CHILD'S PLAY (1988) Blu-ray
Director: Tom Holland
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

Your "friend 'til the end" Chucky is introduced in CHILD'S PLAY, on two-disc special edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory.

It's Andy Barclay's (Alex Vincent, DEAD COUNTRY) ninth birthday and all he wants is a Good Guy doll, the hottest toy on the market. His widowed mother Karen (SEVENTH HEAVEN's Catherine Hicks) works in a department store and has to resort to buying one off a street peddler to make her son happy. Unfortunately, this particular doll "Chucky" carries the soul of serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST) who used a voodoo incantation to leave his body after being shot by detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon, FRIGHT NIGHT). Even after Chucky kills Karen's coworker Maggie (EMPTY NEST's Dinah Manoff), he is able to manipulate Andy into believing that he has been sent by his father form heaven to protect him; but Andy starts to wise up while accompanying Chucky on subsequent trips to get even with those who betrayed him when alive. By the time Andy tries to warn the adults, Karen worries that his father's death has taken a toll on his mind and he is taken from her for psychological observation. When Karen discovers too late that Chucky really is alive, she is unable to convince Norris until Chucky tries to kill him too. Shot again by Norris, Chucky decides that he needs to transfer bodies again and has Andy in mind.

One of the rarer studio-released box office horror hits after the genre's studio heyday in the early to mid-eighties, CHILD'S PLAY takes the concept of "Talking Tina" from the classic TWILIGHT ZONE into more horrific territory thanks to Dourif's voice work and some ground-breaking animatronic effects work by Kevin Yagher (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4) that is still quite impressive today (although perhaps less so once you have seen the effects featurettes and start trying to point out which shots are puppets, which are animatronic, and which are the human doubles). Riffing on the "boy who cried wolf" theme from FRIGHT NIGHT and CLOAK & DAGGER, director Tom Holland is able to get child actor Vincent to carry much of the film in between Chucky scenes with Hicks and Sarandon putting in their professional best running around and getting to various places too late. The effects-heavy finale set entirely in the Barclay's apartment (a Culver City set subbing for the interior of Chicago's striking Brewster Apartments also seen in RUNNING SCARED) still manages to be quite intense with some particularly horrific images of charred Chucky still on the rampage. The theatrical success of the film lead to two lesser sequels (the third film blamed in the UK for inciting the killing of a child by two others) before producer David Kirshner (AN AMERICAN TAIL) and series' scripter Don Mancini breathed some new life into the series with BRIDE OF CHUCKY and the more comic SEED OF CHUCKY before going back to a more serious tone with CURSE OF CHUCKY (a seventh film is in the works).

Released on VHS and laserdisc by MGM in 1989, CHILD'S PLAY has remained steadily in print, with a full-frame DVD released in 1999, a twentieth anniversary widescreen version in 2008 with two commentary tracks and a handful of video extras (see below), and a Blu-ray/DVD combo iteration of the special edition package the following year (and a Blu-ray-only edition in 2011). Derived from a new 2K scan of the film's interpositive, Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen edition betters the older master with some shots brighter than before and others darker when necessary. A layer of grain is restored, giving an enhanced sense of depth within shots that looked flatter and duller before, and easily confused with the some of the blander photography of the time (indeed, the transfer allows for better assessment of Bill Butler's photography which previously looked attractive during the location scenes and more TV-like in the studio interiors). The Dolby Stereo soundtrack is provided in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and a 5.1 upmix as on the previous Blu-ray from MGM (which relegated the original matrixed 2.0 to lossy Dolby Digital).

The only new commentary of the three tracks features director Holland, moderated by Nathaniel Thompson, and it is most instructive as Holland recalls being attached to the project after FRIGHT NIGHT but found Don Mancini's original script unworkable. While he went on to FATAL BEAUTY, Joe Ruben (SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY) was briefly attached and had similar issues with the script. Realizing that the script needed a stronger antagonist, he and writer John Lafia (THE BLUE IGUANA) fleshed out the Charles Lee Ray character and added the voodoo angle (a choice Mancini and series producer Kirshner have found vexing ever since) in place of the script's initial conceit that Chucky (or Buddy as he was originally called) was Andy's id taking out his repressed anger on victims. The second track features actor Vincent and separately recorded comments from Hicks and Yagher (now husband and wife). Vincent reveals that he was not traumatized by the movie since he read and memorized the entire script as a six-year-old, was shown the inner-workings of the various Chucky effects, and was friends with actor Ed Gale (HOWARD THE DUCK) who doubled for Chucky in some scenes. He does mention that he had a hard time saying "bitch" during the audition in front of his mother, and that he did have trouble with seeing Gale set on fire during the climax. He and Hicks separately discuss their methods of bonding as mother and son during pre-production, rehearsing with Dourif actually on set and "playing" the doll, and Hicks also recalls her trepidation after shooting the Chicago scenes at having to work with a doll until she came to California and saw the complex puppetry and animatronics that would go into bringing Chucky to life. Hicks also reveals that Sarandon generously demurred top billing to her. Yagher points out the use of puppets, animatronics, doubles (including Vincent's younger sister who did the first shot of Chucky running in the background), and how Chucky was realized as a character. The two also touch upon their relationship on set and subsequently.

The track with producer Kirschner and screenwriter Mancini opens with Kirshner revealing how the CHILD'S PLAY sequels ended up with Universal (United Artists having been bought shortly after the second film started development by an Australian company with a family image). Mancini discusses his original script and Holland's changes while also prompting Kirshner about the cast and crew, as well as the effects (they also note how Butler's photography on JAWS prefigures some of his work here). They cover the Holland's two-hour cut and the frustration that he cut so much away of Chucky – although they concede that Yagher also recommended showing less of him – and their turn at editing the film with the help of Edward Warshilcka (RAMBO III). They also discuss the subsequent films in the series as well. Also ported over from the disc is the select scene audio commentary with Chucky, but the audio for it plays through the feature rather than as a separate encode of selected scenes, so some fast-forwarding is required.

The behind-the-scenes special effects footage (60:08) was shot for Yagher's parents and provides an extensive look at the workings of his workshop, Chucky in his various stages and expressions, the servo mechanism used to match Chucky's mouth movements to Dourif's lines, and shooting with Gale as Chucky on sets built thirty-percent larger since the actor was ten inches taller than the doll. In "Howard Berger: Your Special Effects Friend ‘Till the End" (40:53), he discusses coming to Yagher from working with Rick Baker and John Carl Buechler to work on CHILD'S PLAY and THE SEVENTH SIGN as big Hollywood movies, the longer pre-production period, how Yagher made up for his procrastination with his design brilliance, and also rattles off the names of several of the crew members we saw in the behind the scenes footage (including puppeteer Brock Winkless who died in 2015). "Life Behind the Mask: Being Chucky" (40:02) finds actor Gale recalling how he came to Hollywood to be a regular actor and discovered the sub-industry of little people as actors and doubles for children as well as working on commercials and HOWARD THE DUCK. He discusses the shooting of his scenes doubling Chucky and how the audience is not supposed to be able to tell it was him if the job was done right. He recalls having a less pleasant time on CHILD'S PLAY 2 and turning down the third one before returning for BRIDE OF CHUCKY eight years after.

"Evil Comes in Small Packages" (24:49) from the MGM releases is the most satisfying featurette, intercutting comments from Mancini, Kirshner, Holland, Sarandon, Hicks, Dourif, and Yagher on the project from its beginnings as "Blood Buddy" (in which the doll had synthetic blood and Andy brought it to life with a blood brother ritual) to its development at MGM, the shoot, and the screening Kirshner set up at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (as well as subsequent screenings on which Kirshner and Mancini would sit anonymously in the audience and try to create a ripple effect of frightened reactions in the audience). "Chucky: Building a Nightmare" featurette (10:05) is an entirely superfluous piece on the use of animatronics on Chucky with comments by effects experts Tom Savini (CREEPSHOW), Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff (LEVIATHAN) interspersed with more behind the scenes video of Yagher's workshop. "A Monster Convention" featurette (5:26) features the reunion of Vincent, Hicks, and Sarandon who seem to disappoint the audience in revealing that it was hard to be afraid of a doll piloted by twelve puppeteers. "Introducing Chucky: The Making of Child’s Play" (6:15) and the vintage featurette (4:54) are both U.A. promo reels highlighting the actors and the innovative effects. Also included are the film's theatrical trailer (2:02) and TV spot (0:17), as well as behind-the-scenes and posters/lobby card photo galleries. The reversible cover includes the original art on the reverse and the new art is also reproduced on the slipcover. (Eric Cotenas)