Blu-ray
Give it a Rent
3.5 stars
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Overall Grade
3.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
3 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
3.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Give it a Rent

Child's Play

Street Date:
September 15th, 2009
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
October 27th, 2009
Movie Release Year:
1988
Studio:
MGM/UA
Length:
87 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

As far as guilty pleasures go, 'Child's Play' has somehow crawled its way onto my list of tolerably entertaining flicks, one that I can sit down and watch every so often without much change in judgment. As for why that is, I really can't tell. It's not as if the movie about a doll possessed by the soul of a serial killer has any true redeeming value whatsoever. Seriously, how much damage could a two-foot doll inflict upon a grown adult --- it's made of plastic and batting material for Pete's sake! Granted, director Tom Holland ('Fright Night') generates some good moments of suspense and action; but in the end, there is nothing really terrifying about this story of a maniacal doll.

Mortally wounded while being chased by Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon), Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), the notorious "Lakeshore Strangler", breaks into a toy store to hide. Desperate for a way out, he performs a voodoo ritual which transports his soul inside a Good Guy doll. The next morning, Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks), anxious to please her six-year-old son Andy (Alex Vincent), buys the much sought-after doll from a street peddler. Little do they know, it is the same toy on which Charles performed his black magic. Referring to himself as Chucky, he resumes his killing spree and seeks vengeance on the detective. Later, he discovers his only way out is to transfer his soul to the first person to whom he reveals his identity, placing Andy in grave danger.

So what the heck is it about the Good Guys doll which grabbed the attention of millions and spawned four sequels, including a comic book? One thing I always point to is the unexpected franchise, which if truth be told is nothing more than a parody of itself, somehow changing the way we watch the darn movie. 'Child's Play' is today a less serious, straight horror flick and more ironic and facetious in its attempt to be realistic. The other is without a doubt Brad Dourif as the iconic voice of Chucky. Without his talent, the movie would lack a great deal of feasibility and at least some hint of believability. It is only with the evil, wicked attitude he imposes in the character that we enjoy watching Chucky strut his stuff and trust that the doll is capable of terrible malice and malevolent intent.

This is not to ignore the spot-on performances from the rest of the cast. I am simply pointing out Dourif's as a central and crucial piece to the movie's enjoyment. Chris Sarandon has worked in some very memorable roles in the past ('Fright Night', 'The Princess Bride', 'The Nightmare Before Christmas') and for most horror fans, his portrayal here as the skeptical detective happens to be one of them. Considering that a good chunk of her acting is based on reactions to an autonomous doll, Catherine Hicks definitely pulls her weight and wins over the audience. But the one person who stands out is the very young Alex Vincent, showing some excellent range for a child his age, particularly the scenes at the children's hospital. In the end though, Dourif remains the primary reason for fans revisiting the film and encouraging the series to continue.

Other than the 'Bride of Chucky', the original installment of the franchise lingers in the memory banks of horror aficionados because of its surprisingly good and stylish direction. Not only does Tom Holland put the dark shadows to fine use and actually generates a eerie atmosphere, but he's also skilled at keeping the camera from revealing the many tricks-of-the-trade. Most interesting is the way in which the movie tapped into the strange cultural phenomena of children's toy marketing of the 1980s. While the plot's creator Don Mancini has admitted to the Cabbage Patch Kids craze as a direct influence, I still like think the Good Guy doll possesses a striking resemblance to My Buddy or even a demented version of Teddy Ruxpin. In either case, the idea of toys which try to appear more lifelike is quite creepy and disturbing, and the filmmakers take advantage of this and provide audiences with a tale that plays into our childish nightmares.

