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Child's Play at 30: Why Chucky remains horror's permanent underdog

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Chucky may just be a toy, but he is resilient. While his slasher compatriots have faced every injustice – in reboots, remakes, and reimaginings – his reign of terror has continued, uninterrupted, across seven films. Chucky has never been launched into space. He has never been dragged into the cinematic gladiatorial ring for Chucky vs Annabelle or Chucky vs the Creepy Twins from The Shining.

He has remained at the centre of a moderately successful 30-year franchise that’s so far grossed over $176m at the box office and survived a downgrade to straight-to-DVD releases, without abandoning the timeline first established in 1988’s Child’s Play. And that is a rare thing. 

Regrettably, though, this is all about to change. In July, MGM announced that a reboot of Child’s Play was in development, without the involvement of the franchise’s creator, Don Mancini, or the voice behind the character, Brad Dourif. Inevitably, Chucky received a makeover in the process: a first look image teased brighter, bluer eyes and a flawless complexion.

Perhaps it’s too early to mourn, but it already feels like so much has been lost in the process. As the original Child’s Play celebrates its 30th anniversary, it’s worth remembering that Chucky has always been one of horror’s underdogs – and that is exactly how he should remain. 

The character was originally born out of the relatively simple notion that dolls are, in fact, quite scary. The mid-Eighties was the time of the Cabbage Patch Kid, as reports began to spread that parents were fist-fighting in the middle of store aisles in order to get their hands on a toy that, on reflection, looks largely like a potato with two eyes plastered on. Don Mancini, a film student at UCLA at the time, was amused by the idea of a killer doll being a metaphor for a child’s unconscious rage.

Originally titled Batteries Not Included, it imagined a doll with the ability to bleed a strange, red substance. A boy named Andy, in an attempt to create a brotherly bond, cuts his thumb and mixes his blood with the doll’s blood. This brings the doll to life, and it starts to kill off anyone who’s ever wronged Andy – his babysitter, his teacher, even his mother. 

Mancini thought the film would serve as a satire of advertising’s sinister influence on children, although it also played off our anxieties surrounding the presumed innocence of children (and what happens when that is subverted), but after his script was picked up by United Artists, John Lafia came on board to rehaul the doll’s backstory.

His draft introduced Charles “Chucky” Lee Ray, a notorious serial killer known as the “Lakeshore Strangler”, who transfers his soul into a Good Guy doll through voodoo ritual, after being cornered by police in a local toy store.

Child’s Play – Trailer

The doll is later found by a homeless woman, who sells it to Karen Barclay, a mother desperate to get her hands on the doll for her son’s birthday. Chucky is at first willing to play along as Andy’s “friend til’ the end”, but following the revelation that he’ll trapped in his new doll body unless he possesses a human soul, he takes the logical step of any seasoned serial killer and embarks on a murderous rampage. 

Further murderous rampages ensue in both Child’s Play 2 (1990) and Child’s Play 3 (1991), as Chucky is melted and dismembered, only to miraculously return each time, angrier than ever before. Although the first three Child’s Play films played the horror relatively straight – or as straight as horror could be for a film about a knife-wielding doll – the gears shifted dramatically in 1998’s Bride of Chucky, which overhauled the franchise into conscious self-parody.

It also, most crucially, transforms Chucky into a kind of antihero, thanks partially to the introduction of Jennifer Tilly’s Tiffany, Charles Lee Ray’s former girlfriend, who also ends up in a doll’s body. The film closes on the birth of their child, revealed in Seed of Chucky (2004) to be the genderfluid Glen[da], voiced by Billy Boyd. With a whole family now orbiting around him, audiences suddenly found themselves rooting for the killer doll, not against.

Although the next two sequels, the straight-to-DVD Curse of Chucky (2013) and Cult of Chucky (2017), shift the tone back towards horror, the franchise’s newfound affection for the character couldn’t be shaken off. 

(Rex Features)

This came to the dismay of many horror fans, but it’s arguably also the reason for the series’s steadiness. Terrors, inevitably, lose their edge after endless repetition, and by Child’s Play 3, the fatigue had already firmly begun to kick in. However, while so many horror franchises have driven stubbornly onwards, hoping to stumble into newfound relevancy, Bride of Chucky embraced the inevitable, recognising that our biggest horror icons now inspire as much affection as they do fear.

