Child's Play: 20th Anniversary Edition (US - DVD R1)
Gabe revisits the killer doll, and his pre-comedy first theatrical release...
Little Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) only wants one thing for his birthday this year—a talking Good Guy doll. Unfortunately, the one his mother (Catherine Hicks) purchases from a hobo contains the soul of serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif). Mayhem ensues.
Frankly speaking, Child’s Play really should’ve been a steaming pile of stinky B-movie excreta. It’s a silly idea on paper, it depends on unrealistic levels of performance from all the players, and frankly I don’t understand why any studio head would want to sign off on the project. But I suppose one can’t underestimate those ingrained childhood fears, because Chucky birthed four sequels, and apparently a reboot is in the works.
The killer doll thing isn’t original on film (Chucky’s inspiration was stuff like The Twilight Zone, Magic, and Trilogy of Terror), and neither are the film’s voodoo aspects, but the cops and robbers element is a pretty sweet touch, as are the parts where Andy’s sanity is put into question (not that that’s particularly original either though). It’s funny looking back on the original film, because it works best as a suspense movie, and the two most recent films in the series were almost entirely comedies (not that the original is entirely without a sense of humour). If it hadn’t been for two incredibly terrible sequels (British readers will likely have different terrifying connotations with the third film in the series), who knows what might have happened to the series?
I gotta be honest, I genuinely dislike every other movie director Tom Holland has touched (not including his script work on Class of 1984 and Psycho 2), but for some reason he managed to squeeze a whole lot suspense out of what should’ve been a ridiculously stupid film. I think a lot of the credit in this case should go to the cast, who manage to act about as realistically and dramatically as possible given the situation. It’s actually a wonder how such a silly script managed to score such a good cast (seriously, two Academy Award nominees?), but to Holland’s credit he finds an effective balance between the realistic and fantastic elements, and fully exploit that fear we all had of creepy dolls as children.
I’m actually quite surprised how well the film stands up, especially the Chucky effects, which did improve over the years, but not that fantastically. I can obviously tell that some shots feature a motionless doll, some shots feature a mechanical doll, and other shots feature a midget in Chucky clothes, but it mostly works. There are only a few shots that really pull you out of your suspension of disbelief. The fact that the character isn’t supposed to be organic definitely helps things, but it’s still pretty impressive looking back. The optical effects used to represent the voodoo’s effect on the environment aren’t quite as memorable.
For region one fans this new release is obviously the way to go, because it’s the first time MGM USA has made the film available in widescreen. The widescreen availability overrides any other minor issues the transfer may have, though there are some negatives to address. The colours are ever so slightly muted, though natural and pretty solidly separated. Overall the print suffers moderate noise and grain, but these shortcomings aren’t consistently an issue. There’s generally more grain towards the beginning of the film. The print isn’t exactly sharp either, and some of the more brightly lit sequences appear downright fuzzy, though in comparison to the original 1.33 release these edges are downright granite. Given the film’s age and price tag I can’t imagine Child’s Play looking much better, even on Blu-ray, which would probably just sharpen the finer grain.
This disc is also region one’s first listen to Child’s Play in 5.1 surround. For the most part the 5.1 remix isn’t different enough from the original 2.0 track to garner celebration, but some of the more moody musical moments actually sound quite impressive echoing through the rear channels. The surround sound effects don’t really match the audio quality of the stereo effects, leading me to believe that the remix involved the use of new stock material. Some of the centred dialogue features a bit of a tinny echo, but is generally clean and well blended into the other audio.
There’s a whole lot of commentary going on here. The various participants split into two tracks, the first featuring actors Alex Vincent (Andy) and Catherine Hicks (mom), and Chucky designer Kevin Yagher. Vincent has obviously been recorded separately from Hicks and Yagher (who are married). Yagher and Hicks both sound a bit sleepy, but bounce stuff off each other pretty effectively, and Vincent’s memory of the filming process is pretty admirable considering his age at the time. The other track features producer David Kirschner and writer Don Mancini, who have the distinction of working on all five Chucky movies. Mancini rocks this track the hardest, and fills us in on some of the originally scripted moments that got away. The disc also features four select scenes with a ‘Chucky commentary’, which is really just Brad Dourif kind of making an ass out of himself. I don’t think ad-libbing in character is one of his strongest suits.
Next is a three-part featurette called ‘Evil Comes in Small Packages’. Part One is entitled ‘The Birth of Chucky’, and is a specific look at the genesis of the project, including the differences between the original and final script (the original script actually sounds more interesting, but wouldn’t have needed Brad Dourif, or have led to so many sequels), the development of the pre-production, and the general bringing together of talents (I’m still shocked that there was so much studio interest).
‘Creating the Horror’ is a look at casting and production, including interviews with every major player. Alex Vincent and Catherine Hicks tend to repeat themselves a bit from the commentary, but it’s nice to hear Chris Sarandon and Brad Dourif’s thoughts on the project. It’s also fun to see the original rehearsal footage, where Dourif acted as Chucky. Also included in this section is all the behind the scenes of the Chucky puppeteers, and actor Ed Gale scurrying about in a double sized set.
‘Unleashed’ is all about the editing of Child’s Play. Apparently the film went through many cuts and test audiences before release. All the cast and crew members involved with the featurette give up their final thoughts on the subject. Obviously missing from these retrospective featurettes is director Holland, who is only included in archive form. All together the featurette runs about twenty five minutes.
‘Chucky: Building a Nightmare’ concerns itself with Kevin Yagher and his work on the film with the doll effects. Interview footage, including words from special effects maestros Tom Savini, Alex Gilles and Tom Woodruff Jr., is intercut with behind the scenes footage of the construction of the doll, insuring that pretty much every how-to base is covered in a brief ten minutes.
The rest of the disc runs out with footage from the 2007 Monster Mania Child’s Play reunion panel (which actually only features Vincent, Hicks, and Sarandon), a vintage EPK (most of this footage found its way into the new featurettes), the original theatrical trailer, a photo gallery, and trailers for Mr. Brooks and Pathology.
Child’s Play held up better then I remembered, and this new release is a must own for fans clamouring for audio commentaries, 5.1 surround sound, and above all, anamorphic widescreen video. Personally, I’d like to recommend Stuart Gordon’s creepy toy horror comedy Dolls, which was made one year before Child’s Play, and which is also available from MGM DVD.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 9th September 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Surround English, Spanish, French
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Extras: Actor/Designer Commentary, Producer/Writer Commentary, Chucky Select Scene Commentary, 'Evil Comes in Small Packages' Three Part Documentary, 'Chucky: Building a Nightmare', Monster Mania Reunion Footage, EPK Featurette, Trailers, Photo Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Tom Holland
Cast: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif, Dinah Manoff
Genre: Horror and Thriller
Length: 87 minutes
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