Content warning: This article mentions the kidnapping and murder of a child.
It's been over 30 years since the murderous doll Chucky burst onto screens in Child's Play. The popular horror movie spawned a ton of sequels, comic books, and video games. You can even get your wits scared out of you by a Child's Play show at Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights. Now the popular franchise is getting a 2021 facelift.
The latest iteration of the Chucky doll collection comes in the form of a new SyFy TV show aptly named Chucky. However, a cloud hangs over the popular franchise. The movies weren't always well-received by every country. The U.K., for example, restricted its viewing. Could it be the gore? The dark magic intertwined throughout the films? Why was Chucky banned?
Why was Chucky banned in the U.K.?
Technically, Child's Play wasn't banned, but its viewing was restricted by the United Kingdom, which refused to carry copies of the film in video stores. This happened in 1993 when the murder of James Bulger, a 2-year-old boy in Britain, was allegedly linked to Child's Play 3. The discussion surrounding the violence and gore of horror movies as something that can influence children has been ongoing. In this instance, this theory was rejected, but what happened?
What happened to James Bulger?
On Feb. 12, 1993, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, both 10, lured then 2-year-old James Bulger away from a shopping center while he was there with his mother. Two days later, his mangled body was discovered over two miles away from where he was taken. His body was covered in blue paint. There was CCTV footage of James being led away by two young boys police mistakenly thought were teenagers because the footage wasn't very clear.
The video was circulated all over the news, which caused calls to come pouring in. People were in shock that the suspects were clearly children. According to a truTV article, Robert's mother, Ann Thompson, asked if that was him in the video. He denied it. Susan Venables, Jon's mother, said her son showed a deep interest in the case. She also mentioned seeing blue paint on the sleeve of his jacket.
Eventually, an anonymous tip from one of Susan's friends led to their arrest. The boys reacted differently to being questioned by the police, but they both came clean when it came to the murder. The trial began in November of 1993. Robert and Jon underwent psychological evaluations and were deemed fit to stand trial. Neither was suffering from any mental illnesses, though they were diagnosed with PTSD.
How was the movie 'Child's Play' involved in the murder of James Bulger?
During the trial, the videotape renting habits of Neil Venables, Jon's father, came under scrutiny. According to a 1993 article in The Guardian, Neil had a love of horror movies. While investigating the case, police looked at the last 50 movies Neil rented. Among them was Child's Play 3, in which the final scene depicts the Chucky doll being destroyed by a set of train tracks. James Bulger was murdered near train tracks.
It was never confirmed whether or not Jon and Robert had access to Neil's videos. The judge presiding over the case said, "Exposure to violent videos had played a strong part in corrupting them." While speaking to The Independent in December 1993, Child's Play director Tom Holland said, "Viewers of horror movies could only be influenced by their content if they were unbalanced to begin with."
Professor Susan Bailey, a child psychiatrist and expert witness during this trial, cited the following reasons why a child might do what Robert and Jon did. In an article from The Daily Mail, she claims "inconsistent parenting, a mother who suffers depression during the child's early years, an aggressive father figure, and witnessing excessive violence or sexual abuse from an early age" are all things that will affect the developing brain of a child.
Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were sentenced to life in prison but were released in 2001. Robert has not reoffended since his release and is living under a new identity. Attempting to uncover his new identity is a punishable offense that can result in jail time. Jon, however, wound up behind bars again in 2010 when he was found with child abuse images on his computer.
He was released in 2013, but he was back in jail for being caught with child abuse images once more in 2017. In 2018, he was sentenced to 40 months in prison. In 2019, reports surfaced of a potential permanent move to Canada for Jon, but according to one report released in November of 2020, Jon does not want to be released from prison for fear that he will re-offend.