Chucky was, in any case, already known for his one-liners, inspired by the taunting humour of A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger. Mancini was focused early on in making the film’s jokes land, meaning Chucky’s voiced switched from an electronic overlay to voicework by Jessica Walter (best-known for her role in Arrested Development), and finally to Dourif – Walter could make Chucky creepy, but not quite funny. 

By embracing the inherent absurdity of a cutesy looking doll who spouts filth and decapitates heads, the Child’s Play series, over time, created its own strange, but welcoming kind of family. Mancini has remained on board as screenwriter, taking over as director for Seed of Chucky (the first four films were directed by Tom Holland, Jon Lafia, Jack Bender, and Ronnie Yu).

So has star Brad Dourif, with his daughter, Fiona Dourif, joining the franchise in 2013. Jennifer Tilly stars both as Tiffany and as Jennifer Tilly, in an act of gleeful parody, in Seed of Chucky. The first film’s child star, Alex Vincent, returned as Andy for the two most recent outings. The downgrade to straight-to-DVD releases even has its advantages, allowing the vibe to remain charmingly lo-fi, in contrast to the sleek look of mainstream horror today.

leftCreated with Sketch.
rightCreated with Sketch.

1/27 The Orphanage (2007)

Directed by

J.A. Bayona

Both my selections on this list mark the two instances in which I’ve actively cried in a cinema out of fear, if you can believe that’s possible. Though J.A. Bayona’s ghostly tale is a beautiful throwback to Gothic conventions, which lace its hauntings with powerful emotions and warnings, that kid with the sack on its head traumatised me for life. Worse, I came back home and remembered the flat I’d newly moved in to had a cupboard with no key, and no clue as to what may be contained inside; considering what’s eventually found to be hiding in the basement of The Orphanage – yeah, I didn’t sleep that night – Clarisse Loughrey

2/27 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Directed by

Don Siegel

Another film that doesn’t rely upon (or need) special effects to make you a bit scared to turn the telly off when you’ve finished watching it. So disturbing in fact that the studio insisted the ending was changed to make it less dark before it was released. The 1978 remake is very good too – Jon Di Paolo

3/27 House of Usher (1960)

Directed by

Roger Corman

I’m a huge fan of Roger Corman’s House of Usher (1960), the first in a series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations the schlock producer made with the gloriously hammy Vincent Price. The latter stars as Roderick Usher, a sickly aristocrat living in queasy isolation with his sister in the crumbling mansion of the title. Corman’s Poe films became increasingly formulaic and campy but this one really delivers – Joe Sommerlad

4/27 The Exorcist (1973)

Directed by

William Friedkin

There have been countless movies about demonic possession but none of them have managed to be quite as memorable as William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. This film has received as much critical acclaim as it has attention from terrified audiences decade after decade. Every sequence will offset your internal rhythm while scenes of a disfigured little girl (Linda Blair’s Regan) crawling on the ceiling will haunt you for many nights to come – Zlata Rodionova

5/27 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Directed by

Tobe Hooper

I am living proof that Tobe Hooper’s seminal horror should not be watched at the age of 11; between the horrifying dinner table scene – where the cries of Marilyn Burns’ Sally are laughed at by her cannibalistic captors – and that final shot of Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) flailing his chainsaw about aimlessly in the air, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the horror film I would least like to watch again – Jacob Stolworthy

6/27 The Shining (1980)

Directed by

Stalney Kubrick

This Stanley Kubrick classic doesn’t necessarily fit into the horror box but for audiences chasing a real sense of unease, The Shining fits the bill. Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, the film tells the story of the Torrance family who hole up in an isolated hotel for the closed winter season. Things take a macabre turn as an evil presence begins to influence father Jack (Jack Nicholson) to undertake a murderous rampage. In typical Kubrick style, nothing is as it seems – Megan Townsend

