The ’90s Horror Sequel Caught Up In A Murder Trial

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

Horror movie murder trial

What if a horror movie was so influential that it led its biggest fans to commit murder? It may sound like the marketing line for the next spooky A24 film, but this actually happened with the classic 1991 horror movie Child’s Play 3. After two British children tortured and killed two-year-old victim James Bulger, the similarities between this terrible crime and one of the killer doll Chucky’s onscreen kills became the focus of a murder trial.

Most of the details of this horrific crime are far grimmer than anything you might watch in Child’s Play 3. It all began when 10-year-old children Jon Venables and Robert Thompson kidnapped two-year-old James Bulger from his mother when she was distracted at the butcher’s shop. The attackers proceeded to move their victim to multiple locations, torturing and eventually killing him after hours of torment.

Scenes from Child's Play 3

Where does the Child’s Play 3 connection come in, though? During their assault on Bulger, the murderous children also threw paint onto their victim. This bore a surface-level resemblance to Chucky’s final fate in that movie, where we see the deadly doll splattered with paint and then having his face severely beaten. Bulger’s face was also beaten and covered in paint, and a judge suspected a potential connection to the movie.

This wasn’t just a case of the killers coincidentally recreating such video violence: the judge in the killers’ trial believed that because the Venables’ father had rented Child’s Play 3 months before the murder of James Bulger, it might have influenced their terrible actions. This was part of a larger cultural movement in England at the time that was very concerned about violent movies having a negative effect on young and impressionable minds.

Paint-splattered Chucky at the end of Child’s Play 3

What probably won’t surprise you is that no firm link between Child’s Play 3 and the murder of James Bulger was ever found. Not only did the solicitor for the Venables’ dad testify that his child had not watched the horror film at all, but the police corroborated this information. In the course of their investigation, investigators discovered that Jon Venables wasn’t even living with his father at the time Child’s Play 3 was rented.

On top of that, Jon Venables’ psychiatric reports that came up during the trial revealed that the killer somewhat ironically hated horror films. The police even went so far as to review hundreds of other films the family rented aside from Child’s Play 3. Their conclusion was that nothing in either that Chucky movie or anything else the family had rented could have reasonably inspired such a terrible crime.

Scenes from Child's Play 3

These days, our hand-wringing over whether violent movies turn people violent seems a thing of the past. Collectively, we have all agreed with the bleakly funny line from the first Scream movie that “movies don’t create psychos…movies make psychos more creative!” For better or for worse, that leaves us with the bleak conclusion that the police investigating the murder of James Bulger reached: that people sometimes do unthinkable things, and it’s human nature to try to scapegoat these crimes as a way of understanding them. 

In modern culture most agree horror movies are simply an escape from real life. And as this case exhibits, nothing in the creepiest horror film you’ve ever seen is scarier than the world around us.