When Chucky Didn’t Do It

How a tabloid witch hunt for a killer dollmovie reveals a pursuit of profit over truth

By

Steve Stark

England 1993 and a horrific murder has shocked and horrified the nation. A pair often-year-old boys, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, have been found to have tortured and murdered two-year-old James Bulger after abducting him from his mother’s side at a supermarket.

This senseless, sadistic crime dominated the news for months, terrifying parents nationwide. Search for motive and reason continued into the trial where judge Justice Morland suggested exposure to violent videos might have inspired the boys’ actions. To any horror fan or sensible person Morland’s theory might sound an absurd idea, but this wasn’t long after the “Video Nasty” panic of the eighties.

Headed by “moral campaigner” Mary Whitehouse, this tabloid-fuelled movement had whipped up hysteria, claiming movies such as The Evil Dead and The Exorcist would corrupt young minds, leading to deviant behaviour and violence. In the case of the Bulger killing, many saw proof of what Whitehouse had warned.

Police investigation into the video rental history of each boy’s parents found Child’s Play 3 had been rented by Venables’ father. At the climax of that movie the possessed killer doll, Chucky, dies near a railway track (actually a ghost train) and had earlier been struck with a paintball pellet. For some, the similarities to the Bulger killing were all too obvious. Bulger had died on a railway track having also been spattered with paint.

But that was where the similarities ended and detectives handling the case found it unlikely the movie had even been seen by Venables, since he was not living with his father at the time of the rental. Later psychiatric reports confirmed that Venables disliked horror films, yet by this time Police had already viewed over 200 titles from the Venables’ family rental history and found no scene or storyline resembling what had occurred, nothing they could say might’ve inspired the horrible crime.

Inspector Ray Simpson of Merseyside Police famously commented: “If you are going to link this murder to a film, you may as well link it to the railway children.”

Unfortunately, such facts seemed to elude a frenzied tabloid media, who zealously offered up Child’s Play 3 as scapegoat, rather than explore the more disturbing truths about the case. Nowadays, it’s easy to see the motive behind such willful ignorance. The original video nasty furor had proven quite profitable for the press, so why not bring it back for a sequel? Ironically, this was likely the same thinking which had led those Hollywood execs to greenlight Chucky’s third outing.

Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun newspaper led the charge against Chucky. The paper had long been shunned in Liverpool due to its shameful coverage of the Hillsborough disaster, when 97 Liverpool football fans lost their lives in a human crush at Hillsborough stadium. Initially The Sun had blamed the fans themselves, for being drunk, unruly and ignorant of police instruction. However, further investigation found fault lay with the supervising police who’d opened extra gates in attempt to ease congestion outside the turnstiles. The resulting influx of bodies caused the crush, which also saw 766 people injured.

Boycotts followed that reckless reporting, and The Sun became largely known as “The Scum” in Merseyside and Liverpool. Ever keen to win back the region’s custom, the paper quickly seized upon the Liverpool-based Bulger case and its tenuous link to Child’s Play 3. They aggressively campaigned against the movie, publishing front-page headlines such as “Burn your video nasty” above an image of the VHS cover set alight inside a bin.

Under such intense pressure many video stores refused to stock Child’s Play 3 and Sky TV (also owned by Murdoch) dropped it from scheduling, yet contrary to the Daily Mirror’s triumphant credit-claiming headline, “Banned, thanks to your Daily Mirror”, Child’s Play 3 was never officially banned, nor were the series’ previous instalments ever linked to the controversy.

It’s worth mentioning here that Mary Whitehouse’s NVLA apparently stayed out of this one, perhaps due to a lesson learned from their fruitless and embarrassing persecution of The Evil Dead some years prior. Or perhaps they recognised what the tabloids refused to? Something Judge Morland realised over the course of the case.

Post-trial, Morland laid the blame firmly at the feet of the killers’ parents, stating: “The home background, upbringing, family circumstances, parental behaviour and relationships were needed in the public domain so that informed and worthwhile debate can take place for the public good in the case of grave crimes by young children.”

Sadly, such debate and analysis never took place with a lazy, dishonest media more focused on sensationalism than truth.

