The 70’s and 80’s were fertile ground for horror films. It was a new era of iconic monsters. Starting with Michael Myers and Jason, the trend that gave us Freddy seemed to be at the end of its run by the late 1980’s. Certainly sequels were still being churned out, but it seemed like we’d seen the last of these maniacal monsters, at least for a while. But before it petered out, the cycle would supply our nightmares with one more notable denizen…Chucky. Today Chucky paces the sidelines here in
Child’s Play was the brainchild of writer Don Mancini. Mancini’s original story Batteries Not Included was changed because of the impending Spielberg film to Blood Buddies. The title and many aspects of the story would evolve over time. Eventually the title Child’s Play took over, and Chucky was born. While this screenplay was original in its approach to the horror maniac killer genre, it would be the genius of Kevin Yagher who constructed the animatronics doll that made the film the hit that it would be. Remember this was 1988 and CG f/x were not anywhere near where they are today. Chucky would almost certainly have to be as real in front of the camera as he would need to appear on screen to scare an audience. Yagher ended up constructing the most complex prop yet ever designed for a film. The puppet would need to be durable enough to withstand the rigors of shooting the film. It would also need to be expressive. The result was a mechanical puppet that would require up to 9 people to operate at any given time but would display an unprecedented range of movement, bringing the doll to life.
It had been many years since I had seen Child’s Play. I’m a bit amazed that there was a lot about the story and characters I had forgotten over the years. Maybe that’s because it was Chucky that all of us really remember. Think about it. How much of the film do you remember? I’d be willing to lay odds that all of those memories are tied to the Chucky moments. When you consider the limitations of technology then compared to now, it’s actually pretty amazing that Chucky has the same effect now as he did then.
Little Andy (Vincent) wants nothing more in life than to have a “Good Guys” doll. He’s inundated by the toy. Good Guys appear in television shows, billboards, and constant bombardment of commercials. Mom (Hicks) finally gives in and finds one of the dolls. What neither of them know is that infamous killer Charles Lee Ray (Dourif) was gunned down in a toy store. Before he died he conducted a ritual that transferred his soul into the body of the doll. He plans to transfer his spirit from the doll into Andy, killing anyone who gets in his way. The story is pretty much the doll, animated by Ray’s spirit, slicing and dicing faster than food processor. Detective Norris (Sarandon) is the man responsible for cornering Ray and is the family’s only hope of rescue.
The acting in this film is far from special. Chris Sarandon is way too moody as Detective Norris, and Catherine Hicks seems to be somewhere else most of the time. Even Alex Vincent appears sub par as child actors go throughout the entire film. Brad Dourif was not the first choice to provide the voice of Chucky, even though he played Ray for his brief appearance. I’m not sure when or why things changed, but allowing him to provide Chucky’s voice was a stroke of brilliance. Between the doll’s amazing abilities and Dourif’s voice work, it doesn’t matter if the other actors are rather average. Chucky’s the star here, and he does what not even Jason or Michael Myers can do. He carries the film. Of course Catherine Hicks got a husband out of the mix, since she’s been married to Yagher ever since. What could have been a disastrously silly affair puts the final touches on a parade of memorable monsters.
Child’s Play is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It’s a shame, really, that it’s taken 20 years to get a widescreen version of Child’s Play into my home. This is an incredible leap forward over the full frame version from the previous DVD release. There’s a great deal of grain, most evident in the plentiful dark scenes, but this should not be interpreted as a flaw in the transfer. This was exactly the way the film was made and originally presented at the box office. It does tend to diminish the black levels, however, so I would not have minded a little bit of cleaning here. There is some compression artifact that also doesn’t really help things. Much of the film is underexposed even during daylight scenes. This is definitely a product of its time, and so suffers somewhat when compared to more recent and glossy efforts.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is really nothing very special. The ambient sounds often add some elements of creepiness into the mix, but most of the time settle for a very front loaded experience. Dialog is clear, and the overall quality of the sound is acceptable. Music cues do tend to border on the harsh at times.
There are 2 commentary tracks. One track includes Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks and Kevin Yagher. I think maybe Hicks and Yagher are together, but it’s obvious Vincent’s stuff was recorded at a different time. It’s an awkward track that sometimes rambles.
The second track features Dan Mancini and producer David Kirschner. They offer plenty of insight into the film and its entire evolution. This one is the keeper.
Scene Specific Chucky Commentary: As much as I like this idea, it’s pretty lame here. You can pick 4 short scenes and hear Dourif talking as Chucky sound like he’s commenting on the action. It’s way too forced for my tastes.
Evil Comes In Small Packages: This is a 23 minute feature split into three areas that you can access separately or through a play all option. The parts cover: The Birth Of Chucky, Creating The Horror, and Unleashed. Together it’s a fair behind the scenes feature, covering the evolution of the product including the story and the doll. You get to see lots of the doll creation and manipulation process here.
Chucky – Building A Nightmare: There’s a large amount of overlap here as this 10 minute feature focuses in on the creation of the doll. Again there’s a lot of footage, but much of it was already in the previous feature.
A Monster Convention: The actors reunite at a 2007 horror convention and take questions for just over 5 minutes. Interesting, but, again, we’ve heard it all before.
Introducing Chucky – The Making Of Child’s Play: This is an older feature obviously made at the time of the film itself. It’s just 6 minutes and is more of a promo piece. The footage is pretty rough.
I have a fondness for the maniac slasher films from this era, and Child’s Play signals the end of that era, at least for me. Others have come and gone, but few horror characters of the last 20 years have had the staying power of this elite group. Some argue that we might be in the middle of another such age with the likes of Jigsaw from the Saw franchise. I hope so, but I just don’t see any evidence that a trend in that direction is happening. The truth is we’re in the midst of a huge remake trend of these same monsters. Halloween and Texas Chainsaw have already been remade. Jason and Freddy are on the horizon for remakes at the time of this review. There’s also talk of a return to Chucky, either as a continuation or remake. I hope we don’t see a CG doll in that film. Chucky has one more thing in common with Michael, Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface. “He wants you as a best friend.”