Child’s Play (1988)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: October 18th, 2016
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Would Child’s Play still be made today? I ask because it’s easy to forget just how weird and fucked up this (relatively) big budget, studio-backed killer doll movie is. This was my personal takeaway after revisiting the film for the first time since reviewing it way back in 2008. Since then, Chucky returned to his roots in a manner of speaking, though few could deny a simple fact about 2013’s Curse: just about everyone was still there to watch Chucky do his thing. Less a villain and more a bizarre mix of antihero and stand-up comedian, Chucky’s act has become something of a routine that we’ve come to delight in. There’s a reason his name eventually began to headline the titles in this franchise, after all.
However, it must be noted that his first supremely screwy outing had him terrorizing a six-year-old kid and his beleaguered, widowed mom. All Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) wants for his birthday is a Good Guy doll, and his mother Karen (Catherine Hicks) would do just about anything to provide on instead of a shitty, disappointing pair of jeans. When a street peddler offers one for a deal that’s too good to be true, it feels like a godsend; in reality, the doll has been possessed by Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), the recently blown-to-hell Lakeshore Strangler whose voodoo dabbling has granted him life after death. Studio horror loglines rarely come as messed up as this: there’s obviously something inherently wrong about an invasive force perverting such an admirably wholesome and scrappy home. These two already don’t have much as it is, and even their small “victory” results in Karen’s friend Maggie (Dinah Manoff) plummeting to her death from the Barclays’ apartment window.
Considering its outlandish premise, Child’s Play actually thrives because it initially follows it to its most logical conclusion: since no one rightly believes the undead spirit of a serial killer has inhabited a doll, Andy becomes the primary suspect, leaving a bewildering Karen to wonder just where she went wrong. Has her son’s short six years on earth been so traumatic that he’s lashing out with violence and concocting outlandish stories about a killer doll?
Few people would ever accuse this of being the most deadly serious franchise, but Tom Holland’s ever-patient and suspenseful direction takes this concept seriously enough by foregoing immediate slash-and-stalk elements in favor of chronicling the human fall-out. Nothing in the franchise is quite as genuinely alarming as Karen’s creeping realization that she might not be able to save her son. Her anxiety becomes full-blown desperation in one of the film’s unexpectedly affecting moments: frantic for an answer, she pleads to the creepy, mute Chucky doll that greets her cries with a cruel, plastered smile.
Of course, it’s not long after this—just past the film’s halfway mark, for the record—that Chucky finally reveals his true form and intentions. It’s a turn of events that unlooses what would become one of the genre’s most indelible personalities: maniacally voiced by the incomparable Dourif and brought to life by a tremendous effects team headed by Kevin Yagher, Chucky quickly establishes his obvious potential as a slasher icon—even if his immediate approach is somewhat far removed from that of his contemporaries.
Another thing you might not recall is that Child’s Play isn’t exactly the type of slasher that had clogged theaters and video stores by 1988. With its grimy, gritty, blustery urban setting and its action-oriented approach, it almost resembles the sort of thing you might expect from Bill Lustig or Larry Cohen, what with the multiple explosions and slow-mo gunshots that’d feel at home in a Peckinpah movie. (I’m not sure I’d trade Chris Sarandon for Michael Moriarty though, if only because the former’s sweater game is on point here.)
Since Chucky is out to take revenge on some former associates, the film roves from one gonzo set-piece to the next. If he’s not rigging an oven to blow up his getaway partner, then he’s breaking out a voodoo doll to take out frustration on the witch doctor that got him trapped in this body in the first place. Pausing to consider the outlandishness of it makes the existence of Child’s Play feel even more amazing: I wish more studio fare were willing to be this daring and strange these days. And despite how crazy it all seems, it’s all absolutely believable, not only because of the convincing effects work but also because has grounded it in actual, human stakes.
This becomes obvious once the film refocuses on Chucky’s plot to terrorize Andy; if framing him as a six-year-old murder suspect weren’t enough, the Strangler sets his sights on transferring his soul into the tyke’s body in a supremely disturbing turn of events. As silly as it sounds, there’s something genuinely unsettling about Chucky’s descent on the juvenile facility where Andy is being held. Holland (via cinematographer Bill Butler!) frames fleeting, eerie shots of the doll skittering down corridors and stairwells, much to Andy’s intensely authentic horror. Chucky would never quite be this bone-chilling again; hell, by the end of this film, the path is essentially charted for the sequels, wherein the Good Guy doll would become night-unstoppable, quip-spitting force.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that escalation here. I’m not quite sure that Chucky’s burned, mangled final form here gets enough credit for capturing nightmare fuel in its purest, uncut form. Certainly, it’s one of the great effects and designs ever realized on film, and the entire climactic sequence is the platonic ideal of this franchise: rollicking, violent, and wildly entertaining. Most of all, it's the vision of a deeply committed (if not incongruously talented, given the material) cast and crew pouring their all into this bonkers little killer doll movie.
Every now and then, Scream Factory will announce a title like Child’s Play that elicits a bit of a bewildering groan from certain corners of the internet. “But that title already has a special edition Blu-ray," some fans point out. "Why would they even bother with it?” Of course, the most obvious answer is that Child’s Play is the type of recognizable title that keeps the lights on at Scream Factory and paves the way for those more obscure releases later on. But secondly, they always deliver and make it worthwhile, and this is the latest evidence. Not only is the transfer sourced from a new 2K interpositive restoration, but the two-disc set is absolutely loaded with supplements.
Headlining is no less than four audio commentaries, including a newly recorded track with Holland. One track ported over from previous releases feature Vincent, Hicks and Yagher, while another pairs writer Don Mancini and producer David Kirschner. Select scenes feature Dourif delivering a commentary as Chucky, which has its obvious virtues.
Scream has produced a trio of new supplements focused on the behind-the-scenes, nuts-and-bolts task of creating Chucky. Effects supervisor Howard Berger is the focus of two of the features, as he recounts his experiences and provides behind-the-scenes footage of crafting the iconic Good Guy doll. The third new featurette gives a spotlight to Ed Gale, the unsung actor (and Howard the Duck star) who actually performed as Chucky during certain shots. All told, this newly-produced stuff clocks in at two hours, joining an already robust set of features from previous DVD editions.
“Evil Comes in Small Packages” is the most prominent: 45-minute retrospective, it features interviews with all of the principal cast and crew. Yet another look at Chucky’s creation is the subject of “Building a Nightmare,” while “A Monster Convention” features footage from a Child’s Play panel. Finally, a vintage making-of piece appears alongside a trailer and a photo gallery to round out a tremendous, definitive collection, one that any Chucky aficionado will want on their shelf (particularly if they spring for a deluxe edition that boasts two new slipcovers, two posters, and a NECA Chucky figurine).
Revisiting Child’s Play after all these years provided a personal reminder that I’ve always underestimated this franchise and character; traditionally sort of an also-ran in my heart behind the likes of Freddy, Jason, and Michael, Chucky has managed to grow on me over the years, and I can’t help but love that he’s still standing, having withstood the tide of reboots and remakes during the past decade. Who would have guessed that he of all icons would pull that off? Maybe he truly is our “friend ‘till the end.” comments powered by Disqus Ratings: