Child’s Play (1988)

Child’s Play is a 1988 American slasher 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.

The film was released on November 9, 1988, and grossed more than $44 million against a production budget of $9 million. 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 remake film of the same name to be 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 remake of the same name.

On the night of November 9, 1988, Charles Lee Ray, a fugitive and serial killer, is chased by homicide detective Mike Norris through the streets of South Side, Chicago after a failed murder attempt. Mike shoots Charles several times, but he still manages to make it to his getaway vehicle. However, Charles is left behind after his accomplice, Eddie Caputo, panics and drives away without him. Charles breaks into a toy shop, where he is fatally shot by Mike. Realizing that he is dying, Charles transfers his soul into a Good Guys doll, using a Haitian Vodou spell. The store is then struck by lightning, causing it to explode. Mike survives the explosion and enters the shop, only to find Charles’ dead body.

The following day, widow Karen Barclay unknowingly purchases the doll (now known as Chucky) from a peddler, as a birthday gift for her six-year-old son Andy Barclay. Later that evening, Karen’s best friend Maggie Peterson babysits Andy while Karen is working late. After tucking Andy and Chucky into bed, Maggie is hit in the face with a hammer by an unseen assailant and falls out the 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” downtown to get revenge on Eddie Caputo for betraying him the night he died. While Andy is distracted, Chucky sneaks into Eddie’s house, turning off the kitchen oven’s pilot and turning on the gas. Eddie hears the noises from the kitchen, bursts through the door and shoots the oven, which causes his home to explode, killing him in the process. Andy is once again deemed a suspect and placed in a psychiatric hospital.

At dusk, Karen attempts to throw the Good Guys box in the garbage. While reading the box, a pack of batteries drop out revealing Chucky has been functioning without them. Unnerved, Karen picks up Chucky and threatens him to speak. Chucky springs to life and bites Karen in the arm, causing it to bleed, before scampering from the apartment. Karen runs after him, only to find Mike at the station. After mistrusting Karen, Mike drives home as Chucky attacks him. Mike shoots Chucky, forcing him to flee.

Chucky visits John Bishop, his former voodoo instructor (bokor). John tells Chucky that the longer he stays in the doll, the more human he will become. After John refuses to help, claiming that Chucky has perverted the Vodou religion, Chucky tortures John with a voodoo doll. After John reveals the solution, which is to transfer his soul into the first human he told he was alive (which would be Andy), Chucky stabs the doll, fatally injuring John. After leaving, Karen and Mike discover the gruesome scene. Before dying, John tells them that although Chucky is a doll, his heart is fully human at this point and vulnerable to fatal injury.

At the hospital, Andy tries to escape from Chucky. Dr. Ardmore finds Andy in the surgery room and attempts to subdue him before Chucky kills him with an electroshock machine. Andy runs home, followed by Chucky, who knocks him unconscious. Chucky prepares to possess him until Karen and Mike arrive to stop the process. Chucky emerges and assaults Mike with a baseball bat before Karen intervenes and tosses him into the fireplace. Andy drops a lit match in it, burning Chucky alive. Karen and Andy leave the room to help Mike, but a charred Chucky escapes the fireplace and chases Andy. Karen dismembers Chucky with a gun and Chucky is again presumed to be killed when he stops moving. Mike’s partner Jack Santos arrives at the apartment and calls an ambulance Mike’s injuries. However, Jack refuses to believe the trio’s story until Chucky’s body bursts through an air vent to strangle him with his remaining arm. During the struggle, Chucky is shot in the heart and is finally dead. As the ambulance arrives, Mike is taken outside by Karen and Jack, the film ends as Andy takes a moment to look at Chucky’s charred corpse before shutting the lights and closing the door in a freeze frame.

Cast

  • Alex Vincent as Andy Barclay, a 6-year-old boy who is framed for Chucky’s crimes.
  • Catherine Hicks as Karen Barclay, Andy’s mother.
  • Chris Sarandon as Detective Mike Norris, a senior homicide police detective, Andy’s hero and Chucky’s arch enemy.
  • Brad Dourif as Charles Lee Ray/Chucky, a well known voodoo serial killer who transfers his soul into a “Good Guys” doll in order to cheat death after being killed by Mike Norris.
  • Dinah Manoff as Maggie Peterson, Karen’s friend and Andy’s babysitter.
  • Tommy Swerdlow as Jack Santos, Norris’s partner.
  • Jack Colvin as Dr. Ardmore, the head doctor of a mental hospital.
  • Raymond Oliver as John “Dr. Death” Bishop, Chucky’s former voodoo mentor.
  • Neil Giuntoli as Eddie Caputo, Chucky’s old accomplice.
  • Alan Wilder as Mr. Walter Criswell, Karen and Maggie’s boss.
  • Aaron Osborne as the Orderly
  • Juan Ramirez as the Peddler

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

Child’s Play was originally released on VHS in North America by MGM/UA Home Video on April 25, 1989.

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 16×9 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 6 Child’s Play films.

On October 18, 2016, Scream Factory and MGM re-released the film in a brand new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray.

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 7 Child’s Play films.

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 Child’s Play: The TV Series.

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 is scheduled to be released on June 21, 2019.

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