Child's Play (1988 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Tom Holland|
|Produced by||David Kirschner|
|Story by||Don Mancini|
|Music by||Joe Renzetti|
|Distributed by||MGM/UA Communications Co.|
|Box office||$44.2 million|
Child's Play is a 1988 American horror film directed and co-written by Tom Holland, and produced by David Kirschner from a story by Don Mancini. It is the first film in the Child's Play series and the first installment to feature the character Chucky. It stars Catherine Hicks, Dinah Manoff, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, and Brad Dourif. Hicks plays a widowed mother who gives her son a doll for his birthday, unaware that the doll is possessed by the soul of a serial killer.
Along with the film gaining a cult following, the box office success spawned a media franchise that includes a series of six sequels, merchandise, comic books, and a reboot film of the same name released in the summer of 2019. Child's Play was distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, although the rights to the series were sold to Universal Pictures in 1990, right before production on Child's Play 2 started. MGM retained the rights to the first film and as such, distributed the 2019 reboot.
Charles Lee Ray, a fugitive and serial killer, is chased through the streets of South Side, Chicago by homicide detective Mike Norris, who shoots him several times. Ray's accomplice, Eddie Caputo, escapes in a getaway vehicle without him. Ray breaks into a toy shop and, realizing that he is dying, performs a Haitian Vodou spell to transfer his soul into one of the Good Guy dolls, causing the store to be struck by lightning and explode. Mike survives the explosion and re-enters the shop, only to find Charles' dead body and the doll.
The following day, widow Karen Barclay unknowingly purchases the doll—which now calls itself "Chucky"—from a homeless peddler as a birthday gift for her six-year-old son Andy Barclay. Later that evening, Karen's best friend Maggie babysits Andy while Karen is working late. After Andy’s bedtime Maggie finds Chucky sitting in front of a television tuned to an evening newscast about Charles Lee Ray. She returns the doll to bed but is then hit in the face with a hammer and falls out a window to her death. The police search the apartment and Detective Norris deems Andy a suspect. Before going back to bed, Andy claims Chucky killed Maggie. Karen angrily tells the police to leave.
The next morning, Chucky orders Andy to skip school and take the Chicago "L" train downtown. While Andy is distracted, Chucky sneaks into Eddie's house and kills him by causing a gas explosion. Andy is once again deemed a suspect and is placed in a psychiatric hospital after again claiming that Chucky is responsible for the murder.
When Karen picks up the Good Guys box and a pack of batteries drop out, Karen realizes that Chucky has been functioning without them. Unnerved, Karen starts a fire and threatens to burn Chucky, causing him to violently spring to life in her arms. He attacks her before running out of the apartment. Karen chases after him, but Chucky escapes. Karen goes to the police station and explains what happened, but Mike does not believe her. Karen finds the peddler and asks for more information on where he found the doll. As the peddler attempts to sexually assault her, Mike rescues her, and the pair forces the peddler to admit he took the doll from the demolished toy store. Karen again tries to convince Mike that the doll is alive, but he refuses to believe her, insisting that he killed Charles Lee Ray. After driving Karen home, Mike is attacked by Chucky, and in the ensuing fight, Chucky is shot, and his wound inexplicably bleeds and causes pain.
Chucky flees to his former Voodoo instructor John, who informs him that the longer Chucky stays in the doll, the more human he will become. Chucky demands that John help him reverse the spell, but John refuses. Chucky tortures John into revealing that in order to escape the doll, Chucky must transfer his soul into Andy, the first human he revealed himself to. Chucky kills John and escapes. Karen and Mike arrive shortly afterward. Before dying, John tells them that although Chucky is a doll, his heart is fully human at this point and vulnerable to fatal injury.
Chucky arrives at the hospital where Andy is being held. Chucky kills a doctor, and in the process Andy escapes and flees home. Chucky follows him and knocks him unconscious. As Chucky prepares to possess him, Karen and Mike arrive to stop him. Chucky slashes Mike's leg but is then tossed into the fireplace by Karen. Andy drops a lit match in it, burning Chucky. Karen and Andy leave the room to help Mike, but a charred Chucky escapes the fireplace and chases Andy. Karen shoots Chucky several times and he is again presumed to be dead. Mike's partner Jack arrives at the apartment, initially refusing to believe the trio's story. Chucky's body bursts through an air vent to strangle Jack. During the struggle, Mike shoots Chucky in the heart, finally killing him.
- Alex Vincent as Andy Barclay
- Catherine Hicks as Karen Barclay
- Chris Sarandon as Detective Mike Norris
- Brad Dourif as Charles Lee Ray/Chucky
- Dinah Manoff as Maggie Peterson
- Tommy Swerdlow as Jack Santos
- Jack Colvin as Dr. Ardmore
- Raymond Oliver as John "Dr. Death" Bishop
- Neil Giuntoli as Eddie Caputo
- Alan Wilder as Mr. Walter Criswell
- Aaron Osborne as the Orderly
- Juan Ramirez as the Peddler
- Tyler Hard as Mona
- Ted Liss as George
- Roslyn Alexander as Lucy
According to an interview with Mental Floss, screenwriter Don Mancini first conceived of the concept while studying as a film major at the University of California, Los Angeles. He claimed to have been inspired by the consumerism of the 1980's, the Cabbage Patch Kids, Trilogy of Terror, and The Twilight Zone episode "Living Doll". The film's executive producer David Kirschner, who would produce all seven films in the Chucky series, claimed in the same interview that he had wanted to make a film about a killer doll after reading The Dollhouse Murders. The director Tom Holland has also affirmed that the My Buddy dolls played a role in Chucky's design.
