Review

Review

Child's Play 20th Anniversary Special Edition DVD

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Yeah, good ol' Chucky is back! No, it's not another sequel, nor it is a remake (although it's definitely coming), but if you're a longtime fan of everyone's favorite killer doll, then here's some very good news: Not only is the original Child's Play now available in its original aspect ratio, but the DVD arrives packing all sorts of fan-friendly treats. Each of the sequels -- Child's Play 2, Child's Play 3, Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky -- have had their own widescreen DVDs for a while now, but the original film has remained lodged in PAN & SCAN limbo for way too long. MGM has remedied that with a fantastic "Chucky's 20th Birthday Edition" that definitely belongs on your horror shelf -- probably right next to the Universal 4-pack that houses all the (lesser, but still amusing) sequels.

Reviewed by Scott Weinberg

It's a concept that could have gone so wrong and resulted in a movie we mock instead of adore, but it's a testament to the playful nature of director Tom Holland and screenwriter Don Mancini that the potentially ridiculous Child's Play turns out to be such a rock-solid little horror thriller. Obviously the film has a sense of humor (it's about a killer doll, after all), but the creators seemed to take a few things pretty seriously: They actually wanted the doll to be SCARY once in a while (and he definitely is!), and they were smart enough to keep the plot simple yet speedy: A homicidal maniac who knows a little voodoo is gunned down in a toy store, so of course he "black magics" his soul into the body of a Cabbage Patch-ish "Good Guy" doll named Chucky. The evil toy ends up in the hands of a sweet little boy named Andy ... and things promptly go downhill from there.

Although it's well-paced and boasting a few great jolts, the highlight of the flick has to be the astonishing animatronics that bring Chucky to life. Produced in an era when CGI meant ... nothing, Child's Play has four or five FX sequences that are really quite excellent. (Chucky's "mean face" still freaks me out, and his flip-out inside of a fireplace is still cool yet creepy.) Lord knows I appreciate when a little extra effort goes into a horror film, and I can only imagine that getting Chucky to work properly was a series of massive headaches. (Especially on Part 1!) But it's not all mayhem and silliness. Holland and Mancini envelop their "homicidal doll" story inside of a typical but perfectly effective tale of "no one believes me!" First it's Andy who is blamed for the death of a babysitter, but before long it's his level-headed Mom (Catherine Hicks) who's trying to convince a detective (a very game Chris Sarandon) about the maniacal plaything. It's a conventional enough horror story, but Child's Play works very well -- and not just because of the ultra-cool and terrible toy.

Hicks and Sarandon, for example, lend a lot of weight to a potentially goofy tale, and Holland is smart enough to throw some smarts in there for the horror fans. (The stalking of the babysitter seems to be a direct homage to the "Zuni Fetish Doll" sequence from Trilogy of Terror, and a good one to boot!) As our pint-sized little hero, Alex Vincent comes off as a little too precious in the flick's early scenes, but he quickly settles down and becomes a kid we can really root for. (And that's really important: With the wrong kid, Child's Play could have gone south in a hurry.) Tony Award winner Dinah Manoff has a few nice scenes as the ill-fated babysitter, and (of course) Brad Dourif steals a few scenes without breaking a sweat. (The genre veteran plays the vicious Charles Lee Ray in the opening scenes, but mostly provides the pipes for Chucky. And he's clearly having a ball with the role.) And you simply can't go wrong with a cinematographer like Bill Butler. He makes a little horror movie look like a million bucks.

I hate to sound like an old fogey, but horror-wise ... they just don't make 'em like this anymore. If Child's Play were green-lit today, the doll would be entirely CGI, the cast would be made up of several 20-something nobodies, and the scares would be toned down in honor of the PG-13 rating. That's assuming that anyone would actually bankroll a movie in which a little boy is framed for murder and cold-cocked with a baseball bat by a crazy doll. But that's why I love my horror shelf so much: So I can pluck something from 1988 that still works really well today, and I can enjoy a few fun scares while strolling down nostalgia lane.

But FEARnet regulars already know how cool Chucky is. What they want to know is ... what's on the new DVD, dude?!?!?! So here you go: A pair of feature-length audio commentaries (one with producers Don Mancini and David Kirschner, the other with Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks and FX master Kevin Yagher) that should absolutely thrill the fans. All of the commentators seem to hold very fond memories of the (sometimes difficult) production, and are genuinely pleased with the film's shelf-life. None of them think it's Shakespeare, which is good, but they all seem to hold a lot of affection for crazy ol' Chucky. And speaking of Charles Lee Ray, fans will adore the commentary sections in which Chucky himself opines over the proceedings. It's not a full commentary, but Dourif does a very fine, fun job of channeling Chuck in the recording booth. (Don't know why they couldn't have included Brad on one of the full commentaries, as he's a seriously smart guy, but that's a small gripe, all things considered.)

So two and a half commentaries seems like a pretty good start. And then we get to the featurettes! The 25-minute "Evil Comes in Small Packages" is broken up into three chapters (The Birth of Chucky; Creating the Horror; and Unleashed) and gives a great retrospective look at the flick. Interviewees include Don Mancini, David Kirschner, screenwriter Don Lafia, Chris Sarandon, Brad Dourif, Catherine Hicks, Alex Vincent, and Kevin Yagher. (Oddly, director Tom Holland shows up only in vintage interviews. Kind of a shame, as I consider the guy one of the '80s most reliable genre-makers. His other films include Fright Night, Class of 1984, Psycho 2, and Cloak & Dagger.) Overall it's a great piece, full of cool anecdotes, on-set footage, and even some rehearsal clips! "Chucky: Building a Nightmare" (10:04) illustrates precisely why I believe Child's Play should have been nominated for a Visual FX Oscar. Plus we get several very cool perspectives from some of Yagher's colleagues like Alec Gillis, Shane Mohan, Tom Woodruff, and Tom Savini. Nice touch there. Rounding out the new goodies is "A Monster Convention," which runs about five minutes and treats us to a cast reunion panel from the 2007 Monster Mania Festival.

But wait, there's more! A 6-minute vintage featurette called "Introducing Chucky," the original theatrical trailer, and a photo gallery. Basically, this is one of the best horror DVDs of the year.

For a movie like Child's Play, TONE is the real key. Go "too serious" and you risk looking silly, but if you play it too jokey, then nothing is scary and the violence feels kinda ugly. So while the sequels may have gotten progressively more campy, I'm pleased to note that the original Child's Play holds up just as well as I'd hoped. Half-silly, half-scary, and entirely entertaining, it's a horror flick you could actually show to your mom -- provided your mom has a partially sick sense of humor.

Last note: I'm sorry, but the "melted Chucky" from the end of Part 1 is one of the coolest horror FX I've ever seen.

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