7/27 The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Directed by

John Hough

I really enjoy watching horror films even though they never scare me; that’s not including The Watcher in the Woods, of course. Yes – Disney film The Watcher in the Woods. There’s just something inherently unsettling about the film’s frequent use of mirrors that freaked me out and the way writing and apparitions suddenly appear in them. Who knew a Disney film could give you nightmares for weeks? – Richard Williams

8/27 Brazil (1985)

Directed by

Terry Gilliam

Every Halloween I consider wearing one of the hideous baby face masks from Brazil and every year I chicken out for fear of my reflection. A sinister Michael Palin is also extremely disorientating. But nothing beats the sinking dread of a tyrannical, behemoth bureaucracy swallowing you whole and turning your dreams into nightmares. Having said that, Brazil is also my favourite film – Joe Vesey-Byrne

9/27 Candyman (1992)

Directed by

Bernard Rose

I was waaay too young when I first saw Bernard Rose’s Candyman and it still scares me to this day. It’s the story of a PhD student (Virginia Madsen) who visits an impoverished Chicago tenement building to investigate an urban myth whispered among the residents about a hook-handed ghost stalking the corridors. Naturally, she soon realises the phantom is all too real…. Philip Glass’s delicate music box score is eerie indeed and Tony Todd utterly mesmerising in the lead. Candyman manages to be both sincerely frightening and an important statement about the legacy of slavery and the injustices still endured by Black America, as relevant now as it was in 1992. Say his names three times before the mirror, I dare you – Joe Sommerlad

10/27 Screamers (1995)

Directed by

Christian Duguay

Screamers is based on a Philip K Dick story, and his trademark other-worldliness and fascination with the dark side of AI/human nature give it some genuinely chilling twists. Plus there’s robots with sharp blades that tear out of the ground and chop you to bits – Jon Di Paolo

11/27 Scream (1996)

Directed by

Wes Craven

Okay, hear me out. Scream might not be a high-quality film or achieve anywhere near the art of modern indie horrors being made on a fraction of the budget, but its antagonist still haunts me and I’ll tell you why: zombies don’t scare me, demons don’t scare me, ghosts don’t scare me, but humans do. None of horror’s clichéd evil beings are as terrifying as a human on a murderous rampage with no apparent motive. Ghostface is gangly, awkward, fallible and all the scarier for it. The way he runs around like a toddler, blindingly slashing at the air, is chilling and an unwelcome reminder that, if you did die at the hands of a psychopath, it wouldn’t involve a cinematic, well-placed spike but a floundering struggle – Christopher Hooton

Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

12/27 Funny Games (1997)

Directed by

Michael Haneke

Whilst not the first film that comes to mind when considering the horror genre, this film for me is as scary as it gets. At first, the violence seems irrational and nihilistic, but the most terrifying thing about Michael Haneke’s Austrian psychological thriller about two men who randomly torture a middle-class family in their idyllic vacation home is the fact that we become the driving force behind the horror. Breaking down the fourth wall (spoilers ahead), one of the oh-so-polite psychopaths rewinds a scene that doesn’t go his way, and gives us a much more gruesome ending to the film, otherwise, as he says straight to camera: “we’d all be deprived of our pleasure – Kirsty Major

13/27 Ringu (1998)

Directed by

Hideo Nakata

Make no mistake: if the Hollywood version of Ring is a decent remake, the Japanese original is far more petrifying. There is just something inexplicable about Asian horror films rooted in Japanese folklore and ghost stories that makes them far creepier. Watching it for the very first time is like living a nightmare; as Sadako crawls out of the well, you’ll find yourself automatically pushing against the back of the sofa in the hope she will not eventually end up in your living room. The movie put me off watching TV and picking up the phone for a couple of weeks, at least – Zlata Rodionova

Photograph: Allstar/Omega

14/27 Mulholland Drive (2001)

Directed by

David Lynch

For me the scariest moment in any movie ever has to be from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. The scene happens around 10 minutes into the film but is sold bold and confident in it’s ability to scare you it actually tells you exactly how it is going to do so. By using dream logic, distorted sound and strange camera movements, the scene transports you into a nightmare, turned reality for one of the characters in the scene. These five minutes are exhausting to behold but it is a masterclass in how to effectively use the jump scare. This segment perfectly encapsulates the rest of this beautiful, confusing and surreal movie as you never know what lies around the corner on Mulholland Drive – Greg Evans

