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.

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.