Color, 1988, 87 mins.

Directed by Tom Holland

Starring Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Brad Douriff, Dinah Manoff, Tommy Swerdlow / Written by Don Mancini, John Lafia, and Tom Holland / Music by Joe Renzetti / Cinematography by Bill Butler

Format: DVD - MGM ($24.95)

Full Frame / Dolby Digital 4.0

Though television series like The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery had exploited the concept for years, horror films never really successfully exploited the killer doll concept until Child's Play. Of course, there were fringe efforts like the ventriloquist's dummy movies (Dead of Night, Devil Doll, Magic) and TV movies like Trilogy of Terror, but once little Chucky started hacking his way onto the screen, slasher cinema was never the same.

A vicious serial killer, Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), is hunted down by police to a Chicago toy store where, after being severely wounded, he performs a strange voodoo ritual involving one of the popular Good Guy dolls. Ray is finished off by the police, and life goes on as normal. Enter Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks), a single mom trying to make ends meet and provide some food on the table for her young son, Andy (Alex Vincent, a pretty good child actor). Andy dearly wants a Good Guy doll for his birthday, but Karen can't come up with the money to pay full retail price. However, an opportunity to buy a slightly damaged black market Good Guy doll presents itself, and Karen seizes the opportunity. Overjoyed with his gift, Andy spends all of his time with the doll, which seems to be giving the boy some strange ideas. Pretty soon, following a brutal murder in their apartment, Karen begins to believe Andy's claims that Chucky is alive -- and not such a good guy after all.

The only other notable genre film by Fright Night director Tom Holland, Child's Play kicked off an entire franchise of Chucky movies (and was even outdone by the gloriously wacko Bride of Chucky). Brad Dourif's sardonic delivery of Chucky's lines makes him one of the more personable screen psychos, and all of the cast members, including former bloodsucker Chris Sarandon as the investigating police detective, do an efficient and believable job. Though hardly a classic, the film offers some good thrills and at least one genuine shudder when Karen first learns Chucky's secret. Unfortunately, some last minute cutting and tinkering left quite a few scenes ragged and incoherent, particularly Andy's birthday morning chat with Karen and the incident with Chucky and the voodoo practitioner. Still, at less than 90 minutes, it's a quick, breezy, and fun ride, with some nice effects work by Tales from the Crypt's Kevin Yagher (it looks a bit dated now but really packed a punch in its day). All of the usual slasher conventions are present and accounted for (countless false endings, ridiculous gore, morbid one-liners, etc.), but the script manages to wring a few new twists out of an old horror rag. Incidentally, the originl writer, Mancini, and Lafia had a number of disputes with Holland about his rewrites and alterations to the script during shooting; judging from the less than stellar results of Lafia and Mancini's Child's Play 2, it may have been just as well.

Despite its relatively high slot in the modern horror pantheon, Child's Play has been given a relatively lackluster incarnation on DVD. MGM's transfer looks like a sleeker, more definited rendition of the same open matte master used for their laserdisc. The clarity and compression job are fine, but it still has that vaguely grungy late-'80s video look that could have probably been avoided with a little studio expense. The theatrical Dolby surround mix sounds about the same, with Joe Renzetti's thunderous score shrieking nicely from all of the channels. Don't expect a demo piece, though. If Child's Play 2 can receive the deluxe widescreen, remastered treatment, why not this one? Also includes the original theatrical trailer.

Color, 1998, 89 mins.

Directed by Ronny Yu

Starring Jennifer Tilly, Brad Dourif, Katherine Heigl, Nick Stabile, John Ritter, Alexis Arquette / Written by Don Mancini / Music by Graeme Revell / Cinematography by Peter Pau

Format: DVD - Universal ($24.95)

Letterboxed (1.85:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 5.1

Chucky, the killer Good Guy doll who first became a national icon with the popular Child's Play and became a key player in the Video Nasties ban-spree in the Britain, has joined the wave of '80s slasher figures making a comeback in the wake of Scream. Amazingly, its jokey title aside, Bride of Chucky is the strongest film in the Child's Play series, easily laying waste to would-be hip horror dreck like Halloween: H20 and Urban Legend. This is a film made to entertain horror fans, not coddle to them with idiotic teens spouting trendy dialogue, and even more amazingly, it delivers the gore in spades.

Years after the last Child's Play massacre, Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) swipes the Chucky doll, formerly possessed by the soul of serial killer Charles Lee Ray, from police storage and revives our pal Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif, as usual) during a voodoo ritual in her trailer home. After a domestic squabble, Chucky winds up dumping a TV into his former girlfriend's bath and transfers her soul into a female doll. Soon the pair wind up slashing their way on a violent road trip destined for Lee's burial site, where they hope to retrieve an amulet capable of returning both of them to human bodies.

Featuring amusing performances by John Ritter (as a nasty chief of police), Alexis Arquette (doing a goofy Marilyn Manson goth-riff that's a welcome change from his usual catty drag queen persona), and even a bit by Kathy Najimy, Bride of Chucky is a fast-paced, crude, thoroughly unredeeming piece of guttersniping cinema that delivers plenty of squirms and laughs for viewers in a drive-in frame of mind. Tilly and Dourif seem to be having a blast playing off each other and even manage to transform the two bloodthirsty dolls into interesting, romantically tragic figures by the end of the film. The riotous commentary track with Tilly, Dourif, and writer Don Mancini bears out this impression, as everyone seems to be relaxed and giving 100% all around. Another commentary track with director Ronny Yu focuses more on the technical and stylistic aspects of the film, and Yu's presence goes a long way to explaining this film's appeal. Along with cinematographer Peter Pau, this team has fashioned a sharp-looking piece of work, drenched in moody lighting and eye-dazzling bursts of color enhanced by the beautiful widescreen transfer. Graeme Revell, who also scored the mediocre Child's Play 2, contributes a serviceable music score that treads a little too closely to Marco Beltrami's Scream 2 (or, more accurately, Hans Zimmer's Broken Arrow) for comfort but still delivers a palpable sense of Elfmanesque diabolical glee. Other extras include the original (tacky) theatrical trailer and "Jennifer's Diary," a humorous account by Tilly of her work on the film, which was previously excerpted in various film publications. Also, kudos to Mancini for avoiding the tedious "back from the dead" ending which marred all of the other entries in the series; instead, the climax is simple, effective, and romantically creepy, with a sick last minute sting to lead in to the upcoming sequel. Put your brain in neutral, kick back, and enjoy.

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