*Throughout this review, the OLD MGM DISC IS ON THE LEFT, and the NEW SCREAM FACTORY DISC IS ON THE RIGHT. Click on each image for full 1080p screenshots so you can compare this release for yourself.*
Scream Factory treats the horror genre with more respect than the major studios they license films for distribution from. They release a ton of niche titles and give high caliber classics the home video treatment they deserve. With a line-up like Return of the Living Dead, Village of the Damned, Carrie, The Thing, Bubba Ho-Tep, and The Exorcist III - Director's Cut in 2016 alone, it's clear they have every intention of continually strengthening their brand. But the one title that caught my eye above most others was Child's Play, because it doesn't really fit either of the bills this company looks to fulfill. There's nothing niche about Child's Play, and MGM have already provided us with a great transfer, besides. That release has been available as a standalone since 2009, and was even included in the Chucky - Complete Collection boxed set a few years back. So how does Scream Factory intend to entice fans who may be looking to triple dip?
Forget LEGO, army men and die-cast cars. All Andy Barclay wants for his 6th birthday is a ‘Good Guy' doll. They're individually named, turn their heads, blink, and can even talk. "I'm your friend ‘til the end! Hidey-ho! Ha ha ha!" The marketing sells this product not as a toy, but as a companion, which no boy with an active imagination can possibly resist. While his mother desperately wants to make his birthday wish come true, it's just too expensive for a single mom that's struggling to make ends meet. So, he's inevitably disappointed on his big day, but mom tries to cheer him up with an IOU… which goes about as well as you'd expect. But later that evening redemption waits in the alley behind her work, where a homeless man wheeling a cart is peddling some ‘acquired' goods. Hours later, and mom has become a hero, as Andy has already become best friends with his very own Good Guy, Chucky.
But what should have been their happily ever after quickly spirals into a nightmare. Out of nowhere, one of Andy's babysitters is murdered, and the only evidence at the crime scene is a pair of Good Guy sneaker-prints and a hammer from the boy's toy box. This unfortunately leaves Andy as the only logical suspect, but the boy insists it was his doll, who claims to be a known - not to mention deceased - criminal by the name of Charles Lee Ray, who's using ‘Chucky' as his new alias. Convinced Andy is crazy and that his mother is protecting him, the police separate them and lock the kid up in psych ward. And just like that, Chucky has seemingly gotten away with murder, and now that his soul resides in the body of a plastic doll, all he has to do is walk away and live his life as an immortal… or, so he thought. Before long, he discovers his resilient body of plastic is turning into flesh and bone, and he's not about to live the rest of his life as a doll. To become human again, he has to transfer his soul into the body of the first person he had revealed he was alive to, and thus begins a frightening game of cat and mouse.
Child's Play is a classic. I mean, I wouldn't say it's the best horror film of all time, but it's definitely amongst the most memorable, due in large part to the filmmakers' fearless approach. They knew animatronics would be the most convincing way to bring a doll to life on-screen, but while this technique had been used in other films - Freddy's face on the worm in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is one such example - nobody had attempted anything quite this ambitious before. So when creating Chucky, the filmmakers had to suck it up and become pioneers for the industry. Their hard worked paid off, as his movements were far more realistic than anyone had expected, and considering how the plot has Chucky transition from a doll to a being of flesh, they slowly changed his face throughout the film to reflect that. No detail was too small and no stone was left unturned, and that's a major reason why, nearly 3 decades later, this film remains so effective.
Their animatronics work isn't the only reason to see Child's Play though, because most other aspects of the film's production helps with selling fear to the audience.
The way this film was shot was superb. They didn't want the doll in our face right from the get go, so they'd tease us by showing a glimpse of his feet running by, or better yet, using the camera low to the ground in a first-person perspective so we could see things from Chucky's viewpoint. The lighting throughout most of this film was important, too, as key shots relied on shadows to provide more of that ‘bump in the night' vibe, such as when Chucky is slowly creeping down the hall, knife in hand. The way everything is edited together seals the deal, as I can't recall a single scene that feels even slightly disjoined based on mis-timed cuts.
