Yeah, Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) didn't exactly wrap up his reign of terror as the Lakeshore Strangler the way he wanted. I mean, this is a feared serial killer on the run from the cops, and he's holing up in a toy store...? After taking a couple of slugs to the gut and spewing out blood like a colander on spaghetti night, Chucky grabs for the only thing in arm's reach -- a Good Guy doll; $99.95 at fine retailers nationwide! -- and starts a voodoo chant. Plop. Plop. Fizz. Fizz. Lightning bolt. Exploding toy store. The Lakeshore Strangler is dead.
Karen (Catherine Hicks) is a single mom and all, and a hundred bucks -- like, $180 adjusted for inflation! -- is more than she can swing for a birthday present on a department store jewelry clerk's salary. C'mon, though, did you see that breakfast-in-bed Andy made to butter her up? Adorable! Karen really does want to get one of those oversized dolls for Andy, and when a bum out back offers to sell her one for 70% off retail...? It's like some kind of wonderful dream. Andy's all wide-eyed and thrilled too, and he and his new most bestest friend ever are inseparable.
...and then the body count starts piling up. Babysitter...? Splattered all over the pavement. Charles Lee Ray's former accomplice...the guy who left the Lakeshore Strangler holding the bag...? In smoldering, pan-seared, bite-size chunks. The detective spearheading the investigation (Chris Sarandon) can't exactly shrug off the fact that this same kid -- Andy, with that creepy little doll he lugs around everywhere and keeps whispering to -- was standing just off on the sidelines for both of those deaths too. Andy tells them that Chucky is alive, but that pile of bodies can only be stacked so high before that sort of thing stops being cute. As Andy's put under observation in a psyche ward, Karen and Detective Norris clue in that -- oops! -- Charles Lee Ray really did chuck his soul into that overpriced plastic shell. For the voodoo ritual to be complete, Chucky's depraved soul has to one more pitstop to make 'cause all this Pinocchio-with-a-rap-sheet really wants is to be a living, breathing little boy again...
...but Chucky! That vicious little bastard wound up being a horror icon straight out of the gate, and really, Chucky might even be the last enduring butcherer like this to roll around. Really, what have we gotten since? The Leprechaun? Candyman? The Djinn from the Wishmaster flicks? Last Summers' Gorton's Fisherman? Meh. Chucky's a cacklingly effective little monster too. He's still able to hide behind the completely harmless look of the Good Guy doll as a cover here, and Kevin Yagher's exceptional creature design fleshes out Chucky's gradual transformation as the voodoo-fueled doll becomes more and more human. As expressive and disturbing as Chucky can be, it's Brad Dourif who really brings him to life with that unhinged voice and shrill cackle. Both Child's Play and the killer doll himself take advantage of Chucky's size -- a toy that's, what, all of two feet tall? -- since he can so easily hide, sometimes even in plain sight. A few stretches are remarkably intense even as Chucky's prey knows they're being stalked, but he manages to stay just out of sight, and all you hear is the pittapittapitta of his feet and an occasional burst of maniacal laughter.
Even just over twenty years later, Child's Play still holds up as a horror flick. Chucky really doesn't even reveal himself until halfway through the movie, and yet the pacing still screams along, not bogged down or distracted by any rambling subplots. Even the stretches that really don't make any logical sense or veer really far over-the-top are all just part of the fun. I mean, Child's Play is lugging around a solid cast, a brilliantly dark premise, a twisted sense of humor, a horror icon in the making, and...hey, a few of the scares still manage to make me hop up in my couch. Recommended.
This Blu-ray disc also reveals a richer sense of texture -- in clothing, skin, and the pervasive sheen of film grain -- than the DVD manages to deliver. There are vertical patterns in Chucky's overalls, f'r instance, that really stood out to me in HD but were blurry and indistinct in standard-def. The Blu-ray disc is slightly crisper and better defined by comparison, but with as soft and grainy as the photography is in the first place, it only has so much legroom to work with. The film stock this time around really doesn't hold up that well under limited light, and a few scattered shots are unusually soft and muddy. On the upside, this Blu-ray disc isn't saddled with any sort of filtered, overprocessed appearance, and the 1.85:1 image isn't marred by any nicks in the source or flecks of dust either. We're not talking about the sort of reference quality disc you'll whip out to show off your overpriced home theater rig, but for what it is...? Child's Play looks fine, and I get the impression that this is about as slick as it'll ever look. It's not all that compelling an upgrade over the DVD if you already have that handy, though.
