Child’s Play (Blu-ray)
Starring Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif, Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon
Directed by Tom Holland
Distributed by Scream Factory
What is it about speech-capable horror villains that cause filmmakers to turn them from menacing to maniacally humorous within a sequel or two of the original film? I can appreciate Freddy’s gallows humor as much as the next horror fan, but by the fourth or fifth entries in his series the guy was practically doing standup (side thought: a Krueger’s Comedy Case act would have been a riot back in his prime). The ghouls from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series went from darkly humorous to clearly humorous to The Skeletal Three Stooges by the time Army of Darkness (1993) rolled around. And, of course, there’s Chucky, the demonic, diminutive doll who always has a quip at the ready. His one-liners have become so synonymous with the series that audiences may have forgotten there was a time when he was legitimately scary (as scary as a three-foot tall doll can be). Child’s Play (1988) introduced the world to Chucky, the pint-sized terror whose name has become inexorably linked to evil dolls or scary smallfolk. Before screenwriter Don Mancini ramped up his humor skills to infinity, however, Chucky spent his first outing on a rampage of revenge and resurrection. A few years back I revisited the film again for the first time in years and was a pleasantly surprised to find it has only gotten creepier with age.
Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) has been the ideal son to his single mother, Karen (Catherine Hicks). He makes her breakfast in bed. He does his chores. He makes sure to be on his best behavior. All of this, of course, means he wants something. The “something” in this case being the hottest toy on the market – a Good Guy doll. Only problem is Karen can’t afford it on her department store slave wages. Lucky for her, an explosion at a toy store the night before has allowed an open-box Good Guys doll to fall into the hands of a street peddler. Unlucky for her: the doll is possessed by the spirit of Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), a serial killer who used voodoo magic to transfer his soul into the doll just before his body died. Karen scores the doll for a basement price and excitedly brings it home to Andy. He brims with enthusiasm, which is a bit sad when you realize this kid has no real friends and is relying on a doll to bring him a modicum of happiness.
Despite it being Andy’s birthday, Karen’s no-nonsense store manager forces her to work that night, so Karen’s coworker Maggie (Dinah Manoff) offers to step in and watch Andy. After some strange occurrences involving Andy’s new doll, Maggie is frightened by something that causes her to fall out of the kitchen window in spectacularly over-the-top fashion to her death. Andy is quick to pin the blame on Chucky, but Det. Norris (Chris Sarandon) suspects another pint-sized person may be the culprit: Andy. His reasoning relying almost entirely on a set of small shoeprints found at the scene. When Andy is again caught in a precarious situation – having taken Chucky to a seedy downtown home so he can exact revenge on his former partner – a psychiatrist orders him to be placed in a hospital until further notice. Karen, meanwhile, finally learns of Chucky’s true nature and tries in vain to convince Det. Norris of her findings. He is understandably skeptical… until Chucky attempts to kill him, too. Now with both adults, armed with knowledge of how to kill Chucky, on his side Andy escapes the hospital and heads home for a final confrontation with his former “best friend till the end”.
There was clearly less concern about amping up the humor for Chucky’s first outing, though that isn’t to say he doesn’t let a few zingers fly every now and then. For the most part, though, Chucky is a sadistic little fuck whose primary interest is in taking over a young boy’s body so he can return to the world of flesh and blood. Part of me is morbidly curious to see a film where he succeeds, continuing on with his rampage within the guise of a kid. Holland’s film falters a bit during the second act, when the entire game is waiting for characters to learn Chucky is actually alive, but the first act sets up some brilliantly tense moments that, while not ambiguous, certainly hold off on the reveal of Chucky so that once he does show his true face it comes as a shock.
Though it doesn’t often get credited as such, the film plays with voodoo lore quite a bit. The whole reason Charles Lee Ray is able to download his spirit into a doll is due to his knowledge of voodoo magic and transference. Later in the film, when Chucky visits the practitioner who taught him what he knows, a voodoo doll is used to sadistic effect. The use of voodoo rituals grounds the supernatural elements into something with a certain veracity, making Chucky’s mission a little more unsettling.
Kevin Yagher and his crew did a killer job of making the finale scenes with Chucky splendidly creepy. The script may have had to use more contrived means to make it all believable on some level – Det. Norris becomes a little incompetent because the story requires him to be off his feet – but those moments when Chucky is being burned and dismantled yet he keeps coming after Andy and Karen? Chilling. My favorite scene in the entire film is when Andy, having just discovered Chucky’s flaming corpse has disappeared, is tripped and he scoots away on the wood flooring while a melted Chucky menacingly stalks him down the hallway. It is of such imagery that nightmares are made.
