There are staples of American horror, enduring icons recognizable to everyone who’s ever been exposed to films played over and over again in the month of Halloween. Evils that haunt your dreams with a metal clawed glove, or the unstoppable figure in a mask…either of them. After Krueger, Voorhees, and Myers, perhaps the most well known is not even a person at all, but the doll Chucky. While his franchise has embraced the more comedic aspects in recent times, Scream Factory has gone back to the beginning with this remastered release of the original Child’s Play.
Charles Lee-Ray (Brad Dourif), better know as the “Lakeshore Strangler,” is hunted down in the back streets of Chicago by Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon). After being shot, he takes refuge in a toy store where he uses his last breath to conjure a incantation to transfer his soul into the closest receptacle, a “Good Guy” doll. The aftermath of the spell results in an explosion, sending the doll into the street and the hands of a vagrant who the following morning sells it to Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks), a mother looking for a present for her son Andy (Alex Vincent). It’s not long before Lee-Ray, assuming the moniker “Chucky,” resumes his killing spree and seeks vengeance on the detective who ended his life. However his retribution is impeded when he discovers that unless he transfers his soul into Andy’s body, he will be trapped in his plastic shell forever.
Frankly, if you buy your child a present from a homeless man, you’re asking for trouble. Granted, a possessed, homicidal doll is perhaps the most incredulous outcome you could imagine, but the sentiment remains true. While the synopsis sounds silly, and is occasionally played for laughs with Chucky’s macabre quips (and occasional misogyny), Child’s Play is a dark affair. Later sequels embrace the more slapstick and comedic tone, detracting from the original’s potency.
The twisting of a representation of childhood into something far more insidious is a smart one. What’s more unsettling for a child than to think one of their toys may be a killer? Having revealed himself to Andy first, his is the only body that can provide a permanent home to Lee-Ray’s soul. This gives the film a shift in direction from offing people connected to the Barclay family to Chucky putting Andy square in his sights. Fold in the continuing vendetta between Detective Norris and Lee-Ray, and you have a packed and well paced 90 minute runtime.
Tom Holland (Fright Night) keeps the comedy at bay by building a lot of tension into the film, making this red headed, freckled doll an imposing figure. The practical effects used to bring Chucky to life still still hold up pretty well today. For Brad Dourif, despite only having a few minutes on screen, his demented vocal performance ensures his legacy alongside other horror icons.
THE PACKAGEThis Scream Factory release is a result of a new 2K resolution scan of an original film source and it looks fantastic. The image is crisp and light, without looking overly processed. Colors are vibrant, blacks are deep. Detail is of high quality, and having seen this film on everything from VHS to 35mm, it’s pretty impressive to notice fine detail such as the stitching on the Chucky doll. A natural grain is apparent, and aside from a few dips in quality, likely due to the source film, no defects are noticeable.
The release comes with a slip case and content spread over two discs. Disc one hosts the film itself as well as a series of audio commentaries. The first is a newly recorded commentary with director Tom Holland, which while being rather dry gives a lot of insight into the making of the film. There are three other commentaries on the disc from previous releases. The first has audio of Alex Vincent cut into commentary by star Catherine Hicks and Chucky designer Kevin Yagher. It affects the flow, but the result is still interesting, more like a trip down memory lane than anything else. This is reinforced by the fact that Hicks and Yagher eventually wed after falling for each other during filming. Vincent’s perspective is especially interesting as a child working on a horror movie. The commentary with producer David Kirschner with screenwriter Don Mancini is perhaps the most informative, offing frank criticism of certain aspects of the film, how some of the more far fetched moments turned out as well as commenting on other technical aspects of the film. The final commentary is one with Chucky himself that sadly is only available for select scenes. It makes for a fragmented but really fun addition.
Disc two is host to a number of other extras. Evil Comes in Small Packages features interviews with Don Mancini, David Kirschner, John Lafia, Chris Sarandon, Brad Dourif, Catherine Hicks, Alex Vincent, and Kevin Yagher. It’s a nice overview of the birth of the Chucky story, how the script came together, the doll design and building, editing, and the reception on release. Chucky: Building a Nightmare features Kevin Yagher in a short but more focused look at the building of the Chucky puppet, including its animatronics. A Monster Convention features the cast in a Q&A from a convention that offers little information that isn’t covered in the other extras. There’s also a Photo Gallery and series of trailers included.
Also on disc two are extras newly assembled for this release. Special Effects Footage is an hour long look at test footage taken during the design and building of the Chucky doll. Howard Berger: Your Special Effects Friend ‘Til The End is a 40 minute interview with the special effect artist touching on his career but mostly his involvement with Child’s Play. Finally, Life Behind the Mask: Being Chucky is an interview with actor Ed Gale, the diminutive actor who played the role of Chucky in certain scenes during the film. It’s a great addition and full of personal anecdotes about the shoot.
THE BOTTOM LINEChild’s Play remains an energetic, fun, and unsettling affair, one that balances the comedy of the premise with a creepy vibe, aided by a memorable vocal performance from Dourif. Scream Factory has lovingly restored the film and paired it with a superb set of extras, meaning Chucky is back in one of the best releases of the Halloween season.
Child’s Play Collector’s Edition is available from Scream Factory on October 18th, 2016.