15/27 The Others (2001)

Directed by

Alejandro Amenábar

This chiller doesn’t rely on CGI or special effects to be scary – it’s all about building tension through old-fashioned dramatic tricks and it does it brilliantly. Nicole Kidman delivers an absolute tour de force and it is riveting and affecting as well as liable to make you jump out of your seat – Jon Di Paolo

16/27 Dark Water (2002)

Directed by

Hideo Nakata

One of the horror films that still scares the heck out of me. It’s by Hideo Nakata, who made the equally as scary The Ring. Hollywood did a remake with Jennifer Connelly in 2005, but there is definitely something about the original Japanese version that leaves you with a haunting feeling – Mars El Brogy

17/27 Signs (2002)

Directed by

M. Night Shyamalan

Seeing that alien for the first time as he gets unceremoniously booted from a Brazilian kids birthday party still gets me, just as it did when I ran from the room the first time I saw it. I still resent that broadcaster’s blatant flouting of TV dogma by playing so much tension-inducing build up before the action itself – Charlie Atkin

18/27 Paranormal Activity (2009)

Directed by

Oren Peli

The only film I’ve ever watched where I considered switching off halfway through out of sheer terror. The tension ratchets up endlessly as the ‘found footage’ style adds to the claustrophobia. A decision was made long ago never to watch it again – Tom Embury-Dennis

Or: a cautionary tale for leaving your leg dangling out of your bed. Injecting fresh life into the found-footage formula, the first Paranormal Activity managed to induce chills the world over by the simple – and rather frugal – use of a static camera set up by couple Katie and Micah, all in the hope they can learn what’s going ‘bump’ in the night. With every new nighttime scene – each displaying more demonic hauntings than the last – your sounds of terror will become more audible. – Jacob Stolworthy

Available on Netflix

19/27 Black Swan (2010)

Directed by

Darren Aronofsky

Guaranteed to make your skin crawl, Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 take on classic ballet Swan Lake is a textbook example of psychological horror. Ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman) lands the coveted role of the Swan Princess, only to find she cannot engage with her evil alter-ego – the Black Swan. When Nina attempts to engage with her dark-side, she loses herself altogether – Megan Townsend

20/27 V/H/S (2012)

Directed by

Various

The rising crop of horror filmmakers (Adam Wingard and Ti West included) teamed up to make V/H/S, an anthology film comprised of six disturbing vignettes; if one doesn’t scare you senseless, it’s a sure bet the next will. The opening two linger in my memory, each taking familiar concepts – a night out with your pals and a honeymoon – and adding a slant of depravity that’ll chill you to the core. Next time someone tells you they “like you,” run a mile – Jacob Stolworthy

21/27 Oculus (2013)

Directed by

Mike Flanagan

Psychological thrillers can be terrifying enough as they are, but throw in a spooky supernatural storyline and you’ll have nightmares for days (or at least, I did). Oculus tells the story of a woman determined to clear her brother’s name in the brutal murder of their parents. The siblings suspect supernatural forces are at play, with an antique mirror being at the root of all the evil. Suffice to say, the first thing I did as soon as I got home from the cinema was to throw a blanket over the giant mirror sitting in my room – you know, just in case – Chantal DaSilva

22/27 It Follows (2014)

Directed by

David Robert Mitchell

David Robert Mitchell’s synth-encrusted nightmare shows sound’s essential role in the genre. It Follows premises itself on the very simple idea that something is out there, something indistinguishable from your fellow man, except that they’re always headed straight for you. No matter where you may be, and no matter where you may run to. A figure walking down the street may seem ordinary at first, but Disasterpeace’s score here turns that image into paralysing fright. Seeing this in the cinema, tucked up right next to the loudspeaker as the synths reached their climax and blood pooled the screen, unashamedly made me cry like a kid left behind in a shopping mall – Clarisse Loughrey

Available on Netflix

23/27 Green Room (2015)

