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Child's Play

MGM // R // September 15, 2009
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 26, 2009 | E-mail the Author
"Hi, I'm Chucky! Wanna play?"

Hey, Andy
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(Alex Vincent) is turning six today, and all that too-cute-for-words precocious tyke wants for his birthday is a Good Guys doll. They're pretty expensive, sure, but...c'mon, look! They're smart enough to turn their heads toward you when you talk to 'em. Like the commercial with the creepy plus-sized doll says, they can even belt out a few different pre-programmed sentences, and they love to be hugged. If you've been tuning into the cartoon, munch on the cereal tie-in every morning, and already have the Good Guys hardware set sitting around in the closet, you might as well get the doll, right? Batteries are already included, and if you act now and are a lucky, lucky, lucky little boy, you might even score one infused with the soul of a gunned-down serial killer!

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...

There really
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wasn't a time in my life when I wasn't immersed in horror flicks, and even though I wasn't quite ten when Child's Play first carved that bloody path to theaters all the way back in 1988, I was already kind of a jaded genre fan. Only two things ever really managed to disturb me growing up: zombies and Chucky. I kind of forgot why for a while there, having rewatched the deliriously over-the-top sequels over and over after the franchise had turned into more of a demented splatter-comedy. Giving the original Child's Play a spin again now...? This is a surprisingly effective horror movie. I can't help but love the cast: Catherine Hicks as a doggedly devoted mother who so matter-of-factly yammers on about her son's serial-killer-doll chomping on her arm and running away, Fright Night alum Chris Sarandon popping up as the skeptical hero detective type, and Alex Vincent, who may only be six but winds up shouldering quite a bit of the movie himself. We're not talking about a performance that's subtle and nuanced or anything, but Vincent is exaggerated enough that it's incredibly endearing, really. He's a ridiculously cute kid but kind of creepy too, and that helps sell the kinda-sorta mystery early on about who's doing the actual killing: Andy or that doll he insists keeps talking to him.

...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.

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kneejerk reaction after popping in this Blu-ray disc went something like, "wow, Child's Play looks pretty great in high-def". I also had the 20th anniversary DVD release spinning in my HD DVD player at the same time, and I'd leap back and forth between the two inputs to see how they stacked up. Surprisingly...? It holds up so well that as impressed as I am with this Blu-ray disc, that DVD really doesn't lag that far behind at all. Color saturation is where this Blu-ray disc has the biggest leg up. The hues on the DVD are kind of drab: fleshtones have a faintly sickly yellow tint to them, the snow blanketing Chicago is dull and lifeless, and the reds that Andy seems so keen on wearing are flat across the board. The Blu-ray disc on the other hand strikes me as brighter and more vivid. It's not a night and day difference, no, but the punchier colors stand out to me more than anything else.

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
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the commentaries on this disc run for the entire length of the flick, beginning with this first one with Chucky designer Kevin Yagher and actors Alex Vincent and Catherine Hicks. Vincent delivers his commentary by his lonesome while Hicks and Yagher -- who fell in lo-o-o-o-o-o-ve on the Child's Play set and are still married all these years later -- pile into the recording booth together. Some of the highlights...? Vincent's kid sister actually gets the nod as the first Chucky. The stack of toys that inspired the Chucky design, and it was particularly bad timing for one company whose doll looked eerily like this pint-sized serial killer. The backstory about Andy's pop that never actually made it into the movie. Tilting the set to make a Chucky doll roll under the couch. Vincent not being all that keen on the concept of Chucky-as-a-family-man that crept into the past couple of sequels. Yagher hopping back and forth between Child's Play and "Weird Al"'s video for "Fat" (!!!). Some of the additional scenes that were lopped out of this cut of the movie, and I guess they're lost for good 'cause they're not anywhere else on this Blu-ray disc either. A now-way-grown-up Vincent also responds to one of the questions he's asked more than anything else: did being all of six years old on the set of a flick with a serial killer doll irrevocably scar you for life?

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.

  • Evil Comes in Small Packages (25 min.; SD): Easily the best of the extras that Child's Play serves up is this nearly half-hour look back on the making of the flick. The first chunk, "The Birth of Chucky", runs through its origins in the darker side of kiddie marketing, producer David Kirschner originally pitching Child's Play to the folks at Disney
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    that were expecting him to churn out something a little more Muppetsesque, and Don Mancini's screenplay rooted in child psychology making way for a voodoo-obsessed serial killer. Finished plowing through pre-production, "Creating the Horror" delves into the casting process, shooting in Chicago during one of the most inhumanly cold winters on record, little person Ed Gale tooling around as Chucky on a plus-sized set, and...hey! Love and romance on the set of the voodoo-killer-doll movie. Finally, "Unleashed" tears into the original cut of the movie that clocked in over two hours, the elaborate premiere that David Kirschner had to stage himself, both Kirschner and Mancini invading movie lines and audiences just for kicks, and just how iconic this murderous little moppet has turned out to be. "Evil Comes in Small Packages" is extremely thorough and just a ridiculous amount of of my favorite retrospectives I've had a chance to dig my claws into anytime recently. If you only have time to carve your way through one of the extras on this disc, this'd be it.

  • Chucky: Building a Nightmare (10 min.; SD): This other retrospective swirls around how Chucky was brought to life...better living through technology, I mean, not voodoo-soul-transference. "Building a Nightmare" runs through the first sketches of the Good Guy doll, the sheer number of puppeteers it took to field Chucky's extremely expressive face alone, and even tossing in a little person on overscaled sets for a handful of shots as well. A few other practical effects wizards hop in front of the camera to marvel at just how groundbreaking Chucky was at the time, including Tom Savini, Alec Gillis, and Shane Mahan, and the featurette is peppered with behind-the-scenes shots from twenty years back.

  • A Monster Convention (5 min.; SD): There was a mini-reunion at Monster Mania 2007 with Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, and Chris Sarandon, and snippets from their panel at the con have been piled on here. If you've already dug into the other extras on this disc, there's nothing here you haven't already heard: Vincent saying that he wasn't especially intimidated by a gaggle of wires, armatures, and latex even as a six-year-old and Hicks telling her story about meeting her now-husband Kevin Yagher on the Child's Play set. Dunno why this was gutted down to five minutes...they had to have been on-stage for longer than that, right?

  • Introducing Chucky: The Making of Child's Play (6 min.; SD): This vintage featurette from all the way back in 1988 has the usual hysterically dated voiceover, but otherwise, it's actually a pretty decent look at the making of the flick, particularly the design and execution of the Chucky puppets.

  • Photo Gallery: This mediumish-res gallery tears through seventysomething production stills, including a row of several of Chucky's different heads placed side-by-side.

  • Trailer (2 min.; SD): Last up...? A standard-def theatrical trailer.

    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.
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