Without the cast though, this would have been an entirely different film.
Throughout the history of cinema, we've seen plenty of child actors presenting themselves to be older than they really are. They were trained to sing and dance for the limelight - to be marketable - which often dissipated the innocence of their youth. But Alex Vincent, the child that portrayed Andy, never acted as if he was ‘putting it on' for us. He had that innocence when the cameras were rolling, and as a result, parents can almost see their own children through his performance. That, by far, is the scariest part of this film: Watching this little boy curl up in the corner of a room he's trapped in, crying because he believes Chucky will be there any minute to end his life. And that's the most terrifying thing for any parent, to be in a situation where all they can do is sit by helplessly and watch… yet that's precisely where the filmmakers put us, and it's ghastly. Fortunately for the parents out there, Catherine Hicks' portrayal of a mother hell-bent on rescuing her baby provides a little comfort. Nowadays she's known as the mom from 7th Heaven, but I'd wager she has more range present in Child's Play than she does in most of that series. That's how good she is at embodying both the sweet nurturer, as well as the fierce mama bear you wouldn't want to mess with. And backing her up is Chris Sarandon, as he plays a cop that's more involved in this mess than he'd care to realize. Last but certainly not least, is Brad Dourif as Chucky. His performance isn't just good, but iconic. The voice is just as much a part of Chucky as the red hair, if not more so.
But despite how well this film was put together, I take some issue with how the narrative is structured. Five minutes into the film we already know Charles Lee Ray transferred his soul into a Good Guy's body. Don't get me wrong, there's an element of fear at play when the audience knows something the characters on-screen don't, and as I've said throughout this review, the filmmakers play this angle up very well. However, I can't help but feel that Child's Play would have been far more disturbing if they instilled a little doubt throughout the first act. Letting the audience tussle with the idea that Andy might have been the killer would have been fun, and you know what really kills me? A take on this idea was apparently in Don Mancini's original script, yet scrapped along with some other stuff because then, allegedly, the film wouldn't have been as marketable. Shame, because the original premise seemed far more twisted. There are also various story holes and more than a few convenient plot devices, but this is a horror film, after all. I won't get carried away.
But obviously, the pros far outweigh the cons. Child's Play is a film that any serious horror buff should have seen a dozen times by now, if not more. Chucky's a horror icon that places close behind Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, and it's mostly because of how well the character was implemented in this film. At this point the franchise has 6 films, with one apparently on the way, and even rumor of a remake being made at some point (with Dourif reprising his role, because duh). There's a reason for that.
So, for Scream Factory to choose to add this film to their library is a no brainer in this respect. It's an important film in the history of horror. But again, what about this release will entice people to double, if not triple dip? Well, let's take a look at the rest of the disc.
As stated at the beginning of this review, MGM had already released an impressive looking Blu-ray back in 2009. When reviewing the Chucky - Complete Collection in 2013, I said:
In short, Child's Play has never looked better and likely never will.
For this release (also 1080p AVC at 1.85:1), Scream Factory have apparently done a new 2K scan of the interpositive, and they've done quite well with it. Compared to the MGM disc, the image appears to have been cropped just a hair. I'm typically not a fan of this sort of thing, but the difference is so minimal, it's negligible (not to mention I also have no reference for how much of the image should actually be in the frame). The contrast is typically stronger on this release, with whites appearing more true than blue, and black levels much stronger than they used to be. The new scan also sports finer detail than MGM's disc, and as a result, the grain field is noticeably more resolved… and honestly, that surprised me a bit. Shout/Scream discs always look just a tad chunkier than prior releases by other studios, but in this case, they've actually come out on top. Colors are no longer oversaturated and appear more natural, flesh tones included. There's no digital sharpening or edge halos that I've noticed, either.
So, a few years ago when I said Child's Play will never look better… I'm going to have to walk that statement back. The Scream Factory release is now the definitive version of Child's Play on the market. The difference isn't quite as drastic as, oh, Criterion's new release of Pan's Labyrinth - which is contrast corrected and isn't the DNR mess the old disc was - but the difference is apparent. The only people who are going to find a problem with this release are the ‘screenshot scientists' of the web who swear they're seeing things that… well, just aren't there.