Making it all a reality is of course the amazing F/X work from Kevin Yagher, creator of The Crypt Keeper and make-up artist for Freddy Krueger. In this day and age of CGI fakeness, it's hard to believe this film was pushing the boundaries of special effects and animatronics. But back then, audiences were blown away by how realistically Chucky moved and looked, to watch his horrifying facial expressions slowly morph from innocent doll to a raving psychopath. Personally, I find it utterly hilarious to watch the Good Guy doll start off with a basic parted haircut that evolves into a receding hairline by the end. The groundbreaking special effects to this day still hold up as major part of the film's entertainment value. If not for the remarkable work done by Yagher's team trying to be as realistic as possible, 'Child's Play' could have easily been nothing more than a faded memory of terribly made horror flicks.

What started off as a straight-forward "whodunit" mystery thriller has grown into a popular series with yet another unforgettable psycho-killer in Chucky. While other installments have transformed the franchise into a horror comedy, even to the point of being a mockery as seen in 'Seed of Chucky', 'Child's Play' remains the movie in which the filmmakers tried in all seriousness to frighten the hell out of the public, which oddly comes off more comical than anything else. Still, it serves up some good fun on a late Saturday night and remains a popular fan favorite amongst horror fans.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Last year, Fox/MGM decided to throw Chucky a 20th birthday celebration by providing the killer-doll with a makeover. As part of an exclusive package, the studio was nice enough to include this anniversary DVD copy, which looks fine for the format. Side-to-side comparisons, unfortunately, reveal the Blu-ray edition to have been culled from the same remaster, which is not a bad thing except that it shows only a small improvement in picture quality.

The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer (1.85:1) arrives with an unobtrusive thin layer of film grain and a surprisingly good contrast level, exposing plenty of visual information in the background. Of course, the picture has its moments of hot spots, such as scenes involving lightning and fire, and it is generally on the softer side due to some intentional optical photography. Still, fine object and textural details are a bit sharper here than in its standard definition equivalent, and facial complexions appear more natural for the cold climate. Blacks exhibit strong resolution and consistency, with clear visibility of objects in the darkest portions of the image. The color palette is nothing spectacular, but it's cleanly rendered and secondary hues are accurate. Even if the jump into hi-def is not significant, 'Child's Play' makes for a fine presentation on Blu-ray.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

At least the audio shows a more significant improvement over the video.

Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio codec, the soundtrack exhibits some decent presence and separation. There is plenty of movement and commotion in the fronts, keeping the audience engaged at all times. Dynamics are not very expansive, nor do they reach the upper levels, but they are cleanly delivered and well defined. Low-frequency effects are also put to good use, adding heavy palpability to several action sequences and every gunshot fired. The real shocker is the amount of activity in the rear speakers, offering many instances of atmospheric immersion like the sounds of thunder or the ricochet of bullets. Even Chucky has his moment where he scurries along behind the listener, extending the soundfield and generating a welcomed instant of creepiness. Only complaint is a vocal track that can be overwhelmed in few areas, but it is clear and precise for the most part. In the end, it's a strong lossless presentation for a twenty-year-old mix.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Mirroring the bonus material from Chucky's 20th Birthday Edition, the supplemental package of this Blu-ray offers a bevy of fun compared to previous releases. Presented in standard definition, the featurettes offer the sort of material fans crave, with a few hidden surprises along the way - Easter Eggs!

  • Two Audio Commentaries - The first track features cast members Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, and Chucky designer Kevin Yagher. Although Vincent was recorded separately, his voice is spliced into the conversation between Hicks and Yagher - who fell in love during filming and remain married to this day. The results are odd and obvious, but the overall feel of the track is entertaining, especially when focused more on the married couple. Many insights and background about the production are offered, but the conversation is mostly centered on fond memories of working on set and public reaction. The second commentary reunites producer David Kirschner with screenwriter Don Mancini and turns out to be the better of the two tracks. The two men are surprisingly honest about their views of certain aspects within the film, particularly the voodoo portion and the plot's sillier moments. The discussion ranges from the drastic changes made in Mancini's original script, the attempt at creating a realistic setting, the musical score, and praise for the final product. It is unfortunate Tom Holland was not invited to record a commentary track; but those interested in listening to his thoughts can download the MP3 from Icons of Fright.
  • Chucky Commentary on Select Scenes - This really fun track gives Chucky an opportunity to talk about his various kills in the movie. Regrettably, the track is scene-specific and clicking on this option will skip major chunks of the film. However, it's enjoyable listening to Brad Dourif stay in character as Chucky examines and dissects his methodology throughout. Towards the end, Don Mancini chimes in to finish up the track and remind Chucky who directed 'Child's Play'.
  • "Evil Comes in Small Packages" (SD, 25 min) - The three part series takes an in-depth look at the production of 'Child's Play', featuring interviews of cast and crew while footage of the film is mixed in. The first segment, "The Birth of Chucky", discusses the story's genesis and how Don Mancini originally aimed for a psychological thriller. It also includes some back story on David Kirschner's involvement, his pitch to studios, and the changes made to the script by Tom Holland. In "Creating the Horror", the cast talks about what attracted them to the story and shooting on location, which turned out to be Chicago's coldest winter in years. The best part of the segment is watching the making of Chucky and all the animatronics done on set. Very cool. In the final part titled "Unleashed", the filmmakers chat about screening tests, editing the film to less than two hours, Kirschner's elaborate staging for the premiere, and audience reaction, turning Chucky into a memorable horror icon. Overall, the half-hour retrospect is quite enjoyable for fans and the disc's best supplement.
  • "Chucky: Building a Nightmare" (SD, 10 min) - This second retrospect is a closer look at the design and the animatronics involved in bringing the murderous doll to life. With some very cool behind-the-scenes footage interspersed throughout, the piece reveals the tricks of the trade and shows how certain scenes were made with the help of a stand-in. Other highlights include the praise Kevin Yagher receives from the likes of Tom Savini, Alec Gillis, and Shane Mahan, which is all well deserved. This is another good featurette fans are sure to enjoy.
  • A Monster Convention (SD, 5 min) - Originally recorded at Monster Mania 2007, the Q&A panel discussion reunites Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, and Chris Sarandon. Although an interesting watch, the piece is very short and most of what is discussed is known after going through all the other bonus materials.
  • Vintage Featurette introducing Chucky: The Making of 'Child's Play' (SD, 6 min) - The vintage is your basic, run-of-the-mill EPK piece, which functions purely for promotional purposes. One neat thing though, the featurette shows a great deal of the special puppet effects that went into the making of the movie.
  • Photo Gallery - The collection of production stills is quite large and somewhat fun to look through.
  • Theatrical Trailer - The film's original preview is included in the package and very amusing to watch. Again, those were the days when voice narration was a necessary component.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Unfortunately, Fox Home Entertainment did not put together any HD exclsuives.

Easter Eggs

These little surprises of Chucky one-liners are the same found in the 20th Birthday Edition DVD. But rather than placed in different areas of the disc, here they are all located in the Special Features section. When you scroll down to "Evil Comes in Small Packages", quickly navigate back up and you'll highlight Chucky striking a pose. Do the same for "Chucky: Building a Nightmare" and find the Good Guy doll, still in its original packaging. Do it once more for "Monster Convention" and discover Chucky's menacing face suddenly appear in the center of the screen.

Final Thoughts

Twenty years later and 'Child's Play' remains a fun little late-night flick on a Saturday night. The original installment to the popular franchise, which also introduced Chucky to the world of horror cinema, arrives on Blu-ray with nice picture quality and a strong audio presentation. The supplements are the same found on the anniversary DVD, but it's a satisfying collection nonetheless. Fans are sure to be pleased by the package, but everyone else should at least give it a rent this Halloween season.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray/DVD Combo
  • Two-Disc Set
  • BD-50 Double-Layer Disc
  • Region A

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
  • English Dobly Digital 2.0
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
  • French Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • Spanish Subtitles

Supplements

  • Audio Commentaries
  • Featurettes
  • Photo Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer

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