After this entry, Chucky would go on to star in five sequels of varying quality, each taking on a more comedic bent than the last. Mancini continued writing the series, taking over the directorial duties starting with Seed of Chucky (2004). Chucky works perfectly well as a wise-cracking prankster, maybe it even suits him better than attempting to be scary (which makes sense, given his stature) but those who have forgotten there was a time when he wasn’t such a kidder would do well to revisit the film where it all began.
Scream Factory went to the film’s inter-positive for a new 2K scan of the 1.85:1 1080p image, the results of which are ever-so-slightly superior to MGM’s previous Blu-ray. This isn’t a night-and-day difference, so if you’re buying this hoping for a vastly improved transfer… don’t. Still, this is a mostly strong image overall, with tighter contrast and better clarity. Black levels are generally solid. Colors appear accurate but they are a tad muted. The gritty decay of Chicago and its mean streets permeate the palette in every scene. Definition varies, too, with some scenes exhibiting excellent detail while others appear softer in focus. Daylight shots, unsurprisingly, offer up the greatest examples of clarity. Again, not a major upgrade by any means but certainly an improvement no matter how minor.
The English DTS-HD MA track – in 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround sound – is a fairly standard audio offering. Dialogue comes through clean and clear, with no noticeable hissing or pops. The rear channels do a nice job of filling out the streets of Chicago, with plenty of ambient city sounds creating an immersive environment. Composer Joe Renzetti’s score employs an aura of mood and sinister sounds, downplaying the childish elements of the plot for something more terrifying. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
The only extras found here are four commentary tracks – a new track with director Tom Holland, and two legacy tracks – the first with Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, and “Chucky” designer Kevin Yagher; the second with producer David Kirschner and screenwriter Don Mancini; the third with Chucky himself, on select scenes.
“Making Chucky” contains the following featurettes and interviews:
– “Behind-the-Scenes Effects Footage” – This is a lengthy piece, featuring the film’s special effects being worked upon in the studio. It’s all very fly-on-the-wall, camcorder stuff.
– “Howard Berger: Your Special Effects Friend ‘Til the End” – Berger, a longtime vet of the industry, touches a little upon his career before devoting much of the conversation to his work here assisting in Yagher’s shop.
– “Life Behind the Mask: Being Chucky” – Ed Gale, the diminutive actor who donned Chucky’s outfit for many of the film’s scenes, talks about his time on set.
A handful of pieces under the title “Featurettes” include the following:
– “Evil Comes in Small Packages” – This making-of was previously found on MGM’s special edition DVD and Blu-ray, with interviews featuring much of the cast & crew.
– “Chucky: Building a Nightmare” – The film’s special effects are discussed here, while also showing off construction on Chucky.
– “A Monster Convention” – Some of the cast reunited for a panel discussion at Monster Mania 2007.
– “Introducing Chucky: The Making of Child’s Play” – This is your standard studio EPK covering the film’s overview.
– “Vintage featurette” – For such a brief piece a lot of ground is covered, but, again, it’s a fairly standard EPK.
“More Child’s Play” contains a TV spot, the film’s theatrical trailer, “Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery”, and “Posters & Lobby Cards Photo Gallery”.
- NEW 2K scan from the inter-positive
- NEW Audio Commentary with director Tom Holland
- Audio Commentary with Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks and “Chucky” designer Kevin Yagher
- Audio Commentary with Producer David Kirschner and Screenwriter Don Mancini
- Audio Commentary with Chucky (select scenes)
- NEW Behind-the-Scenes Special Effects footage from Howard Berger (60 minutes)
- NEW Howard Berger: Your Special Effects Friend ‘Til The End – interview with special effect artist Howard Berger (40 minutes)
- NEW Life Behind the Mask: Being Chucky – an interview with actor Ed Gale (40 minutes)
- Evil Comes in Small Packages featuring interviews with Don Mancini, David Kirschner, John Lafia, Chris Sarandon, Brad Dourif, Catherine Hicks, Alex Vincent, Kevin Yagher (24 minutes)
- Chucky: Building a Nightmare featuring Kevin Yagher (10 minutes)
- A Monster Convention featuring Catherine Hicks, Alex Vincent and Chris Sarandon (5 minutes)
- Introducing Chucky: The Making of Child’s Play Vintage Featurette (6 minutes)
- Vintage Child’s Play featurette (5 minutes)
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spot
- Rare Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery
- Posters and Lobby Cards Gallery