The 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks leave something to be desired. The minimalistic score and sound effects are loud and proud, but the dialogue sounds somewhat flat and quiet in the balance. Dynamic range is one thing, but it's almost as if the dialogue was lowered so the ‘boo scares' would have more effect. I expect this on a ‘let's improve the original stereo experience' track like the 5.1, but it's not like things are any better on the 2.0. It's more or less the same, just with all the action taking place up front.
It may sound blasphemous to some, but I actually prefer the 5.1 overall. It doesn't go haywire like a number of other ‘up-mixes' from back in the day. No, it's respectful and the surround aspect actually enhances the creep factor of Child's Play.
-NEW Audio Commentary with director Tom Holland - If you look at the older commentaries listed below, you'll see that there's tracks which represent the cast, as well as the creative minds behind the film. The only missing link, really, was the director, and Scream Factory have finally filled that gap. There's certainly information here that will retread things fans have already learned with prior releases, but there's still additional bits of information that should peak your interest, and a director's perspective is always a welcome one.
-Audio Commentary with Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks and "Chucky" Designer Kevin Yagher - There's a lot of information presented here, as we get to hear all the ideas behind the film, personal experiences shared by the cast, how Alex was sheltered from certain aspects of filming so he wouldn't be traumatized, and more.
-Audio Commentary with Producer David Kirschner and Screenwriter Don Mancini - Here we have the minds behind the film sharing anything and everything the cast couldn't tell us. It's interesting, and it's clear these guys still care about their on this film.
-Select Scene Chucky Commentaries - A select few scenes have Chucky himself providing some commentary. This is an interesting concept, and I think it's be neat to see other iconic characters in cinema do stuff like this for fun.
-NEW Behind the Scenes Special Effects Footage From Howard Berger - About an hour in length, this is a real treat. This is rare footage which features the creation of Chucky and various other props that were to be used throughout the film.
-NEW Howard Berger: Your Special Effects Friend ‘Til The End - This is a very thorough interview with the special effects artist that clocks in at around 40 minutes.
-NEW Life Behind the Mask: Being Chucky - Another lengthy, thorough interview, this time with actor Ed Gale. You see, there are a few select shots throughout the film where animatronics just wouldn't provide the realistic movement required to keep the illusion of a walking, talking doll alive. Ed Gale was the little person that filled those ‘Good Guy' shoes when technology just wouldn't cut it. Fans should watch this in its entirety.
-Evil Comes In Small Packages - This featurette is broken into three parts, really. The Birth of Chucky, Creating the Horror, and Unleashed. They're nearly 25 minutes in total, and fill us in on where the script originally came from, project name changes, interviews with the cast and crew, and even old film footage where Brad would voice Chucky on set for the rest of the cast. Interesting stuff here!
-Chucky: Building A Nightmare - This featurette has more modern day interviews about the variety of animatronics that were used on multiple Chucky ‘dolls'.
-A Monster Convention - A look at the cast reunion panel from 2007.
-Introducing Chucky: The Making of Child's Play - Behind the scenes footage which shows us the basic animatronics of Chucky.
-Vintage Featurette - A nearly five minute piece which acts as an old school promo reel.
-Theatrical Trailer, TV Spot, Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery, and Posters & Lobby Cards Photo Gallery are also included.
I wasn't sure how Scream Factory would entice people to double, if not triple dip, but they've made one hell of a compelling argument. Yes, MGM's release from 2009 looked good, but this disc is better in every perceivable way. There's better black levels, contrast and color timing. There's also more detail and film grain is better resolved. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is a welcome inclusion, and as always, the supplements Scream have produced - included alongside the old stuff - are top notch. Here's hoping that Scream, at the very least, have their sights set on Child's Play 2 and 3 for release in the not-too-distant future. Those films are owned by Universal, but based on Scream's catalog thus far, it appears they have a good a relationship with them, and might be in a position to work something out. One could hope. But in the meantime, this release should hold people over and then some. And wouldn't you know, it's just in time for Halloween! Highly Recommended.