Venables and Thompson were initially sentenced to eight years, which was soon extended to fifteen after another campaign from The Sun pressured home secretary Michael Howard to intervene. A later appeal overturned this decision, and the boys were released in 2001 having served the original eight-year sentence. Now both 17 years old, the boys were given new identities and while Thompson has seemingly stayed out of trouble since, Venables has returned to prison repeatedly for various offences over the last two decades. They stand the youngest convicted murderers in modern British history.

To this day The Sun remains unpopular in Merseyside, where the continuing boycott is estimated to cost the paper roughly £15 million per month in losses. Meanwhile, Child’s Play 3 can be freely purchased on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK, although it has rarely been shown on television.

In 1999, Leeds city councilor Loran Cohen attempted to ban the movie’s belated sequel, Bride of Chucky, citing the unproven link to the Bulger case as her reasoning. During a radio interview Cohen claimed to be on a “moral crusade”, but since the councilor must’ve known Child’s Play 3 was never seen by Venables, and that it was never actually banned, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly “moral” about her grandstanding against its sequel. Instead, it seems like an attempt to gain publicity, to virtue-signal against a soft target, and if that was the case, it’s all the more distasteful that she did so in the memory of such a tragic event.

Cohen’s “crusade” rightfully failed, yet for many in the UK, the Chucky series still carries the stigma of a horrific crime it had nothing to do with, largely due to the behaviour of a few self-serving parties.

One person who had very little to say about the movie was James Bulger’s mother, Denise, who’d lost him in the supermarket that fateful day and had to suffer the grief of her loss while under the glare of an intrusive and amoral media. Inspiringly, Denise rebuilt her life following the tragedy and now lives with her three sons and second husband. For decades she has campaigned for various legislation to protect children from criminal offenders and in 2010 she launched the James Bulger memorial trust to support young victims of crime.

Denise received the British citizen award for her efforts in 2017 and wrote a book dedicated to James’ memory which can be purchased from the charity’s website: forjames.org.

Manson’s First Interview

A Life Through Books Interview

By

MANSON

What is the hardest part of writing your books?

Self-doubt. Trying to overcome that nagging inner critic. Nothing ever seems good enough for it, and just when I think I do have something good enough to appease the little beast, it wants me to kill the darling.

What songs are most played on your Ipod?

Since I’m pretty eclectic in my taste of music I’ll list bands instead of songs. I’m a country girl turned city girl. So anything country (especially Johnny Cash). But I’ve been a city girl for a spell, got into the 80’s punk scene, so I’m also an old school, head banging, punker chick and love anything punk and heavy metal. Especially Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Clash, Blondie, Talking Heads, Slayer, Metallica, Slipknot. I like oldies like The Animals and Johnny Ace and Pink Floyd. Also like Hip Hop and Gangsta, like Brotha Lynch, Wu-Tang, Cypress Hill, and Eazy-E.

Do you have critique partners or beta readers?

Oh sugar I have a hard enough time fighting the little monster critic in me and trusting in myself than to put faith in beta readers. Though I suppose the fine folk at No Sell Out Productions could be considered my critique partners when I work with them on my manuscripts. Their editors have been top notch to work with.

What book are you reading now?

The Book of Job.

How did you start your writing career?

With a lot of prayer. As much as I’m filled with self-doubt, I’m also a gal of great faith and belief that helps get me through the doubt, like a doubting Thomas. But I suppose it all started as a reader. I love reading horror, crime, and dark fantasy, and researching the occult. It presented me with what I felt were really great insights, ideas, and possibilities, that I began writing down and expanding on into stories and then of course full novels.

Tell us about your next release.

My next release will be the second book in The Hell Bound Kids series, tentatively titled “Beneath The Nightmare City” which picks up immediately where the first book leaves off. And I’m currently hard at work on the third book in the series.

La Madre De Los Dolores 

The Futility of Hope

by

Anthony Perconti

First of all, let me get something out in the open immediately. The Hell Bound Kids: Wild in the Streets is not the feel-good hit of the summer. It is a mélange of hardboiled fiction, by way of The Lord of the Flies, The Warriors and Dark City with just a tiny hint of supernatural intimations.  Manson’s creation of Punk City is a big mysterious, sprawling set piece that serves a specific purpose and a specific group of, let’s just say, vested individuals. It is an experiment in social Darwinism writ large. Where the only way to survive and thrive is to get your hands dirty. As a father of two, the concept of Punk City is downright frightening to me. It gives me a strong case of the heebie-jeebies. It hits me on a visceral level. 

