Universal owns the latter films in the Child's Play franchise and they've certainly stopped at nothing to sell them by whatever means necessary. Thanks to some slick new packaging, they've been able to get consumers to double dip on a boxed set containing Child's Play 2, Child's Play 3, Bride of Chucky, and Seed of Chucky. The original wasn't included because MGM retained the rights to the original classic that introduced the plastic icon of terror turned one-line slingin' nightmare, but unfortunately the only thing nightmarish about the original full-frame DVD release by MGM was the transfer. Chucky turned twenty not too long ago however, so the marketing team decided to come back from a seemingly indefinite vacation and finally gave Child's Play the treatment it deserved. More and more catalogue titles have been cranked out on Blu-ray as of late (and at a rather decent price to boot), so it's of no surprise that Child's Play is getting the high-def treatment just in time for Halloween.
Little Andy Barclay wants nothing more than a 'Good Guy' doll for his birthday. It's a little pricey, but if that's the only present he gets for turning the big 6, then that's good enough for him! It's not like he'd need any other stupid toys anyway. The Good Guy dolls are advertised to be 'your friend to the end', and when a toy can promise a child lifelong companionship, what could possibly top that? Desperate to make her son's birthday wish come true, his loving mother picks one up the only way she can afford to - by getting it on the cheap from a peddler in an alley near work. It's too bad neither one of them are able to have the same advantage of perspective as the audience, otherwise they might have realized 'your friend to the end' is one of the most obvious uses of foreshadowing in cinematic history to date.
Shortly after bringing home the Good Guy, one of Andy's babysitters is viciously murdered. With nothing but a pair of Good Guy sneaker-prints around the apartment as evidence, all questions raised lead back to poor, innocent Andy. Despite being the only logical choice to pin the murder on, the birthday boy insists his doll is actually a known (and deceased) criminal by the name of Charles Lee Ray and is using 'Chucky' as his new alias. Despite Andy's innocence, he's taken away from his mother and locked up in a psych ward. Chucky has seemingly gotten away with murder easier than ever before, and all that's left for him to do now is walk away and live his life as an immortal. His soul now resides in the body of a plastic doll, a body that's not made out of the fragile flesh and bones that would eventually wither away and die. Chucky had it all figured out... didn't he?
Apparently, Chucky didn't brush up on his voodoo too well. Turns out the Good Guy body is turning into an honest to goodness living being, and he's sure as hell not about to finish his life out as a doll. His only shot at becoming human again is to transfer his soul into the person he first revealed he was alive to - Andy. Chucky begins one of the most unusual and frightening games of cat and mouse in cinematic history to date, leaving a trail of blood behind him wherever he goes. Unfortunately for him, the bodies he fails to dispose of are just the breadcrumbs Andy's mother and a detective need to keep one step ahead of him every step of the way.
Each sequel after this decided to take Chucky and turn him into a one-line spewing comic. The second and third films tried to mix up the comedy and terror much like the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise did. Once we hit Bride of Chucky, it was all about comedy and little about terror. I can see why the studios thought it would have been a great idea to take a murderous doll and make him say things that were truly adult for some comic value, but they just didn't know when to quit. That's why I love the original Child's Play so much. It actually did a great job of creating dread and terror. The actors were all believable, right down to Alex Vincent who played Andy. The photography was dark and realistic, and there's plenty of suspense and buildup as Chucky doesn't truly come alive until the film is well under way. I've always appreciated that Spielberg-esque approach to holding the villain back until just the right time. A lot of care went into bringing an evil doll and a dark film to life and it paid off in the end. Combine what I've already mentioned with terrific use of a simple score and even some haunting imagery, and it's easy to see why Child's Play is considered a timeless classic in the realm of horror.
