Child's Play
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Child's Play

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In recent years the world has experienced many shortages in vital resources but there is one thing that seems to never run out; the horror flick. It does appear that this is the latest preferred genre for the novice film maker. We have become so inundated with these barely passable flicks that we forget many of the genre’s modern classics. One reason perhaps is many of them have spawned so many sequels that we have lost track of the original movies that started their respective franchises. One such movie is ‘Child’s Play’ by noted master of horror Tom Holland. This little story of a serial killer whose soul winds up in a little doll has become one of the stars in the horror film constellation. The antagonist Chucky is up there with such horror greats as Freddy and Michael Myers as the most recognizable demented evil killers around. Going a long way to help Chucky hold on as one of the best horror monsters is the fact that he is based on a child’s doll. We have all seen them, owned them or purchased them for our children. You most likely do not have someone around the house with sharp knives for fingers but it is pretty certain there is a doll or two around. This film has resulted in four sequels to date and is slated for a remake but ‘Child’s Play’ will always be the movie that started it all. It is sometimes hard to believe so many years have come along since first seeing a movie in the theater. Then, an anniversary DVD some out and the fact is brought home that it is now twenty years since little Chucky first ran around with a blade in is pudgy plastic hand. Now MGM/UA in cooperation with Fox is saying happy twentieth birthday to Chucky and his legion of fans with a special edition DVD. If you have put off owning this film for any given reason or even if you have an older DVD release this is the one edition of the movie to get.

This now classic horror film was penned by three men; Don Mancini, John Lafia and Tom Holland. Two of the three had a strong background in horror by the time they wrote the script for this movie. Holland co-wrote the cult classic ‘Fright Night’ as well as ‘The Initiation of Sarah’. He would go on to write a couple of Stephen King screen adaptations ‘Thinner’ and ‘The Langoliers.’ Lafia had the least horror experience when he took this movie. Mancinii had one horror flick before this, ‘Cellar Dwellers’ and went on to write all of the sequels to this franchise. The fundamental premise here is simple and if you think about it just a little too long completely absurd but the fact is it works. Serial killer and general bad guy Charles Ray Lee, voiced with a delicious evil by Brad Dourif is on the run from the police. The detective hot on his trail, Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) traps the killer in a toy store. A gunfight ensues and Lee is mortally wounded. It should come as little surprise that Lee is a practitioner of the dark arts and just before he dies transfers his soul into one the ‘Good Guy’ dolls on the shelf. Norris finds the corpse of Lee and thinks the manhunt and terror is finally over. Now it wouldn’t be much of a story if the doll didn’t wind up in the hands of a little boy and the spirit of Lee goes on another killing spree. There is a lot of dependence on some common mythological themes present here. Many cultures have a belief that the soul can be trapped in an inanimate object particular one with a human form like a doll. A masterpiece of horror ‘Trilogy of Terror’ has one of its three stories about a hunter’s demonic spirit caught in a little totem doll. The fright in such cases comes from something as mundane as a doll being the instrument of such insidious evil. This movie did for dolls what ‘Psycho’ did for the shower; you would never look at one the same way again.

Tom Holland also directed this film as a follow up for his previous horror movie, ‘Fright Night’. Like that film Holland depends on the mundane nature of the setting as juxtaposition to the scares that will follow. For modern audiences this may seem like a rather tame flick. There are only five people who get killed here. Most modern slasher films can exceed that body count before the opening credits have finished rolling. The people selling stage blood didn’t make a lot on this movie but ‘Child’s Play’ demonstrates that it is quality not quantity that really matters. He moves the plot along well and paces the film so that every time you think it will be a quite moment, boom, something happens. There is initially a little misdirection attempted where a case may be made for the little boy being the actual killer but that red herring is quickly disposed of as the true Chucky reveals itself. Catherine Hicks does an excellent job as the single mother who just wanted to get her son a birthday present that he would enjoy. She saves up here meager earnings and has to trade shifts at work with her best friend, Maggie (Dinah Manoff) so she could get the popular Good Guy doll. Holland lets the basic plot simmer for just the right amount of time to let all the ingredients of the film to blend. By the time Chucky defenestrates Maggie while she is baby sitting the action really gets moving.

Alex Vincent is excellent as the little boy Andy. He really didn’t do much in acting besides a few other films and the first sequel of this series. He was able to switch gears from a child happy to see his new plastic friend to a boy who has to face death to save his mother. Of course you can’t consider this film without noting the incredible talents of Brad Dourif. He has made a fantastic career of off beat characters such as the drunken doctor in ‘Deadwood’, the evil mentat in the Lynch version of ‘Dune’ and more recently Grimma Wormtongue in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ epic. No matter what role he takes on the audience is certain of one thing, you are in for quite a ride. Here, his human screen time is minimal but the voice he created for Chucky is now legendary. Dourif mentioned at a horror convention that there is a little Chucky in all of us and he still likes to let Chucky come out and play every so often. There is such an wonderfully evil feel with the voice of Chucky these movies would not have succeeded at all if not for Dourif.

As mentioned MGM/UA pulled out all the stops for this 20th anniversary DVD release; it is bigger and better than any previous presentation. The video is in1.85:1 widescreen accompanied by a Dolby 5.1 audio. What really are impressive are the al new extras that are present on the disc; they will blow you away. This is one that has to be part of any serious film collection.

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Audio commentary: Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, Chucky designer Kevin Yagher

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Audio commentary: Producer David Kirschner, Don Mancini

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Scene specific commentary by Brad Dourif as Chucky

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Featurette: The birth of Chucky

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Featurette: Creating the horror

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Featurette: Unleashed

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Featurette: Chucky Building a Nightmare

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Featurette: A Monster Convention

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Featurette: Introducing Chucky – Making Of

Posted 08/29/08

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