When editor Jason Duke graciously invited me to contribute to this shared world project, my immediate thought was to introduce a counterforce to the city. An individual whose purpose is to disrupt the status quo. A yin to the city’s yang as it were. While I was at it, I wanted to pay homage to all of those comic book and pulp fiction characters that I loved reading about (and watching) growing up. The Question, The Shadow, The White Tiger and Diabolik, are some of the inspirations (among others) for the character of La Madre de Los Dolores. O’Neil, Cowan, Rucka, Bendis, Kaluta, Sienkiewicz, Baker, Bava with a hint of Andrew Vachss thrown in for good measure. She is my take on a street level hero, who, due to the nature of the city, has dirty hands. 

But in addition to riffing on the masked vigilante genre, I wanted to infuse a bit of hope into Manson’s world. Just a bit. That’s not to say that her creation is downright Ligottian-it’s not. I have it on good authority that The Hell Bound Kids is ultimately a story of hope. And as the series progresses, readers will see this as well. In my contribution, “La Madre de Los Dolores,” I posit the question: is it foolish to have hope in a seemingly hopeless situation? Well, it’s a complicated answer, to be sure. Grant Morrison, in his magnificent history of the superhero genre, Supergods states: “It should give us hope that superhero stories are flourishing everywhere because they are a bright flickering sign of our need to move on, to imagine the better, more just and more proactive people we can be.” Are Morrison’s ideas utopian? Certainly. Is his brand of optimism a little too rose colored? Perhaps. I would argue that it is the intent that is important in this statement. Without hope, without the possibility of things changing, existence is reduced to a turgid cycle. The idea of one’s actions, making a change (even a slight one) in this harsh old world, for the better is a heartening one to me. And as a father, I would not want my children living in a world devoid of hope. That doing good deeds (and treating others with respect and dignity) can have a positive impact on the people around them. Hell, if Matthew McConaughey character of Rust Cohle, at the conclusion of the most Ligottian sequence on television yet devised (True Detective season one) can get in on the action, why not my pulp hero? Sure, the dark has a lot more territory, but maybe, just maybe, our minuscule actions can make this place just a bit less inhospitable.

Mary Whitehouse VS Evil Dead

How one low-budget horror film eventually defeated the censors

by

Steve Stark

In 1984, the British establishment were very concerned, not with the fallout from the Falklands conflict, high unemployment rates or the AIDs epidemic. They werevery concerned with the emergence of a batch of horror films on VHS, chief among them being Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead.

It had come to light that the distributors of titles such as Driller Killer and Cannibal Holocaust, were taking advantage of a legal loophole to avoid submission to the censorious British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). This meant a vast array of gory horror films were sitting in video stores uncut and uncertified, where they could be taken into the homes of unsuspecting plebs, whose unsophisticated minds would soon be corrupted by the depravity on screen.

At least that was how many among the elite saw it.

“Ban the sadist videos” squealed the Daily Mail in a long-running campaign. “Save us from Video Nasties” it begged,and “Moral crusader” Mary Whitehouse heeded the call. Whitehouse and her busybody campaign group, The National Viewers and Listeners Association pressured the government into action and thus the Video Recordings Act was born.

This new act demanded all publications be submitted to the BBFC first, which led to heavy censorship, outright banning and even prosecutions for distributors under the Obscene Publications Act. A total 72 films were banned initially and formed the infamous “Nasties List” which the Mail naively published in hope of warning the public. Ironically, the notoriety only increased interest in these titles and many of them developed a cult following they may not have otherwise found.

Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead was among the 72 nasties and is perhaps the most important. Here’s why –

For his first film, the young director married gory special effects horror with slapstick comedy and to achieve this he concocted a simple set-up which would become a staple of the genre –a group of teens go into the woods, bad stuff happens. In this case the bad stuff involved demonic possession and bodily dismemberment.

Made on a meagre budget of $375,000and by a crew of mostly Raimi’s friends, Dead was clearly not going to be a slick Hollywood production. Fully aware of the limitations, Raimi understood the best way to make his film stand out would be by pitching everything way over the top. He’d draw on his love of The Three Stooges’ slapstick, then add gallons of fake blood to create what some critics would refer to as “Splatstick”.This revolutionary approach would not only bring box office success. It would also draw the Sauron-like gaze of the tabloid press, the NVLA and a certain Mrs Whitehouse.

