Popp Culture: “All Friend and No Foe”

by Preston Popp

Welcome to Popp Culture. My name is Preston Popp and some of you don’t know much about me, but you will.

All Friend and No Foe

There has been some dislike and some indifference from one of the flavors of horror that is at Halloween Horror Nights this year and I want to address it in my own way. Humor me and allow me to share this with you.

The following may contain what could be considered surface level spoilers for the Child’s Play film series and the first season of USA/SYFY series Chucky. Results may vary.

I can’t forget the words written in a jagged way, probably to get the pen to work on the white strip of adhesive. “Child’s Play”. Written by I can only presume by my aunt, who lived with my grandmother at the time, and all I knew at the age of 7 is that it sounded quite playful. Don’t judge me too harshly. My super vision was my kind grandmother who never dreamed such a video was in a collection in her house, let alone in the able hands of her seven-year-old Gullah Gullah Island watching grandson. Her OCD had her cleaning one of the other rooms again as my dad, a hard-working single father, was at one of his three jobs while I was at grandma’s house.

Childs Play

Also, don’t judge my aunt or myself too harshly for having a recording of the movie from Cinemax, which I know because I recall the introduction of the movie’s channel premier of Child’s Play specifically recorded onto the beginning of the tape, describing something very different than whatever it was I expected. For the young out there, we did not have DVR of any sort. People were often desperate to rewatch something they enjoyed, or catch something they would not be home for, so at the time, for many, although arguably wrong, had the justified attempt. I promise Don Mancini and any involved in the production I have more than made up for this guilt by association since.

As the Cinemax premier intro ended and the story of Charles Lee Ray unfolded, I was captivated. Kids these days have Poppy’s Playtime or Five Nights at Freddy’s for that child enjoyment turned macabre flare. What clicked with me as a kid from the start was something dark was going on in the toy store as this man was found by the police. Bad guy, the dark voodoo clouds. This was intense. If you know Child’s play, you know how it pans out, and as a boy who felt like was Andy’s age, you can imagine what watching this alone may have felt like. I was familiar enough with Freddy Kreuger’s Lore, and the backstory of Jason Voorhees, I had much older brothers and was raised by cable and video rentals. But this was on my own, and I lived this journey with the characters. Also, the boy, Andy at the end as one may know, sealed the deal and took matters into his own hands. That was powerful for a seven-year-old to see a kid win against his own monster. Still to this day I feel the original film was creepy doll story perfection. Don Mancini took “write what you know” with his dad’s background in advertising and more importantly I think over time it has worked because he took, write what you like to create quite a tale where the killer doll is scary, because he has a dark soul, and horror fun, because Don is a horror fan. Even now, after not seeing the original for nearly a decade I can hear “Let’s play, hide the soul” in Brad Dourif’s performance voice, and it’s chilling.

Childs Play 2

The video store rental items in the near future by the time I was 8 would be Child’s Play 2 and Child’s Play 3. I still feel Child’s play 2 has serious strength as keeping Chucky Savage and after Andy in nightmarish ways. The sequence where Andy is in the holding cell and Chucky is after him from the exterior windows as Andy shouts his pleas for help still gets to me. As a kid watching I wanted someone to just believe him and nearly cried when they didn’t, as I wanted adults to believe me when I knew what was right and wrong. Child’s Play 3 grew with Andy and the humor was strong, but still supported by the darkness of the doll having way too much fun at a military academy. The finale of the third installment particularly registered well as an amusement entertainment fan, as I suppose also with many reading this, as the climax and his demise take place within a spooky traveling dark ride attraction.

Then came late fall 1998. I was in the start of my angsty age coupled with I had seen all the slashers know it all horror fan phase when I saw promos on tv for a new installment coming to theaters. Bride of Chucky. My father was not into slashers by this point but supportive of his 10 year old monster kid who he trusted could handle it. He made sure I got to the small theater and hung out right outside the doors. It just hit me the other day while contemplating this article that the horror movie I watched alone in a house before would wind up with an installment that became my first solo movie theater screening.

Bride of Chucky

It was dark, brutal and went back to voodoo and soul possessing, showing its power. It was certainly different as it leaned into whatever the late 90s was. It had John Ritter in it, who I recognized from his many roles I grew up with and felt like it fit the middle school me wanting the attitude of rock and roll on screen, while ultimately knowing I was safe.

This property and many horror movies my entertainment drifted apart as I went through middle and High School. Beginning in 2003, Halloween Horror Nights was my horror escape and matched my love for theme parks, because it has one for its vessel! In those years I watched part of Seed of Chucky at a friend’s place once and I am pretty sure I saw the middle and end of the film a few times over the years. To this day, I know the gist of the story, but I am not sure I can fairly say I have seen it all.