In Mancini's original script, Blood Buddy, the doll would have been filled with fake blood that would allow it to bleed if played with roughly, and would have come alive after Andy mixed his own blood with the doll's. The doll would have represented Andy's suppressed rage, and would have targeted his enemies. Mancini's original script would have been a whodunit story which dealt with the effect of advertising and television on children. Mancini's original script was also written to toy with the audience a bit longer, making it ambiguous whether Andy or Chucky was the killer.
Charles Band expressed interest in filming the script, and later produced the Puppet Master franchise. When the script was finally accepted by United Artists, it was rewritten by John Lafia to make the character of Andy more sympathetic. In Lafia's original treatment Charles Lee Ray's soul would have been transferred to the doll after being executed by electric chair as it was being manufactured on an assembly line. William Friedkin, Irvin Kershner, Robert Wise, and Joseph Ruben were approached to direct before Holland was hired on Steven Spielberg's recommendation.
Child's Play was filmed in Chicago for on-location scenes. The Brewster Apartments, a Chicago landmark located at Diversey Parkway and Pine Grove Avenue, served as the location of the apartment where Andy and Karen lived and is pictured on the film's poster. In-studio filming took place at Culver Studios in Culver City, California.
The film used various ways to portray Chucky, including radio-controlled animatronics, extras of short stature, and child actors. Various animatronics and cosmetics were used for every scene. Throughout the film, Chucky transitions from appearing as a normal toy to appearing more human. The film created multiple Chucky animatronics such as a flailing tantrum Chucky, a walking Chucky, and a stationary Chucky. The animatronic doll's face was controlled via remote control through a rig capturing facial movement on a real-life person.
The film initially received negative reviews after a two-hour rough cut was shown to audiences at a test screening. Holland, Kirschner, and Mancini subsequently cut the film to reduce the amount of time Chucky was on screen, something Kirschner had advocated for during production to build suspense in a similar fashion to Jaws or Alien.
The three have also suggested that the test screening flopped due to their use of Jessica Walter as the doll's voice. The cut footage, shown only in production stills and the film's script, would have featured Charles Lee Ray stalking a drunk woman as a human only to discover it to be Mike Norris on an undercover sting operation, Andy showing Chucky around his room and finding a photograph of his deceased father, John healing an infant through a Voodoo ritual, and Chucky unsuccessfully trying to break into Andy's room at the mental hospital and tricking a mentally-ill girl named Mona into carrying him into the ward.
The script also featured an alternate ending in which Chucky is stabbed by Andy with a knife mounted on an radio-controlled car and has his face and legs melted with a squirt gun filled with Drano in addition to being lit on fire and shot repeatedly by Mike and Karen. Chucky would have been seemingly killed by being overpowered by Jack and several police officers. While storing Chucky's remains in an evidence room, another cop would have disbelieved Jack's assertion that the doll was alive, and after they left Chucky's disembodied arm would have come to life to swat a fly.
Child's Play was produced on a budget of $9,000,000. The film was released on November 9, 1988, in 1,377 theaters, opening at #1, out of the other 12 films that were showing that week, with $6,583,963. The film went on to gross $33,244,684 at the US box office and an additional $10,952,000 overseas for a worldwide total of $44,196,684.
The film was first released on DVD by MGM in 1999. The film was presented in an open-matte full screen presentation and included a theatrical trailer and a "Making Of" booklet. The Australian DVD release by MGM featured the film in non-anamorphic widescreen transfer. The DVD was re-released in 2007 with a lenticular cover.
A 20th Anniversary DVD was released by MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment on September 9, 2008. The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 Widescreen format (for the first time in the U.S. in 20 years) enhanced for 16x9 monitors and includes an English 5.1 surround track and English, French, and Spanish 2.0 stereo tracks. Special features include two audio commentaries with Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, Kevin Yagher, producer David Kirschner and screenwriter Don Mancini, a "Selected Scene Chucky Commentary", "Evil Comes in Small Packages" featurettes, a vintage featurette from 1988 titled "Introducing Chucky: The Making of Child's Play", and "Chucky: Building a Nightmare" featurette, theatrical trailer and a photo gallery. The film received a Blu-ray Disc release on September 15, 2009. The DVD does not feature any contributions from director Tom Holland, who claims he was not asked to contribute to it. In response, the website Icons of Fright contacted Holland and asked if he would be willing to record a commentary track that would be free for download on their website. He agreed, and the track is downloadable from here.
On October 8, 2013, the film was re-released again on DVD and Blu-ray in a boxset for the respective formats, containing all six Child's Play films.