Whitehouse immediately branded the film “The number one video nasty” despite not having seen it yet. She eventually did when she showed footage to alarmed politicians and following that screening the film was placed on the dreaded list with copies ordered for seizure. Distributors Palace Pictures were then raided by Police and swiftly hauled into the courts on obscenity charges.

Legal proceedings took place over several months, with Raimi flying in to testify. But upon seeing the film,canny judge Owen Stable recognised its humorous intent and outright dismissed the case, even going so far as to criticise the prosecutions service for bringing it to court.

This outcome exposed a chink in the movement’s armour, a chink which would soon begin to crack. After all, how could the video nasties be so bad if the supposed “Number one” was deemed inoffensive by some stuffy old judge?

By 1985 Evil Dead was off the nasties list, yet perhaps out of spite the BBFC still withheld certification for several years. Its eventual release in 1990 was cut by 1 minute 55 seconds. This toned down every act of violence, especially the shots of an ankle being stabbed by a pencil and where a character is sexually assaulted by a possessed tree (incidentally a scene Raimi now regrets). The film finally passed uncut in 2000 and was a top seller on DVD that year.

Nowadays, all 72 Nasty titles are available on DVD and Blu Ray in the UK, most of them completely uncut. It would seem we live in more liberal times. However, as streaming giants Disney Plus digitallycensor harmless fare such as Mermaid comedy Splash, and with Netflix recently providing a needlessly sanitised version of Back to the Future 2, it would seem the authoritarian pearl-clutchers haven’t left us yet. Rather, like the eternal malevolence which lurks in the forest of Raimi’s film, they merely lay in wait of the next unsuspecting victim…

Something To Do With Death: A Review of Coy Hall’s The Hangman Feeds the Jackal

by

Anthony Perconti

Subtitled A Gothic Western, Coy Hall’s novel The Hangman Feeds the Jackal immediately brings to mind the 1974 classic, Richard Brautigan’s TheHawkline Monster. Both books fall squarely within the Western genre, but where Brautigan amplifies elements of the (weird) gothic, Professor Hall focuses the macabre. One zigs, where the other zags. One could argue that The Hawkline Monster is a proto-Weird Western, in the tradition of Joe R. Lansdale’s Reverend Mercer stories. The Hangman Feeds the Jackal in my view, has more in common with Scott Phillips’ 2004 offering, Cottonwood, than Dead in the West. There is nothing overtly supernatural in Professor Hall’s novel: the elements of the macabre are perpetrated by human beings. This Western concerns itself with evil, to be sure, but it is the evil that men do, which makes it all the more disturbing. 

Elijah Valero, who has appeared in three short stories, is the protagonist of The Hangman Feeds the Jackal. In many respects, Valero is a traditional Western lead: he is a gunfighter and quite a deadly one. His reputation precedes him, wherever he goes. However, all is not what it seems. This particular gunfighter suffers from visual and auditory hallucinations that compel him to kill avatars of the ever-relentless Hangman, who takes a myriad of forms and identities. The entity known as The Spider, is Valero’s constant companion and acts as an embodiment of his reptile brain. The Spider is always goading and pushing him to eliminate any potential threats (disguised as the ubiquitous Hangman). Hall portrays Valero as a haunted individual who, during moments of clarity, feels remorse and shame for many of the lives he has taken. Valero’s backstory is parceled out in bits and pieces, throughout the novel, of his tragic relationship with his parents (particularly, his mother). It is in these flashback’s that the true nature of The Hangman is revealed, along with Elijah’s damaged psyche. Hall does an exemplary job of demonstrating that certain individuals become what they are through formative trauma, coupled with hereditary predispositions. The antagonists of The Hangman Feeds the Jackal are a direct counterpoint to Valero’s tortured existence. Spence and Corbin are “gallows followers:” individuals who are infatuated with the act of death (and dying) and have taken their infatuation to its logical conclusion. In modern parlance, they are “thrill-killers.” But as disturbing as these two characters are, their newest associate, the teenager Felix “was an empty husk, capable of no genuine emotion. He was damaged. The boy imitated feelings, but he didn’t experience them.”  