Most of you are probably going to hinge your decision to buy this Blu-ray based on video quality alone, no surprise there. Upgrading to the 20th Birthday Edition on DVD was a no brainer. The original DVD release of Child's Play was presented in open matte full screen with a picture that left a lot to be desired. It was soft, dark, and riddled with film damage. The follow-up (and long delayed) release sported better contrast, color saturation, and was presented in anamorphic widescreen. Although sharpness was much improved over the original release, it seemed to look a little too sharp at times, causing a minor jaggie effect around edges. There was still plenty of minor print damage to speak of, but even that was a considerable improvement from before. Despite some of the minor shortcomings the infinitely better 20th Birthday Edition had, it was still a dream come true for many a fan.
Child's Play in its high definition debut (1.85:1) isn't one that's going to disappoint either, unless you already own the 20th Birthday Edition DVD.
Now that the source has so much more room to breathe on a physical format, problems with compression and issues stemming from digital overcompensation are a thing of the past. Edges are very well defined for a film that's over twenty years old, although this can vary from time to time as Child's Play occasionally has some shots that are a little out of focus. The high def AVC encode hasn't scrubbed away natural film grain, leaving an impressive amount of detail on the table, although this can also be inconsistent throughout. Color saturation and contrast also get a pretty nice boost, most notably so in brighter scenes.
It's definitely a step up from the DVD in every conceivable way, but unless you're a videophile you might not appreciate the difference enough to justify buying this movie yet again. Despite the fact that Child's Play has never looked better, it's not exactly a film that screams, "Look at me, I'm demo material!" There's only so much you can do with a film that looks inconsistent even at the source level, you know? There are scenes that inherently look a little on the soft side, and there's only so much detail some of the darker scenes can provide at their best. These incredibly minor shortcomings cannot be blamed on the transfer, and there's plenty of evidence on this disc to back it up. There are plenty of scenes that stand out with an amount of detail never thought before possible (considering how poorly this film was treated on DVD for so very long), and without a doubt Child's Play has never looked better, and most likely never will.
If you've already picked up the 20th Birthday Edition on DVD, you might want to give this a rental before deciding if this is going to justify a purchase. If you never bit despite the low price point the DVD had to offer, there's no question that now is the time.
I'd like to start the audio section off by presenting what I had to say about the 20th Birthday Edition release:
"The original MGM release also left a lot to be desired in this department as it only had stereo tracks. This time however, we get a full 5.1 Dolby surround track that has an incredibly surprising delivery. It's a horror film from 1988 so it's not the most impressive thing I've ever heard, but it gave me a hell of a lot more than I thought it would! The dynamic range was fairly impressive between quiet dialogue scenes and the times we were meant to jump out of our seats or witness an explosion. The chilling score would come out of all five speakers to envelop me in the experience. The sounds quickly crept from one channel to another as Chucky ran around in a place we couldn't see him. The audio is a huge upgrade from before and really helped me feel the chills again for a movie I've seen so many times!"
I have to say, I'm not quite as impressed with the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that's on the Blu-ray. The directional sound effects provide an even better experience than the lossy 5.1 track on the prior release, and the score is just as robust as it ever was. Unfortunately, I found the dialogue to sound pretty flat this time around.
Dialogue sounds pretty good for the most part, but whenever someone is whispering (and there are a few fairly pivotal moments in the film where soft dialogue is important), it's pretty hard to hear what's being said. It's almost as if the dialogue was kept at a lower level so the score and 'boo' sound effects would be that much louder, and I was a little underwhelmed with the end result. That being said, it's not a bad lossless track by any means, but I was expecting a little more from this one considering how good (and debatably better since the DVD didn't seem to have flat sounding dialogue) the DVD sounded.
The Blu-ray for Child's Play offers nothing new in the extras department. Ever since the online community learned the 20th Birthday Edition DVD would also be included with this release, speculators did what speculators do best - They get people in a tizzy, worrying that perhaps this was the studio's way of giving us a bare bones Blu-ray disc and making up for it by saying, "Here's the DVD, now stop your bitchin'". That's not the case however, as the extras that were on the DVD are also available on the Blu-ray.