On October 3, 2017, the film was re-released once again on DVD and Blu-ray in a boxset for the respective formats, containing all seven Child's Play films.
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 71% of 48 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 6.31 out of 10. The site's critics consensus reads, "Child's Play occasionally stumbles across its tonal tightrope of comedy and horror, but its genuinely creepy monster and some deft direction by Tom Holland makes this chiller stand out on the shelf." On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film has a weighted average score of 58 out of 100, based on 12 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
Roger Ebert gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, calling it a "cheerfully energetic horror film." Caryn James of The New York Times praised it as "a clever, playful thriller," adding, "It's the deft wit and swift editing that keeps us off guard, no matter how predictable the plot." Variety called the film a "near-miss", commending Tom Holland's "impressive technical skill" and the actors for keeping "straight faces during these outlandish proceedings," but finding that "the novelty is not buttressed by an interesting story to go along with the gimmick."
Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Scary, yet darkly funny, this thriller of the supernatural from the director of the terrific 'Fright Night' movies with the speed of a bullet train and with style to burn." Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 1 out of 4 stars and wrote that it "would probably be sickening if it weren't so relentlessly stupid." Richard Harrington of The Washington Post wrote that Holland "keeps things moving without rushing them. Unfortunately, 'Child's Play' gets a little ugly at the end, not only because the finale seems a rehash of virtually every shock movie of the last 10 years, but because it involves the very realistic terrorizing of a 6-year-old."
Philip Strick of The Monthly Film Bulletin found the plot contrived with "ludicrous supernatural gobbledygook" but thought that Holland handled the action sequences well. Author and film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film three out of a possible four stars, calling it "[a] scary and clever horror thriller", also praising the film's special effects.
|Saturn Awards||Best Actress||Catherine Hicks||Won|
|Best Horror Film||Child's Play||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Younger Actor||Alex Vincent||Nominated|
|Best Writing||Tom Holland, John Lafia, Don Mancini||Nominated|
During the initial release, a large crowd of protesters formed at the main entrance of MGM calling for a ban on the film because, they claimed, it would incite violence in children. Local news reporters from two TV stations were broadcasting live from the scene. The producer, David Kirschner, was watching the demonstration on TV and was disturbed. Jeffrey Hilton, who had been working in Kirschner's office at MGM, indicated that he could quell the disturbance in 10 minutes. While Kirschner was watching from the safety of his office, Hilton spoke to the group's leader and shook his hand. The group instantly dispersed, much to the chagrin of the newscasters. Hilton did not reveal to Kirschner whether it had been a threat or simple diplomacy that saved the day.
Hilton's diplomacy notwithstanding, the film series was plagued with accusations of inciting violence in children. Child's Play 3 was cited as the "inspiration" for two murders, which took place in the United Kingdom in December 1992 and February 1993 respectively: the murder of Suzanne Capper and murder of James Bulger. In the Suzanne Capper case, the 16-year-old was forced to listen to recordings of the gangleader repeating the catchphrase "I'm Chucky, wanna play?" Tom Holland, in response to both murders, defended the film, stating that viewers of horror movies could only be influenced by their content if they were "unbalanced to begin with."
The film was followed by several sequels including Child's Play 2 (1990), Child's Play 3 (1991), Bride of Chucky (1998), Seed of Chucky (2004), Curse of Chucky (2013), and Cult of Chucky (2017), followed by a television series titled Chucky.
A reboot of the franchise was announced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to be in development beginning in July 2018. Lars Klevberg will serve as director, from a script by Tyler Burton Smith. The film will be co-produced by Seth Grahame-Smith, David Katzenberg and Aaron Schmidt. The adaptation will reportedly feature a group of kids who come into contact with a modern-day hi-tech version of the Good Guys doll. Gabriel Bateman and Aubrey Plaza were cast as Andy Barclay and his mother Karen, respectively. The film was released on June 21, 2019.
- List of American films of 1988
- "Living Doll", a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone about a murderous talking doll
- Dolls, a 1987 horror film about killer dolls
- Trilogy of Terror, a 1975 anthology film featuring a story about a living Zuni fetish doll
- Zapatlela, a 1993, Marathi-language remake of Child's Play
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- Child's Play review Ebert, Roger
- James, Caryn (November 9, 1988). "A Killer Companion in 'Child's Play'". The New York Times: C19.
- "Child's Play". Variety: 18. November 9, 1988.
- Thomas, Kevin (November 9, 1988). "'Child's Play' Packed With Chills and Thrills". Los Angeles Times. Section VI, p. 3.
- Kehr, Dave (November 10, 1988). "There's enough trauma in 'Child's Play' to give any kid nightmares." Chicago Tribune. Section 5, p. 12.
- Harrington, Richard (November 10, 1988). "'Child's Play': The Doll Did It". The Washington Post: B17.
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- January 28, 1996 Sex with 'Chucky' killer Sunday Mirror
- 18 December 1993 Horror fiction became reality The Independent
- Computers, curriculum, and cultural change: an introduction for teachers By Eugène F. Provenzo, Arlene Brett, Gary N. McCloskey. Published 1999
- December 19, 1993 Chucky films defended The Independent
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