Felix Hines’ actions are the catalyst for much of the story’s plot. I am being intentionally vague, but suffice it to say that many macabre elements of The Hangman, hinge upon the teenager’s decision early on. There is also the local legend of the hidden cache of a fortune in silver that works as the tale’s MacGuffin. Hall deploys many traditional Western tropes during the course of the novel: a posse is formed and dispatched, the sheriff of the settlement Bone of Wellington, is well meaning, yet untestedand yes, a damsel is technically in distress (but so is the majority of the settlement). However, Professor Hall allows the reader entry into his character’s heads, adding a nuanced layer of depth (and characterization to boot) absent from many traditional Western yarns. 

Professor Hall is a storehouse of information with relation to Italian “trash” cinema. I would contend that the man knows more about Spaghetti Westerns, Gialli and the immortal duo of Bud Spencer and Terrance Hill than your average Italian film school student. To this end, Hall peppers in some nice Easter Eggs (one that I am absolutely sure of and two others that I have a strong suspicion about) for the discerning film buff to ferret out. There is one quote that I would like to end off this review with. Previously I mentioned that The Hangman owes more to Scott Phillips than to Joe R. Lansdale and I still stand by that. However, I believe that there is one other writer that Hall is channeling, albeit quite obliquely. Cosmic horror (and crime writer) grandmaster, Laird Barron. These lines could easily work as a description for Barron’s ever hungry, cosmic entity, Old Leech. “Where she would say that Jesus harbored and welcomed these folks, that they were lucky to have passed, he would say something more malignant had occurred. The world was hostile. The whole universe was malignant and if it targeted you…well, there was no loving god waiting when it caught you…Any god with power was a god of animals and he was a brutal god.” Bravo, Professor Hall. Bravo. So, when does the next installment of the Elijah Valero series drop? 


My thanks to Coy Hall and Nosetouch Press for providing me with an advanced reading copy of The Hangman Feeds the Jackal. The release date is June 14, 2022. In the meantime, you can track down these Elijah Valero short stories while you wait. Happy hunting. 

“The Trail of King Death” 2014 The Big Adios issue #1 

“The Spider Vignettes” 2015 Pulp Modern 

“Valero Serves a Hungry Grave” 2017 Broadswords and Blasters 2017 issue #3 

The Hell Bound Kids: Wild In The Streets press release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Jason Duke, No Sell Out Productions publishing

Email: redsunmagazine@gmail.com

Website: noselloutproductions.com

NEW BOOK SERIES THE HELL BOUND KIDS blends HORROR AND DARK FANTASY with elements of true CRIME

Art Imitates Life – And With Violent Crime On The Rise Across The U.S., There’s Plenty To Imitate

PHOENIX, ARIZONA, May 1, 2022: Take all the major cities in the United States with record-breaking crime and homicide rates. Merge them into one big mega city with no clear exits. And the result is Punk City, the fictional city of The Hell Bound Kids, a transgressive new book series blurring the lines between crime, horror, dark fantasy, and suspense.

The Hell Bound Kids is published by indie press No Sell Out Productions and written by series creator MANSON, with contributing authors Anthony Perconti, Sebastian Vice, and Joe Haward. Book One: Wild in the Streets is named after the song by Garland Jeffreys. Another major influence on the series is Sol Yurick’s The Warriors.

The series is centered around the eponymous Hell Bound Kids, one of the many gangs warring for control of Punk City’s hellish streets. The iniquity within the city’s inescapable borders is purposeful, orchestrated by its mysterious ruler, Abraxas, and his corrupt City Management. Together, they rule the megalopolis from within the protection of their fortified sectors, inside a seemingly endless urban nightmare of twisting streets, glowing skyscrapers, and war-torn ghettoes built by an entity known only as the Architect. But when a repentant member of HBK called Ghost learns of a group named the Outsiders that may know a way to escape, it threatens to reveal the city’s true nature, and that is something neither Abraxas, nor the Powers That Be he serves, can allow.

Available in print and ebook on Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and wherever else books are sold, $5.99 in ebook, $13.99 in paperback, $21.99 hardcover. To learn more about this exciting new series, visit: noselloutproductions.com, or contact Jason Duke the owner of No Sell Out Productions to request review copies and/or arrange interviews with the authors.