Directed by

Jeremy Saulnier

Patrick Stewart isn’t the first name that comes to mind when I think of horror; but 2015’s Green Room left me terrified; suspense from start to finish with an uncharacteristically dark turn from Stewart as detached neo-Nazi leader Darcy Banker – Ronan O’Shea

Available on Netflix

24/27 The Invitation (2015)

Directed by

Karyn Kusama

“You look great”. “ I’ve started this new class, it’s changed my life.” We’ve all been there. A dinner party with old friends, someone you deliberately haven’t seen in a while proselytizing about their latest fad diet, class, or retreat. The Invitation takes that a step further: Will takes his new partner for dinner at his ex-wife’s house, joining a cast of friends who haven’t seen each other since he lost his son over a year ago. As the wine flows, and two new guests join the old crew, Will begins to realise that they’ve been brought here for another reason all together – Kirsty Major

Available on Netflix

25/27 Under the Shadow (2016)

Directed by

Babak Anvari

For anyone who has seen Under the Shadow, it should come as no surprise that Iranian-born Babak Anvari’s film is Britain’s Oscar entry for best Best Foreign Language Film. Though short in length (a brief 74 mins), every scene drips with intensity. The 80s set film follows a mother and her young daughter as they struggle with a demon haunting their apartment’s building in war-torn Iran. Alongside the nightmarish torment of the Djinn, the building is being bombed by militant forces, meaning the threat comes from both inside and out, culminating in one of the year’s best horror films – Jack Shepherd

Available on Netflix

26/27 The Witch (2016)

Directed by

Robert Eggers

The Witch is set in 17th contrary New England and follows a family banished from their Puritan plantation. When the youngest suddenly disappears, the blame falls upon Anya Taylor-Joy’s young character, though she knows something more is at play. As the film progresses, stranger and stranger things start to happen, all with a heavy twang of religious imagery. The jump scares may not be frequent but the atmosphere is utterly terrifying – Jack Shepherd

27/27 Raw (2017)

Directed by

Julia Ducournau

All good horror reflects our deepest collective fears back at us, and Raw gives us this with a side of human flesh. Justine is a first-year veterinary student, who at once fasts and purges, lets loose and withdraws, scaling the highs and lows that coming of age brings. She throws herself with abandon at human flesh, both literally and metaphorically – with an older sister whose destructive behaviour leaves her with little in the way of a role model to help navigate her newly burgeoning desires – Kirsty Major

1/27 The Orphanage (2007)

Directed by

J.A. Bayona

Both my selections on this list mark the two instances in which I’ve actively cried in a cinema out of fear, if you can believe that’s possible. Though J.A. Bayona’s ghostly tale is a beautiful throwback to Gothic conventions, which lace its hauntings with powerful emotions and warnings, that kid with the sack on its head traumatised me for life. Worse, I came back home and remembered the flat I’d newly moved in to had a cupboard with no key, and no clue as to what may be contained inside; considering what’s eventually found to be hiding in the basement of The Orphanage – yeah, I didn’t sleep that night – Clarisse Loughrey

2/27 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Directed by

Don Siegel

Another film that doesn’t rely upon (or need) special effects to make you a bit scared to turn the telly off when you’ve finished watching it. So disturbing in fact that the studio insisted the ending was changed to make it less dark before it was released. The 1978 remake is very good too – Jon Di Paolo

3/27 House of Usher (1960)

Directed by

Roger Corman

I’m a huge fan of Roger Corman’s House of Usher (1960), the first in a series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations the schlock producer made with the gloriously hammy Vincent Price. The latter stars as Roderick Usher, a sickly aristocrat living in queasy isolation with his sister in the crumbling mansion of the title. Corman’s Poe films became increasingly formulaic and campy but this one really delivers – Joe Sommerlad

4/27 The Exorcist (1973)

Directed by

William Friedkin

There have been countless movies about demonic possession but none of them have managed to be quite as memorable as William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. This film has received as much critical acclaim as it has attention from terrified audiences decade after decade. Every sequence will offset your internal rhythm while scenes of a disfigured little girl (Linda Blair’s Regan) crawling on the ceiling will haunt you for many nights to come – Zlata Rodionova

5/27 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Directed by

Tobe Hooper

I am living proof that Tobe Hooper’s seminal horror should not be watched at the age of 11; between the horrifying dinner table scene – where the cries of Marilyn Burns’ Sally are laughed at by her cannibalistic captors – and that final shot of Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) flailing his chainsaw about aimlessly in the air, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the horror film I would least like to watch again – Jacob Stolworthy

6/27 The Shining (1980)

Directed by

Stalney Kubrick

This Stanley Kubrick classic doesn’t necessarily fit into the horror box but for audiences chasing a real sense of unease, The Shining fits the bill. Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, the film tells the story of the Torrance family who hole up in an isolated hotel for the closed winter season. Things take a macabre turn as an evil presence begins to influence father Jack (Jack Nicholson) to undertake a murderous rampage. In typical Kubrick style, nothing is as it seems – Megan Townsend

7/27 The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Directed by

John Hough

I really enjoy watching horror films even though they never scare me; that’s not including The Watcher in the Woods, of course. Yes – Disney film The Watcher in the Woods. There’s just something inherently unsettling about the film’s frequent use of mirrors that freaked me out and the way writing and apparitions suddenly appear in them. Who knew a Disney film could give you nightmares for weeks? – Richard Williams

8/27 Brazil (1985)

Directed by

Terry Gilliam

Every Halloween I consider wearing one of the hideous baby face masks from Brazil and every year I chicken out for fear of my reflection. A sinister Michael Palin is also extremely disorientating. But nothing beats the sinking dread of a tyrannical, behemoth bureaucracy swallowing you whole and turning your dreams into nightmares. Having said that, Brazil is also my favourite film – Joe Vesey-Byrne

9/27 Candyman (1992)

Directed by

Bernard Rose

I was waaay too young when I first saw Bernard Rose’s Candyman and it still scares me to this day. It’s the story of a PhD student (Virginia Madsen) who visits an impoverished Chicago tenement building to investigate an urban myth whispered among the residents about a hook-handed ghost stalking the corridors. Naturally, she soon realises the phantom is all too real…. Philip Glass’s delicate music box score is eerie indeed and Tony Todd utterly mesmerising in the lead. Candyman manages to be both sincerely frightening and an important statement about the legacy of slavery and the injustices still endured by Black America, as relevant now as it was in 1992. Say his names three times before the mirror, I dare you – Joe Sommerlad

10/27 Screamers (1995)

Directed by

Christian Duguay

Screamers is based on a Philip K Dick story, and his trademark other-worldliness and fascination with the dark side of AI/human nature give it some genuinely chilling twists. Plus there’s robots with sharp blades that tear out of the ground and chop you to bits – Jon Di Paolo

11/27 Scream (1996)

Directed by

Wes Craven

Okay, hear me out. Scream might not be a high-quality film or achieve anywhere near the art of modern indie horrors being made on a fraction of the budget, but its antagonist still haunts me and I’ll tell you why: zombies don’t scare me, demons don’t scare me, ghosts don’t scare me, but humans do. None of horror’s clichéd evil beings are as terrifying as a human on a murderous rampage with no apparent motive. Ghostface is gangly, awkward, fallible and all the scarier for it. The way he runs around like a toddler, blindingly slashing at the air, is chilling and an unwelcome reminder that, if you did die at the hands of a psychopath, it wouldn’t involve a cinematic, well-placed spike but a floundering struggle – Christopher Hooton

Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

12/27 Funny Games (1997)

Directed by

Michael Haneke

Whilst not the first film that comes to mind when considering the horror genre, this film for me is as scary as it gets. At first, the violence seems irrational and nihilistic, but the most terrifying thing about Michael Haneke’s Austrian psychological thriller about two men who randomly torture a middle-class family in their idyllic vacation home is the fact that we become the driving force behind the horror. Breaking down the fourth wall (spoilers ahead), one of the oh-so-polite psychopaths rewinds a scene that doesn’t go his way, and gives us a much more gruesome ending to the film, otherwise, as he says straight to camera: “we’d all be deprived of our pleasure – Kirsty Major

13/27 Ringu (1998)

Directed by

Hideo Nakata

Make no mistake: if the Hollywood version of Ring is a decent remake, the Japanese original is far more petrifying. There is just something inexplicable about Asian horror films rooted in Japanese folklore and ghost stories that makes them far creepier. Watching it for the very first time is like living a nightmare; as Sadako crawls out of the well, you’ll find yourself automatically pushing against the back of the sofa in the hope she will not eventually end up in your living room. The movie put me off watching TV and picking up the phone for a couple of weeks, at least – Zlata Rodionova

Photograph: Allstar/Omega

14/27 Mulholland Drive (2001)

Directed by

David Lynch

For me the scariest moment in any movie ever has to be from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. The scene happens around 10 minutes into the film but is sold bold and confident in it’s ability to scare you it actually tells you exactly how it is going to do so. By using dream logic, distorted sound and strange camera movements, the scene transports you into a nightmare, turned reality for one of the characters in the scene. These five minutes are exhausting to behold but it is a masterclass in how to effectively use the jump scare. This segment perfectly encapsulates the rest of this beautiful, confusing and surreal movie as you never know what lies around the corner on Mulholland Drive – Greg Evans

15/27 The Others (2001)

Directed by

Alejandro Amenábar

This chiller doesn’t rely on CGI or special effects to be scary – it’s all about building tension through old-fashioned dramatic tricks and it does it brilliantly. Nicole Kidman delivers an absolute tour de force and it is riveting and affecting as well as liable to make you jump out of your seat – Jon Di Paolo

16/27 Dark Water (2002)

Directed by

Hideo Nakata

One of the horror films that still scares the heck out of me. It’s by Hideo Nakata, who made the equally as scary The Ring. Hollywood did a remake with Jennifer Connelly in 2005, but there is definitely something about the original Japanese version that leaves you with a haunting feeling – Mars El Brogy

17/27 Signs (2002)

Directed by

M. Night Shyamalan

Seeing that alien for the first time as he gets unceremoniously booted from a Brazilian kids birthday party still gets me, just as it did when I ran from the room the first time I saw it. I still resent that broadcaster’s blatant flouting of TV dogma by playing so much tension-inducing build up before the action itself – Charlie Atkin

18/27 Paranormal Activity (2009)

Directed by

Oren Peli

The only film I’ve ever watched where I considered switching off halfway through out of sheer terror. The tension ratchets up endlessly as the ‘found footage’ style adds to the claustrophobia. A decision was made long ago never to watch it again – Tom Embury-Dennis

Or: a cautionary tale for leaving your leg dangling out of your bed. Injecting fresh life into the found-footage formula, the first Paranormal Activity managed to induce chills the world over by the simple – and rather frugal – use of a static camera set up by couple Katie and Micah, all in the hope they can learn what’s going ‘bump’ in the night. With every new nighttime scene – each displaying more demonic hauntings than the last – your sounds of terror will become more audible. – Jacob Stolworthy

Available on Netflix

19/27 Black Swan (2010)

Directed by

Darren Aronofsky

Guaranteed to make your skin crawl, Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 take on classic ballet Swan Lake is a textbook example of psychological horror. Ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman) lands the coveted role of the Swan Princess, only to find she cannot engage with her evil alter-ego – the Black Swan. When Nina attempts to engage with her dark-side, she loses herself altogether – Megan Townsend

20/27 V/H/S (2012)

Directed by

Various

The rising crop of horror filmmakers (Adam Wingard and Ti West included) teamed up to make V/H/S, an anthology film comprised of six disturbing vignettes; if one doesn’t scare you senseless, it’s a sure bet the next will. The opening two linger in my memory, each taking familiar concepts – a night out with your pals and a honeymoon – and adding a slant of depravity that’ll chill you to the core. Next time someone tells you they “like you,” run a mile – Jacob Stolworthy

21/27 Oculus (2013)

Directed by

Mike Flanagan

Psychological thrillers can be terrifying enough as they are, but throw in a spooky supernatural storyline and you’ll have nightmares for days (or at least, I did). Oculus tells the story of a woman determined to clear her brother’s name in the brutal murder of their parents. The siblings suspect supernatural forces are at play, with an antique mirror being at the root of all the evil. Suffice to say, the first thing I did as soon as I got home from the cinema was to throw a blanket over the giant mirror sitting in my room – you know, just in case – Chantal DaSilva

