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Child's Play (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 9/9/2008
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/6/2008
The doll is probably one of the most common and recognizable toys in the world. Kids love dolls and use them as representations of babies and pretend playmates. My daughters love dolls and they are all over our house. We even use the word "doll" to describe someone who is attractive. So, here's the question: If dolls are so prevalent and universal, then why are they so scary? It always feels as if dolls are staring at you and it wouldn't take much to convince me that they walk around at night. Filmmakers have known about this universal (?) fear for years and there have been plenty of movies with killers dolls. For years, the fetish doll from Trilogy of Terror was the most famous movie doll. However, that reign of terror ended in 1988 when a doll named Chucky hit the screen in the movie Child's Play, and things have never been the same.
Child's Play opens with police detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) pursuing murderer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif). Ray flees to a toy store, where's he's fatally shot by Norris. As he's dying, Ray lays his hands on a "Good Guy" doll, a large doll with red hair, which causes the store to explode. The scene then shifts to an apartment, where we meet single-mom Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) and her son, Andy (Alex Vincent). Andy really wants a "Good Guy" doll for his birthday, but Karen can't afford it. While at work, Karen learns of a "peddler" (read: homeless man) who has one of the dolls for sale. She buys it and takes it home to Andy, who is delighted. That night, Andy's babysitter is killed, and blame immediately falls on the child. However, Andy insists that the doll, known as Chucky, can talk and he murdered the babysitter. Detective Norris gets involved with the case, and while he sympathizes with Karen, he insists that Andy be a suspect. Meanwhile, other people begin to die and it soon becomes obvious that Andy can't be responsible. Could Chucky actually be alive?
After five (and possibly a sixth) movie, Chucky has become a horror icon and one of the few horror characters who has crossed into the mainstream. Ask most anyone under the age of 45 who Chucky is, and they can most likely give you an answer. And while I've seen all of the (inferior) sequels, I hadn't seen Child's Play in its entirety in years. It's very interesting to see just how humble Chucky's beginnings were. The film's (reported) $9 million budget was fairly average for a horror film in 1988, but the film still has a low-budget look. Not to imply that the movie looks cheap, far from it, but considering how well-known Chucky is today, I was taken aback by the gritty look of the movie.
That also shouldn't imply that the movie isn't effective either, as it is. Being as familiar as we are with the character today, it's difficult to project oneself backwards in time and imagine what it was like to not know exactly what was going to happen with Chucky. I saw the movie in the theater during its original release, and, going in, I knew that it was about a killer doll. However, few were prepared for just how insane and sadistic Chucky turns out to be.
And going with that thought, the movie works on two levels. In the first half of the film (again, assuming that we aren't familiar with Chucky), the movie plays up the mystery elements. Is the doll really alive? Could Andy be a killer? During these scenes, Chucky sneaks through the background of shots. Following this, the movie becomes more of a full-on horror movie where we now know that Chucky is alive and that he will kill anyone who gets in his way -- even a child. While saying that the film is frightening may be a stretch, Chucky is certainly creepy and his ferocity is disturbing.
Given that the Chucky films have become violent cartoons, it's great to revisit the original. The movie comes across as somewhat dated at times, and again, there is a low-budget sheen to the movie, but it's also great to see Chucky placed in a no-holds-barred horror movie where he doesn't rely on one-liners. As with Freddy Krueger, the humor added to the films over the years has diluted Chucky. So, while Child's Play isn't perfect, there's no denying that it was an influential film and those who are only familiar with Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky should definitely check this out.
Child's Play comes to life on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. This "Chucky's 20th Birthday Edition" remedies the issue with past DVDs by have the film in anamorphic widescreen. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear for most of the film. The image does show a small amount of grain and there are some mild defects from the source material, such as black specks. The image is also slightly dark at times. Despite this, the colors look very good and there's no overt artifacting on the picture. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For an older film, this is a surprisingly good track. The surround sound and subwoofer effects are quite lively and really come to life in scenes with explosions. Even at low volume, the surround effects are very noticeable. The stereo effects are good as well. Combined, the overall quality of the audio only enhances the scenes where Chucky is sneaking around.
The Child's Play DVD contains a toybox full of extra features. We start with two AUDIO COMMENTARIES. The first features actors Alex Vincent & Catherine Hicks and "Chucky" Designer Kevin Yagher. (Vincent is recorded separately from Hick and Yagher.) This is a pretty good commentary, as Hick and Vincent share their memories of working on the movie, while Yagher adds input about how Chucky was brought to life in each scene. Unfortunately, it's also a redundant commentary, for as the Vincent was recorded separately from the other two and the whole thing was edited together, he'll share an anecdote and then we'll hear the story again from either Hicks or Yagher. Great trivia: Yagher, who built Chucky, has never met Brad Dourif. The second commentary has Producer David Kirschner and Screenwriter Don Mancini. This is a good talk, as Mancini focuses on the story (and the changes from his original script) and Kirschner reminisces about the actual making of the movie. They talk about the evolution of Chucky and how this film differs from the sequels. In a twisted move, we get commentary from Chucky on four select scenes, where he reminisces about the events of the movie. "Evil Comes in Small Packages" (25 minutes) is a three-part featurette which explores the making of the film. We get comments from Kirschner and Mancini who discuss the conception of the film. (The original script was apparently very different.) There are also comments from co-writer John Lafia and archive interviews from Director Tom Holland. The focus then shifts to the casting, and there are interviews with Chris Sarandon, Catherine Hicks, and Alex Vincent, who talk about how they became involved in the film and how they approached their roles. We get to see rehearsal footage where Dourif acts as Chucky. The piece contains behind-the-scenes video showing the building of Chucky and we see how Chucky was played by a little person in some scenes. Kirschner and Mancini then discuss the film's release and reaction. "Chucky: Building a Nightmare" (10 minutes) focuses on Chucky designer Kevin Yagher who discusses the challenger of building the doll. Effects gurus Tom Savini, Tom Woodruff, Jr., and Alec Gillis praise the work which went into Chucky. There is more vintage video showing the creation of the doll. "A Monster Convention" (5 minutes) shows Sarandon, Hicks, and Vincent at a con in 2007, taking questions. "Introducing Chucky: The Making of Child's Play" (6 minutes) is a vintage featurette from 1988. The extras are rounded out by the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film and a PHOTO GALLERY.
On September 15, 2009, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brought Child's Play to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc offers an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 34 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, although it is a tad soft. We get very slight grain here, but the good news is that the defects from the source material which were present on the DVD transfer are nowhere to be found here. The image is somewhat dark at times, but the colors look good, most notably those related to the Good Guys dolls. The level of detail is adequate. This looks better than the DVD, but it still looks like a 20 year old film. The Disc contains a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.6 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The audio is a bit flat overall, but it's still pretty good. The stereo effects are fine and we get some mild bass effects during the action scenes. The surround sound comes across as a bit artificial, as if the mixer chose only certain sounds (footsteps, thunder) to come from the rear channels, while others got ignored.
The Child's Play Blu-ray Disc contains the same extra features as those found on the DVD.
Review Copyright 2008/2009 by Mike Long