connection was made with the movie. The use of the Child's Play music was just another way to torture Capper because it was a popular track at the time. In fact, the real reasons for Capper's kidnapping were trivial. Jean Powell claimed that Capper tried to get her to sleep with a man for money. Bernadette and Dudson got pubic lice from a bed Capper had slept in and Bernadette also believed Capper had taken her pink duffle coat.

The Murder of James Bulger

James Bulger

The second murder that was linked to this movie occurred in February of 1993. This was the murder of 2-year-old James Bulger, who was born on March 16, 1990 in Liverpool, England. On February 12, 1993, CCTV showed Robert Thompson and Jon Venables skipping school at New Strand Shopping Center. They were shown observing children and trying to select a target. That afternoon James and his mom went to the same shopping center and James disappeared when his mother was temporarily distracted. The footage showed Thompson and Venables taking James' hand and leading him out of the shopping center. They took him to Leeds and Liverpool Canal where they dropped him on his head and inflicted injuries to his face. During this 2.5 mile walk to the canal, they were seen by 38 people but no one intervened because it appeared as if James was their younger brother.

At the canal, Thompson and Venables threw blue modeling paint in his eyes, kicked him, threw stones and bricks at him, put batteries in his mouth and dropped a 22 lb iron bar on him. This bar was described in court as a railway fishplate. This inflicted 10 skull fractures on the child. They then laid him across the railway tracks and put rubble on top of him. A train ran the child over, leaving his body cut in half to be discovered two days later. A forensic pathologist testified that he had died before the train ran him over. There was also debate about a sexual aspect being present because the young boys had taken his pants, shirt and underwear off prior to many of the injuries on his legs had been inflicted.

Robert Thompson and Jon Venables

Thompson and Venables were tried as adults in court because they were capable of mischievous discretion; they were mature enough to understand that they were doing something wrong. They had tried to abduct a different two-year-old previously that day and had clearly planned this murder previously. On the 24th of November, the 11-year-old boys were found guilty and were the youngest convicted murderers of the 20th century. Originally their sentence was a minimum of 8 years but was raised to 15 years after a petition reached 280,000 signatures.

Once again, the British tabloids claimed the attack was inspired by Child's Play 3 because it was one of the films that Jon Venable's father rented in the months prior to the killing. It was never established that Venables had ever even watched it. On top of this, one scene in the film shows Chucky being splashed with blue paint during a paintball game, which is similar to how the boy threw blue modeling paint on James.

Jon Venables

After serving 8 years, they were released under witness protection and given new identities in a secret location. Even after serving the 8 years, Venables showed no remorse, began downloading child porn, dated a woman with a 5 year old child, dated a 17 year old, dated a number of other young women, drank excessively, was arrested for fighting outside a nightclub and was found to be in possession of cocaine. He went back to prison in 2010, after being charged with possession and distribution of indecent images of children and downloading 57 images of indecent children in just one year. He was released in 2013, but in 2017 he was back in prison for possession of child abuse imagery and possessing a pedophile manual.

Many people have heard of James' murder and not many people have heard of Suzanne's. This is because the trials were at the same time and the Bulger trial got more media attention than Capper's did. This meant that her murder was not as strongly connected to the Child's Play film, but I believe that Capper's murder had a larger connection to the film than Bulger's does. The music playing in her headphones and the chanting before the torture is a larger connection than just blue paint and having a father who rented the film. Overall, in my opinion, neither of these murders were caused by the film at all. I strongly agree with Tom Holland who responded to these accusations by saying people could only be influenced by horror movies if they were, "unbalanced to begin with".

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