If you're above a certain age, you'll undoubtedly be familiar with the moral storms "child's Play 3" caused in the UK when the tabloid media tried to blame this film for influencing two of the most infamous murders of 1993.
However, upon viewing this movie it's hard to believe how such a relatively innocuous horror sequel, which by all accounts is fairly tame by today's standards, could have caused such an uproar and resulted in the government introducing further restrictive legislation on the classification of home video's.
Basically it was all thanks to a lot of sensational media scaremongering. The first incident in question concerned the trial of two 10 year old schoolboys, who abducted, and later killed, a young 2 year old named James Bulger, from a shopping centre in Liverpool whilst he was out with his mother.
The incident that triggered the media witch hunt started when the judge at the trial made an off-the-cuff remark after passing sentence, saying "Whilst there has been no actual evidence of this, I suspect that exposure to violent movies may have had something to do with your actions". Eager to cash in on the publics shock and disgust at this case, the press had a field day and quickly began hunting round the local video shops to see what films had been rented out by the two boys parents.
For some reason, the tabloid press started publishing articles about horror films, in particular the film "Child's Play 3" claiming that the father of one of the two boys had rented it just prior to the murder, and began scapegoating this film as being the reason behind the killing.
However, it was revealed soon after on the BBC news that neither child had actually seen the film. The father in question who hired the film had long been estranged from the mother and lived on his own, so neither of them had even had the opportunity to see it.
The police even went public and confirmed this. Merseyside Police Inspector Ray Simpson was even quoted in "The Guardian" newspaper, saying that they had "looked at all the videos in their houses and checked their lists of rentals from the shop. We did not find Child's Play 3, nor did we find anything in the list that could have encouraged them to do what they did. If you are going to link this murder to a film, you might as well link it to The Railway Children".
Never-the-less, it did not stop the scaremongering press from continuing to publish outrageous, and somewhat unbelievable stories about the film saying how "sick" and "evil" it was. Even going to great lengths to try and draw parallels between some of the killings in the film and how young Jamie was murdered, which of course there where none!
It was several months later when another court case caught the attention of the media. 4 young adults had been jailed for the murder of 16 year old Suzanne Kapper, who they had abducted then spent several days torturing to death in a house in Manchester. Apparently one of the things they had done, was to play her deafening rave/techno music through a set of headphones, one of the tracks apparently containing lyrics sampled from the Child's Play films.
Whilst anybody with an ounce of intelligence could realise that their choice of music had nothing to do with their actions in the murder, the fact that one of the songs they played to her contained words sampled from Child's Play gave the press all the fuel they needed to get their teeth into the film for a second time around.
The "Sun" newspaper, who it is worth noting has given us such sensational stories in the past as "Freddy star ate my hamster", went to organise a "Burn your video nasty, for the sake of our children" campaign, calling on people to destroy their horror video's. The likes of this media hysteria hadn't been seen since "Video Nasties" furore of the early 80's and the usual roll call of vocal pro-censorship do-gooders where quick to jump on the bandwagon now that they had a whole stack of tabloid newspapers willing to air their views for them again.
The police who investigated the case again found no evidence that this, or any other video film, played any part in influencing these individuals. But of course, that didn't cut any ice with the tabloid media or the pro-censorship lot. Video shops around the country stopped stocking the film and the distributors, CIC video, decided to have it pulled from the shelves as well as scrapping it's proposed sell-through release, along with "Child's Play 2" which they also withdrew.
In amongst all this scapegoating and bandwagon jumping, one Liberal-Democrat MP named David Alton, a jumped up little bible-basher who clearly had no idea of the meaning of the words Liberal or Democratic, seized his opportunity and announced his intention to bring in a bill that would effectively outlaw home videos that had a classification of "15" or "18", saying that such films where "Not suitable for viewing in the home". The prime minister at the time, John Major, was even quoted on saying "We must condemn a little more, and understand a little less." about the matter.
The then director of the BBFC, James Ferman, spoke out against this however, arguing that films like Child's Play 3 SHOULD be available in what was supposedly a free country. Fortunately, Alton's proposed bill was eventually scuppered when it was pointed out that implementing it would also mean that classic films like "Schindler's List" wouldn't be available either.
However, the compromise of this was that the 1984 "Video Recordings Act" was amended, resulting in even stricter censorship requirements for films being released onto home video. The BBFC were now required to pay special attention to "Video representations of violence, horror, criminal behaviour, sex and drugs".
So, as was the case with the "Video Nasties" furore of the 80's, the scaremongering tabloid press had successfully managed to create moral panic amongst societies more prudish and gullible elements in order to sell newspapers, with the end result being the government drawing up further restrictive legislation on the availability of home videos.
Of course, looking back now, whether or not this had any real impact on the already stringent censorship regulations this country had at the time is a matter of opinion. Horror films continued to line our video shop shelves, as they do today. But thanks to the press, Child's Play 3 was firmly associated in the public mind with the killing of Jamie Bulger (irrespective of the truth). So it, along with it's predecessor "Childs Play 2", remained unavailable from the period of 1993, right up till 2002 when the distributors finally decided that enough water had passed under the bridge to re-issue it.
But consider this, was the so-called "shocked" and "outraged" public that the press said where calling for a ban on horror movies back then, not the same "shocked" and "outraged" public that flocked to the cinema in their droves to see the re-issues of "The Exorcist" and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" in 1999, or (slightly) more recently the likes of "Scream 3"?
The scaremongering tabloids that where organising burnings of horror video's back in 1993, are they now not the same tabloids who have been writing up rave reviews over these exact same films?
This proves 3 things. Firstly, what the more prudish types say isn't necessarily the same view that everybody else has. Secondly, the media blows whichever way the wind does, and thirdly, DON'T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ!!!!!
The information on this page was compiled from the following sources, Dark Side Magazine, The BBC news website, CinemaXS, Melon Farmers Video Hits website and the Book "See No Evil" by David Kerekes and David Slater.
See also, the following news article from the Independent
Video link to Bulger Murder disputed (originally published Fri 26/11/93)