Child's Play [DVD]
Director : Tom Holland
Screenplay : Don Mancini and John Lafia and Tom Holland (story by Don Mancini)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1988
Stars : Catherine Hicks (Karen Barclay), Chris Sarandon (Mike Norris), Alex Vincent (Andy Barclay), Brad Dourif (Charles Lee Ray), Dinah Manoff (Maggie Peterson), Tommy Swerdlow (Jack Santos), Jack Colvin (Dr. Ardmore), Neil Giuntoli (Eddie Caputo), Juan Ramírez (Peddler), Alan Wilder (Mr. Criswell)
Given the increasingly campy nature of the Child’s Play franchise, it was an interesting trip revisiting the one that started it all, which came out during the heyday of the 1980s horror boom. Most of the horror films at that time were of the slasher variety, which meant that Child’s Play stood out as something unique, even as it drew on a long history of “scary doll” stories. What is perhaps most intriguing about the film--and what keeps it compulsively watchable so many years later--is the way in which it is really two movies in one: The first half is an effective, genuinely creepy build-up to what turns out to be a schlocky and intentionally comedic horrorshow.
Originally intended to be a send-up of the ridiculous nature of the children’s toy industry, Child’s Play begins with a serial killer named Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) using voodoo to escape the police by moving his soul from his mortally wounded body and putting it into a “Good Guy” doll, which is all the rage among the preschool set, including 6-year-old Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent), whose single mother, Karen (Catherine Hicks), can’t afford one of the pricey dolls. However, she gets a great deal on one from a shady back-alley peddler (Juan Ramírez), and wouldn’t you know that it’s the same doll in which the Lakeshore Strangler’s soul now resides.
Andy is excited about his new toy, which moves its head, blinks, and says cheesy mantras like, “Hi, my name is Chucky and I’m your friend to the end!” The fact that we know there is something evil residing inside this otherwise benign piece of manufactured childhood fun would make the doll creepy enough, but the filmmakers came up with a perfect design that conveys intended cuteness while also being incredibly ugly; Chucky’s wild red hair, freckled cheeks, and bright blue eyes are too pronounced to be adorable, and there seems to be something wrong with his frozen look of glee. It doesn’t help that Chucky is almost the same size as Andy, which makes him all the more uncanny even when he’s immobile.
Director Tom Holland, who had previously directed the semi-comic vampire movie Fright Night (1985), maintains an air of mystery in the first half of the movie by suggesting the doll’s menace, rather than showing it directly. Like Spielberg did with the shark in Jaws (1975), Holland keeps Chucky almost entirely off-screen, implying his presence with brief glimpses and point-of-view shots. This builds to the film’s best moment, when Karen, having chastised Andy for “telling lies” about how Chucky is really alive, discovers that she never put batteries into the doll. It’s one of those great creep-out moments, and the manner in which Catherine Hicks plays the scene, holding the Chucky doll like a bomb that’s about to go off, truly sells it.
The second half of the film, when Chucky comes fully into his own and all but takes over the screen, is an entirely different beast altogether. You can even feel exactly when the shift takes place, as Karen tries to make Chucky talk by threatening to toss him in a roaring fireplace, to which he responds by turning suddenly nasty and screaming obscenities in Brad Dourif’s grizzled voice. In that very instant the movie goes from creepy to funny and never turns back. Holland clearly recognizes the absurdity of the material, but he plays it straight as Karen and a well-meaning police detective (Chris Sarandon) track the doll’s history while Andy, who has been put in a mental hospital, tries to escape when Chucky discovers that he must transfer his soul into Andy’s body in order to survive.
Like most horror films of its era, Child’s Play relies heavily on special effects, and the effects by Kevin Yagher, who had previously worked on A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and 4, bring Chucky to life in a way that is slightly hammy, but effectively so. After all, we’re talking about a plastic doll that is slowly becoming human, hence he has characteristics that are both wooden and lifelike. Much like Freddy Krueger, Chucky is a sarcastic, malevolent screen presence that you can’t help but be fond of, and like the Terminator he refuses to go down, even when he’s been burned and torn to pieces. Clearly he knows that there are sequels to be made, and in that respect you can’t keep a good doll down.
|Child’s Play “Chucky’s 20th Birthday Edition” DVD|
|Distributor||MGM / 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||September 9, 2008|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|A decent presentation of Child’s Play on DVD has been long overdue, given that the previously available disc, which was released back in 1999, was full-screen. So, with the new “Chucky’s 20th Birthday Edition” we get an anamorphic widescreen transfer of the film that, while short of being revelatory, is still a marked improvement. The image is somewhat soft and slightly grainy with generally muted colors, but I get the sense that this is how the film has always looked. Black levels tend to be somewhat grayish, but there is still decent shadow detail. The disc also offers a new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix that is quite good, especially during the more suspenseful moments when the surround channels are used to space out ambient sounds.|
|For his 20th birthday, it looks like Chucky got more than just a new anamorphic transfer, but also a whole bunch of supplements, including his very own audio commentary. That’s right--on four scenes we get to listen to Chucky himself giving us his thoughts on the movie and what it’s like to be a serial killer trapped in a doll’s body. For those who prefer commentaries featuring something other than a possessed doll, the disc gives us two more, one with stars Catherine Hicks and Alex Vincent and special effects designer Kevin Yagher, and a second with producer David Kirschner and screenwriter Don Mancini. All of these participants also appear in the new 25-minute retrospective documentary Evil Comes in Small Packages, which is broken down into three featurettes: “The Birth of Chucky,” in which Kirschner and Mancini discuss the process by which Mancini’s original script was reworked; “Creating the Horror,” which focuses on the production and special effects (it also includes a fantastic bit of rehearsal footage in which Brad Dourif actually plays Chucky); and “Unleashed,” which looks at the film’s reception and legacy. Fans of the animatronic effects will enjoy “Chucky: Building a Nightmare,” a 10-minute featurette that goes into more depth about how the Chucky puppet was created and controlled. “A Monster Convention” is a 5-minute featurette about the cast reunion at the 2007 Monster Mania convention (this is also where interviews for all the other featurettes were obviously filmed since everyone is wearing the same clothes). For those who want to go back in time, there is the vintage production featurette “Introducing Chucky: The Making of Child’s Play” and the original theatrical trailer. Finally, there is a photo gallery with more than 70 production and behind-the-scenes images.|
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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