Child's Play (1988)
By: Trist Jones on August 3, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
MGM (Australia). Region 2 & 4 PAL. 1.85:1 (Non-anamorphic). English DD 2.0, German DD 2.0, French DD 2.0, Italian DD 2.0, Spanish DD 2.0. Danish, Dutch, English, English (FHI), French, Finnish German, German (FHI), Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish Subtitles. 83 minutes
The Movie
Director: Tom Holland
Starring: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif, Dinah Manoff, Tommy Swerdlow
Screenplay: Don Mancini
Music: Joe Renzetti
Tagline: This doll is killer
Country: USA
Everyone knows Chucky. He's a seminal horror icon of the Eighties, and was on the same level as Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees. In fact, Chucky was probably more terrifying than any of those characters purely because of what he was: a possessed doll, very similar in look to those big gimmick dolls that were so popular with kids back in the day. Sure, since those days, Chucky has become more of a self-referential joke, and what was often effective horror has been replaced by black comedy, but the original Child's Play is still just as chilling twenty or so years down the track as it was when it was first released.

Starring Chris Sarandon (probably best known as the voice of Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas), Catherine Hicks, and genre heavyweight Brad Dourif, Child's Play revolves around Mike Norris (Sarandon), a Windy City cop on the trail of serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Dourif). Norris finally catches up with Ray in a toy store, where Ray is mortally wounded. Before he dies however, Ray passes his soul into a Good Guy doll, the latest fad toy to hit the stores (imagine Teddy Ruxpin crossed with a Cabbage Patch Kid). The doll is taken by a street peddler and sold to Karen Barclay, whose son Andy has been begging for one for his birthday. When Andy is left one night with a babysitter and the babysitter winds up falling from the fifth floor window of their apartment, only Andy knows that his Good Guy; "Chucky" is responsible, and once his mother catches on, it may be too late to save her son from a fate potentially worse than death.

Child's Play was a true product of its day. Back in the Eighties, these creepy, life-like dolls were all the rage amongst the kids (I know, I was one of them… the kids I mean…). They're not such a big deal now, which somewhat diminishes the more frightening aspects of the Chucky character, but outside of the commercial commentary, Child's Play has held up surprisingly well for its age. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before there's a remake (something which I feel could be done really well), but the original managed to make a flat out ludicrous concept truly suspenseful, and also managed to incorporate well choreographed action sequences, minor amounts of alleviatory comedy without crossing into Freddy Krueger territory (though the sequels are another matter all together), and great special effects (the sequence at the Voodoo priest's house is great!).

The Chucky doll is brought to life fantastically and believably thanks largely to some inventive shots and some very effective puppetry. There are some bits here and there that can't help but force a grin, but this is a 1988 horror flick remember. Another huge part of the Chucky doll is Brad Dourif's vocal performance. He excels here (and in the subsequent films) as Chucky – and I think is probably best known for this performance in these films. I haven't been able to establish whether filming came first or the voice recording, but the facial expressions of the doll perfectly match Dourif's vocal intonations. The amount of facial expressions and movements the Chucky doll is capable of are a testament to how truly great this puppet is/was, and there are a number of shots where you're left wondering "How the Hell did they do that?"

Tom Holland (who also directed Fright Night and some episodes of Tales from the Crypt, along with an upcoming episode of Masters of Horror) manages to balance all the performances, special effects and subtle comedy with some really terrific moments of horror and suspense (when Karen checks Chucky's batteries, it's one of those priceless horror moments, as is the scene that follows) so well that the film allows the viewer to suspend disbelief so much more than a number of the other franchise horror icons of the time. Don Mancini's script is fantastic; it's just a shame that the stories degraded to the point that the films became a parody of themselves.

The performances outside of Dourif are above average for a horror film of this particular time period. Sarandon, though a little over the top at times, is both likable and believable as the almost clichéd non-believing cop, and Catherine Hicks is great as the tormented mother, but Alex Vincent, who plays young Andy is great simply because he manages to avoid the clichés that often riddle kids in these sorts of films. He's not some creepy-cute Carol-Anne style kid, or one of those whiney annoying little bastards you just want to smack all the time, nor is he one of those creepy brainchildren like the kid from The Ring; he's just a kid caught in the middle of a very big problem, and comes off great.

It's a great package: a tight script, a great cast and best of all an ending that allows you to completely ignore the sequels or embrace them depending on how much you enjoy the later films of the series. It's just a shame that the DVD itself isn't quite up to the same standards…
MGM usually does a pretty decent job on their DVD releases, even their budget titles, and Child's Play is no exception. The print isn't superb, but it's certainly a lot better than most DVD's you get for the same price. There are no visible scratches or damage, though there is some slight grain present throughout the darker sections of the film. It's also presented in 1.85:1, so the original aspect ratio is maintained. The only drawback is that it's non-anamorphic.
The audio is fairly standard fare for a DVD these days. You get your Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track in English, which is okay - nothing fantastic, but far from bad. You also get the other standard PAL region languages in mono; German, French, Italian and Spanish.
Extra Features
Unfortunately none, which is a real shame, given the cult status this series has. I would have thought a commentary or something could be wrangled for this, but all you really get is a trailer and a leaflet in the case. Though if you buy the original as part of the many available Chucky boxed sets, you do get some referential material tied in with the more recent titles. But this particular release has nothing.
The Verdict
It's definitely a keeper. Any horror fan who hasn't seen this isn't a true connoisseur of the genre, and any collector who doesn't own this doesn't have a complete horror collection. This, the original Child's Play, is easily the best of the series and holds up damn well to the test of time and repeated viewing. As I said before, if you dig the whole series, they're all available in one big boxed set now, but it's just a shame that this hasn't received any sort of special edition treatment the way the other horror icons have. Still, as far as the actual DVD goes you're getting a pretty barebones disc, but really your paying less than fifteen – sometimes less than ten (depending on where you shop) – for a true horror classic. With that in mind I'm giving this five stars, but the disc itself is worth two.
Movie Score
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