true crime

Inside the theory that Child’s Play 3 motivated the murder of James Bulger.



CONTENT WARNING: This story contains details of extreme violence against children.

The 2019 Child’s Play movie remake was released this week; and if you’re not brave enough to see the film yet, you may have watched the trailer. But the trailer won’t tell you that the original 1988 movie has been linked to one of the most horrific murders of a child in memory.

British children Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were just 10 when they tortured and killed two-year-old James Bulger in 1993. To understand their brutal actions, some have claimed that one of the sequels of Child’s Play – 1991’s Child’s Play 3 – inspired their behaviour.

James Bulger’s death.

On February 12, 1993, two-year-old James Bulger was taken by Venables and Thompson when his mother, Denise Bulger (now Fergus) was momentarily distracted at a butcher’s shop.

What ensued was hours of torture, most of which has been too graphic to report.

child's play
A surveillance camera shows the abduction of two-year-old James Bulger from a shopping mall. Bulger holds the hand of Jon Venables, one of two ten-year-old boys later convicted of his torture and murder. Image: Getty.

Essentially, Bulger was taken to various locations by the boys, as they finally headed to deserted railway tracks at a nearby village.
The official cause of the toddler’s death was beating, as his captors punched, kicked and stoned him.

They also threw paint on him, and into his left eye.

Finally, Bulger’s lifeless and battered tiny body was tied to a railway track. His body was found days later.

The case of unprecedented brutality by children outraged the nation, and made Venables and Thompson two of the most reviled criminals in British history.

They were found guilty of murder, and sentenced at “Her Majesty’s pleasure”, requiring their imprisonment to be constantly reviewed. In June 2001, they were both paroled into society, and given new identities.

The Child’s Play movies.

The basic premise of the Child's Play movies is that a doll, Chucky, is possessed by a serial killer, and terrorises and murders people.

The film franchise consists of six movies containing extremely violent content, which most would agree is only appropriate for mature minds.

The latest instalment – the 2019 remake – is rated MA 15+ for Australian audiences.

Watch the trailer for the new Child's Play film here. Post continues after video. 

Video via Orion Pictures

In one scene in 1991’s Child’s Play 3, the possessed Chucky dies after being splattered with paint and having its face beaten; a fate similar to Bulger’s.

This would become relevant discussion at the boy’s murder trial.

The trial judge’s opinion of the boys’ motive.

Rated 18 plus in Britain at the time, there was a theory that Child’s Play 3 could have had a major influence on Bulger’s murder, especially considering the similarity with the paint/death scene.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Morland, said that exposure to violent movies may have influenced the behaviour of the boys, as it had been revealed that Venables may have been exposed to the horror film when it had been rented by the family a month before the murder.

However, it was reported that the solicitor for Neil Venables, the father of Jon Venables, refuted the claim that his son had watched it.

The idea became part of a wider discussion involving media and even Parliament, about children’s access to ‘mainstream’ depictions of violence in Britain at the time. For example, The Independent reported that Sir Ivan, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said it was becoming “daily more obvious” that such exposure was responsible for the rise in juvenile crime.


The police did not blame Chucky.

According to the police on Bulger’s case, the Child’s Play theory was convenient for people to try to understand the absolutely incomprehensible actions; and it was also wrong.

Albert Kirby, who directed the murder investigation, gave evidence that Venables was not living with his father at the time, and the chances of him having viewed the film while it was rented were unlikely.

The official conclusion was made that there was no link. One senior detective said:

“We went through something like 200 titles rented by the Venables family.

“There were some you or I wouldn't want to see, but nothing – no scene, or plot, or dialogue – where you could put your finger on the freeze button and say that influenced a boy to go out and commit murder.”

Psychiatric reports presented to the court further denied the association between the actions and the film, as it evidenced that Venables had an aversion to horror movies.

The direct link in Suzanne Capper’s murder.

The Child’s Play films were directly connected to another murder; that of 16-year-old Suzanne Capper.

Kidnapped and tortured in 1992 by a group of criminals, it was revealed at trial that before she was murdered, Suzanne was forced to listen to recordings of the leader repeating the doll’s trademark line, "I'm Chucky, wanna play?"

However, the murder trial coincided with Bulger’s trial, and so did not receive much attention in the media at the time; hence, in the public’s memory, Suzanne’s murder is not as connected as strongly with the Child’s Play movies as it should have been.