For a twentysomething year old horror flick, this 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is pretty decent. The remix is hellbent on carving out a strong sense of directionality, and from the opening chase to the pitter-patter of Chucky's pint-sized rubber shoes as he skitters around his prey, this track really can feel immersive. Some of the pans from one channel to the next strike me as kind of hard, though: effects have a tendency to leapfrog from speaker to speaker rather than gradually easing over. A couple of colossal explosions, cracks of gunfire, and the meaty thud of a body tumbling out of a high-rise apartment kickstart the subwoofer pretty well, although bass response frequently sounds kind of dull and rumbly. The dialogue throughout Child's Play comes through a bit dated but is generally clear and intelligible enough. It seemed to be dialed a little low in the mix early on, but I guess I adjusted pretty quickly, not really having that same reaction once the opening titles kicked in. I know there are a bunch of "...but"s scattered around this write-up, but I'm actually pretty impressed with the way Child's Play sounds on Blu-ray. The stems are showing their age, sure, but this fairly ambitious remix definitely ratchets up the intensity of the flick's most suspenseful stretches, and that's good enough for me.
Child's Play belts out a bunch of other soundtracks too, including stereo surround tracks in English and French. Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs are served up in Portuguese and Spanish as well, and the long list of subtitles includes streams in English (SDH), Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Korean, and Mandarin.
Child's Play is a two-disc set with the special edition DVD on one side and this newly-minted BD-50 on the other. Both discs share the same set of extras, shrugging off the headache of having to hop up and swap discs the way other MGM Blu-ray releases have.
Audio Commentaries: Two of
As much as I dug that first commentary, the second one -- this time pairing producer David Kirscher with screenwriter/creator Don Mancini -- is even better. Part of what's so great about it is how much the two of 'em snicker at how ridiculous Child's Play can be, and they're surprisingly candid about the aspects of the flick they dislike, particularly the whole voodoo angle. With that same kind of smirking tone, Mancini and Kirschner run through pretty much everything: the naturalistic bent to this movie, early concepts that wound up being tossed out the driver's side window like Chucky bleeding even more than he does here, delving in depth into Child's Play's score, Arrested Development's Jessica Walter belting out Chucky's voice in a disastrous early cut of the flick, and how much the film benefits from being at least partially shot on location in Chicago rather than Uzbekistan or whatever like it probably would be today.
It's a drag that Brad Dourif doesn't pop up in either of those tracks, but...hey, Chucky himself does take a stab at the whole audio commentary thing for his four biggest attacks. He gabs over around 25 minutes of footage in total, even dragging in Don Mancini while ranting over pretty much the entire third act of the flick. Chucky gabs about struggling to find his sea legs as an overpriced doll, toying (zing!) with and torturing his victims, practicing the Good Guy doll voice for hours on end, the cacklingly good time he had mimicking the headtwirl from The Exorcist, and how the gift of strangulation is handed down from the heavens. The first three scenes are hit-or-miss -- almost as if Dourif is just riffing but isn't all that sure what to say -- but the 11 minute finalé with Don Mancini is a couple hundred thousand times better. Chucky can't remember who'd actually directed the first Child's Play, Mancini breezes through the kill in earlier drafts that were set at a dentist's office, and they cackle about the differences between the stand-in Chucky and the genuine article.
Oh, I'm not done yet. Director-slash-co-writer Tom Holland really didn't have anything to do with this special edition at all, for whatever reason, even though he was apparently up for recording a commentary track. So, he went ahead and recorded his own, and if you want to give it a whirl, it's available as an mp3 from Icons of Fright.
The Final Word
Y'know, you can trot down the toy aisles now and spot all sorts of reissues of twentysomething-year-old action figures. Sure, maybe they're not as startlingly detailed as the new models and may be a little simpler and more straightforward, but it can still be a blast to grab a few off the shelf and play with 'em again. Even with its twentieth anniversary in the rear view window, Child's Play still holds up really well: a lean, creepy, and ::gasp!:: surprisingly suspenseful flick starring a killer doll on the fast-track to the whole horror icon thing. Child's Play looks about as good in high-def as it probably ever will too. I don't think it's all that compelling an upgrade for anyone who's already picked up last year's special edition DVD, but otherwise...? Looks nice, sports a killer remix, and piles on a bunch of really great extras. This is the Child's Play disc I'd been holding out for. Recommended.