The fact that the most recent DVD iteration of Child's Play is included is a nice surprise. We've become so used to extra discs that accompany a Blu-ray release being used for digital copies, but I've personally never found much use for them. I've put plenty a film on my iPod, but the only time I really have to sit back and watch a movie is at home, or at a friend's house. And let's be honest, horror films are a blast to watch when you get together with a bunch of your friends, but if your buddies don't have a Blu-ray player (yet), now you have a DVD you can bring so you don't miss out watching one of the most classic horror films of all time right before Halloween! This is bound to rub some people the wrong way however, as there are many people out there that aren't like myself and actually enjoy digital copies a great deal. That's certainly understandable, so the value of this included disc is going to depend on your own personal preference. It's hard to ignore the feeling that the studio was merely trying to unload some of its DVD stock so they can justify an MSRP of $24.99 though...
The first thing you'll notice is that the main menu is different than what was on the DVD. We get to see Chucky roam through the Barclay's apartment from his POV, and menu icons are little boxes that have a knife pop out of them when they're highlighted.
There are two commentaries we can choose from. The first is with Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, and "Chucky" designer Kevin Yagher. There's a lot of information presented in this first commentary. We get to hear all the ideas behind the film, the main characters experiences during and after making the film, Alex's sheltering from filming that could have been traumatic for him as a child, and even the thought process behind the evolution of the doll. You read me right, evolution. They even took into consideration that as Chucky turned more and more human; his hairline would recede like a grown man. I can't believe I actually was told something I didn't ever notice on-screen myself!
The second commentary features producer David Kirschner and screenwriter Don Mancini. Here you have the minds behind the film and anything the actors and doll designer couldn't tell us in the first commentary gets brought to the fold in this one. It's interesting, and these guys cared and still care about their work on this film and it's easy to tell.
Commentaries aren't being skimped on for this release as we have select scenes presented by Chucky himself! It's an additional feature that's short and sweet, but definitely fun to listen to. The only thing that hurts them at all is that there's a lot of silence as Chucky waits for something to happen on screen.
Evil Comes In Small Packages is a featurette broken into three parts:
-The Birth of Chucky
-Creating the Horror
They're at a length of almost twenty five and a half minutes together and fill us in on where the script originally came from, film name changes, working off of a touch of social commentary, interviews with cast and crew, and even old film footage where Brad would act in person with the other actors as if he were Chucky. Interesting stuff here!
Introducing Chucky: The Making of Child's Play is a featurette that's only a little over six minutes, but it shows us a lot of the interesting behind the scenes stuff that shows us a basic animatronics Chucky doll.
Chucky: Building a Nightmare shows some modern day interviews about the different kinds of animatronics dolls that had to be made for the film.
A Monster Convention shows a cast reunion panel from 2007 where they sat to answer a lot of questions. Many more horror films should include a panel interview such as this from a horror convention, because they seem to happen often enough for most horror films both new and old alike.
Child's Play had been neglected on the home video market for a pretty long time, so it's nice to see the last couple of years finally being kind to such a beloved classic. When the 20th Birthday Edition came to DVD, I pretty much thought it was too little, too late. High definition was a reality, and there was no excuse for it not to have been released side by side with the DVD. I guess we should be thankful we didn't have to wait too long though, right? The video quality is pristine (well, as pristine as this film can possibly look), the extras are pretty sweet, and getting a copy of the DVD is pretty nice as well. The only shortcoming I found on this disc was some flat sounding dialogue. If you're one of those people that skips right down to the end of the review to get the short and thick of it, you probably just want to know if this is worth the upgrade or not. If you already own the 20th Birthday Edition, you might want to hold off until the price goes down just a little. If you find a pretty good deal on it somewhere, then go for it. If you haven't had the chance to pick up Child's Play on a digital video format at all, then the answer is simple - This is a release I can easily recommend. If you're a fan of classic horror, or at least the only Child's Play that could ever make your skin crawl, then there's really no reason to pass this up. The issues apparent on this release are incredibly minor, and don't affect the overall enjoyment of the film that much.
**The screenshots in this review are of the standard definition DVD that comes with this release. They are not indicative of the high def encode that has been used, but is indicative of the transfer.