I must have been about five, maybe six. I was walking through an airport, and most of my walking through airports was done at that age. We were going to or from Spain, back when our family had money for holidays abroad. I remember trying to keep up with my parents, who were storming ahead, and I remember clutching the handle of my own little suitcase, the four little wheels spinning behind me. My grandparents, if they were even there, were off somewhere else; my grandmother, to this day, must have things just so, so it’s highly likely she was dragging my grandfather around to some arbitrarily suitable restaurant, or gift shop, or something.

I could date it more specifically if I could remember whether my grandfather was there, or not there, but I cannot. I know we rarely travelled alone, but I cannot place them in the picture, so what does that tell me?

It’s simultaneously indistinct and crystal clear, like all childhood memories. We were on a long stretch after customs, a seemingly endless blur of corridor, with a grey wall on my left, and shops on my right. Or was it a black wall? Did I even look at the wall? I imagine I was drawn instead by the bright lights and lavish displays of the shops. At some point along that stretch, as we were rushing through, I saw it; the cover for the VHS of Child’s Play 3, filled entirely with Chucky’s face. I think it was at the front of a WHSmiths, or perhaps a Virgin Megastore. It stood out to me because it was a standee, and also because it was the most horrible thing I’d ever seen.

I had no idea what Child’s Play was, at this point, because for obvious reasons my interest in horror was a long way from burgeoning, and it actually took me years until I realised that the film that had haunted me for years after was the third in that relatively ho-hum franchise with a devoted cult following. It would be a decade or more before I learned about the controversy of the film regarding its ties to the James Bulger case, or about the series’ eventual descent into high camp, or its generally maligned place in the horror canon.

Now, it’s easy to pinpoint why it struck me so, but back then I was just riding the wave of pure feeling. For a start, I’ve always had an aversion to the evil twisted snarl that’s like a smile gone wrong; think Krueger, Regan, that cadre of villains. But there was something childlike, innocent, about the very nature of Chucky’s face. I don’t think I realised he was a doll, but I knew there was something youthful about it, at odds with the look of the face. Of course, the red font and garish nature of the standee indicated at once that it was a horror film, so I think that threw me. And the shadows at the edges, like it was emerging from the dark, set my imagination on fire. I instinctively felt like he should stay in the dark.

Child's Play 3

I remember stopping, looking, staring. What was it Conrad wrote, the fascination with the abomination? I remember my father’s hand on my arm, pulling me away. Now is not the time. Must get going. Words to that effect. The plane journey, as best I know, passed without incident, or if we had just got off the plane, had passed without incident. Obviously it did, I’m here writing this. But in that brief moment, both of childish naiveté and genuine urgency, time stopped. It stands clear in my head like an HD polaroid. Indistinct and crystal clear.

Of course, all of those tiny details are probably false. As the memories of the journey receded around the standout incident, I likely constructed that narrative to try and contextualise the horror. But things weren’t the same after that. I began to be aware that there were things, distinctly adult things, not made for the likes of me, that were potentially dangerous, dark, harrowing. My room, before so cosy and homelike, now seemed vast, huge, endless.

My coat, which used to hang so carelessly on the back of my door, now took on a sinister edge. I would wake up in the night and stare at it, as if looking at it would freeze it. It looked like a body, or perhaps something lying dormant, waiting for me to let my guard down. It looked like how I imagined the rest of Chucky’s body would look like. Ready to, at any moment, jump off and get me. Not kill me, not torture me, not scare me, just… Get me. Then it moved to the top of my wardrobe. Sometimes I thought I saw things at the window. Eventually, after many panic stricken nights, I managed to push it to the back of my mind, and sleep easy again.

But that face, that cover… It never left me. I doubt it ever will; I hope it never does.

It seems laughable, really, for such a low-grade piece of forgettable schlock to have had such an impact on my formative years. Truth is, if I drew up a list of my favourite horror franchises, it would be some time before Child’s Play made an appearance. But I feel strangely indebted to it, for opening the door to things not meant for me, for starting my own personal journey through the transgressive, the journey we all go on in some way.

It might be a dreadful film, and looking at it now, a fairly unremarkable cover, anonymously designed for the video market, but at an age long before any critical faculties had set in, I simply felt it, felt the terror, the strangeness, the gaudy sense of macabre, startling me and stopping me in my tracks like a lightning bolt of fear.

All because I looked right, instead of left.