Much later of course, was Curse of Chucky. I still have to give it a chance, college and life was hitting around that time. The phrase child’s play to me these days are princess tea parties and having my son remind me the name of every Decepticon that is not Megatron. Something I never thought about with having a family is not getting to watch as much content that I would actually want to see. I mean, just how little I find I have time for. I will sneak a movie in once in a while after kids are in bed, but I can’t usually get to many I would like. My wife is an episodic fan and attempts the occasional binge. I tend not to like episodic long run formats but stick to feature films because I know I can commit to those 90 to 120 minutes and be satisfied with a story.

Enter my love for Haunted Attractions and themed entertainment. Much in the same way I read every Harry Potter book once Universal Orlando announced the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” in 2007(yeah, I was that kid who never got into them)I like to at least relate and armchair design what may end up in a themed venue to increase enjoyment. They announced Chucky as the first house of the event for this year as last year’s Halloween Haunt season came to a close. I will admit I was off the horror pop culture wagon so much I did not even realize that by that time that there was even a second season of this show.

Curse of Chucky

Then, in a basement, on a summer eve of 2023, while I know one kid is asleep upstairs and the other child with the non-horror fan wife are out of town, I go in as blind as I could to click play on the jagged letters spelling “Chucky”. Much like the disappearing VHS into the VCR for me in the early 90s, the name disappears into the darkness of what is about to stream. Each episode also has a fun fantastic custom intro after a cold opening where the title “Chucky” is assembled by thematic elements of that particular episode.

No intentional spoilers but you had your warning earlier. The series is great and surreal. It is horror and satire. It is the closest feeling I can get back to the original Child’s play and there are plenty of flashbacks and connections that would by some consider retconning, if not for how well it is crafted under the original creator’s hands no less. Then it hits you with the meta that the series has dabbled in and dived into for a few installments now as its own kind of voodoo. It has me invested again for not just the fantastic puppetry and practical effects that are back, but also the performance and crafting of the twisted and wicked soul that is the Lakeshore Strangler. There are even times where the creators were able to poke fun at themselves that seems to be critically self-questioning details of how the audience never actually sees him strangle anyone on screen as a human, yet the moniker for the killer exists. I was not expecting such a fun time and the meta is for the intelligent and not necessarily beating anyone over the head, which is ironic for a show about a killer possessing a doll who would do just that to you if he could.

At 34 years old I just binged a series for one of the few times in my life. I wanted to finish the second season before this article, but I promise, I am working on it. Relating it back to us haunt hounds, Chucky is certainly nothing less than a friend to Halloween Horror Nights. Particularly more at Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood. Between both events We have had insult emporiums, scare zones, trams as well as houses. Some have been an abstract giant toy take, some tie in to possession and sometimes, lately has been present as a photo op synergy. He has certainly been on horror related merch in many capacities.

He is a modern Universal Monster that has lasted decades. While some have an undying love for rocking the Chuck on clothing or ink, others don’t care for what the character has become, regardless of that, there is no denying the pop culture character that is Chucky. Sincerely, whether you like the direction(s) or not, the character would not be around if not dynamic.Then you would just have a slasher without much to say. The killer doll from 1988(same age as me)is more hip than I am. I am trying to catch up. The humor is dark but it is there and gets quite cerebral and the horror is surreal. That is very welcome at Halloween Horror Nights and on brand. My mind can’t help but think back to my father speaking of his love for the Universal Classic Monsters, and how Abbot and Costello helped the legacy live on by going off the wall for the time. The Monsters remained relevant through pop culture avenues, even with humor. With this new series we have a continuation of the legacy of this monster and Halloween Horror Nights, has a role in keeping legacies and making them visceral.

From my two decades of visiting Halloween Horror Nights Orlando, I have always wanted a more direct approach to the concept of Child’s Play Intellectual property as a House. Practical effects including puppets whenever possible and it would begin with The Lakeshore Strangler. We would be hearing, smelling and seeing the opening cop chase that Chris Surandon’s character Mike Norris was on, taking down Charles while Eddie Caputo left him to die in the toy store.

I am not counting on getting that, but I think the house based on the Chucky USA/SYFY series at Halloween Horror Nights is going to have a lot of fun that speaks to that spirit, that soul of the zeitgeist that is the soul of Charles Lee Ray, that I now certainly realize is, one of our horror friends till the end.

That’s Popp Culture.

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error: @ Horror Night Nightmares