22/27 It Follows (2014)

Directed by

David Robert Mitchell

David Robert Mitchell’s synth-encrusted nightmare shows sound’s essential role in the genre. It Follows premises itself on the very simple idea that something is out there, something indistinguishable from your fellow man, except that they’re always headed straight for you. No matter where you may be, and no matter where you may run to. A figure walking down the street may seem ordinary at first, but Disasterpeace’s score here turns that image into paralysing fright. Seeing this in the cinema, tucked up right next to the loudspeaker as the synths reached their climax and blood pooled the screen, unashamedly made me cry like a kid left behind in a shopping mall – Clarisse Loughrey

Available on Netflix

23/27 Green Room (2015)

Directed by

Jeremy Saulnier

Patrick Stewart isn’t the first name that comes to mind when I think of horror; but 2015’s Green Room left me terrified; suspense from start to finish with an uncharacteristically dark turn from Stewart as detached neo-Nazi leader Darcy Banker – Ronan O’Shea

Available on Netflix

24/27 The Invitation (2015)

Directed by

Karyn Kusama

“You look great”. “ I’ve started this new class, it’s changed my life.” We’ve all been there. A dinner party with old friends, someone you deliberately haven’t seen in a while proselytizing about their latest fad diet, class, or retreat. The Invitation takes that a step further: Will takes his new partner for dinner at his ex-wife’s house, joining a cast of friends who haven’t seen each other since he lost his son over a year ago. As the wine flows, and two new guests join the old crew, Will begins to realise that they’ve been brought here for another reason all together – Kirsty Major

Available on Netflix

25/27 Under the Shadow (2016)

Directed by

Babak Anvari

For anyone who has seen Under the Shadow, it should come as no surprise that Iranian-born Babak Anvari’s film is Britain’s Oscar entry for best Best Foreign Language Film. Though short in length (a brief 74 mins), every scene drips with intensity. The 80s set film follows a mother and her young daughter as they struggle with a demon haunting their apartment’s building in war-torn Iran. Alongside the nightmarish torment of the Djinn, the building is being bombed by militant forces, meaning the threat comes from both inside and out, culminating in one of the year’s best horror films – Jack Shepherd

Available on Netflix

26/27 The Witch (2016)

Directed by

Robert Eggers

The Witch is set in 17th contrary New England and follows a family banished from their Puritan plantation. When the youngest suddenly disappears, the blame falls upon Anya Taylor-Joy’s young character, though she knows something more is at play. As the film progresses, stranger and stranger things start to happen, all with a heavy twang of religious imagery. The jump scares may not be frequent but the atmosphere is utterly terrifying – Jack Shepherd

27/27 Raw (2017)

Directed by

Julia Ducournau

All good horror reflects our deepest collective fears back at us, and Raw gives us this with a side of human flesh. Justine is a first-year veterinary student, who at once fasts and purges, lets loose and withdraws, scaling the highs and lows that coming of age brings. She throws herself with abandon at human flesh, both literally and metaphorically – with an older sister whose destructive behaviour leaves her with little in the way of a role model to help navigate her newly burgeoning desires – Kirsty Major



Indeed, the films have largely resisted the onslaught of CGI, relying instead on a complex system of animatronics and puppeteering. On the Blu-ray release of Cult of Chucky, Mancini notes that it took six different people merely to lift the doll’s eyebrow and turn his head. 

How much of this will be carried through to the Child’s Play reboot? Even the most optimistic of projections don’t look good. With Mancini, Dourif, and franchise producer David Kirschner all absent from the process, it now falls to the project’s director, The Wall’s Lars Klevberg, and its screenwriter, Tyler Burton Smith, who worked on the 2016 video game Quantum Break.

The plot reportedly riffs on Netflix’s Stranger Things, but with a hi-tech twist, as Chucky will now be a piece of AI gone rogue, terrorising a group of neighbourhood children. However, the Chucky we know and love hasn’t yet been defeated: Mancini has announced a TV series will continue his original narrative arc, with further feature films planned. As Chucky himself once wisely noted: “A true classic never goes out of style.”

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