In the modern history of the horror genre, there are certain villains who stand tall above the rest, attaining a level of pop-culture infamy that separates them from the rest of the psychotic pack. This pantheon includes names like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Pinhead, and of course, Chucky the killer doll. In life, Chucky was a serial killer named Charles Lee Ray, also referred to by the police as the Lakeshore Strangler.
As seen in the first Child’s Play film, Charles is killed by the cops, but not before using a voodoo spell to transfer his murderous soul into the body of a “Good Guy” doll. A huge hit, Child’s Play — and Chucky himself — proved so popular that he’s so far starred in six movies, with a seventh on the way. A major part of Chuck’s popularity is no doubt the excellent voice work of Oscar-nominated actor Brad Dourif, who has voiced the malevolent toy throughout the series. At this point, Dourif and Chucky seem forever intertwined, with fans unable to imagine the role being voiced by another actor.
Surprisingly enough, though, it turns out that Dourif was not the original person to provide Chucky’s voice in Child’s Play. While he was director Tom Holland’s preferred option, he was unavailable to record the role at the time of production, having prior commitments to a different film. Thankfully for history, a fateful test screening ended up reuniting Dourif with the role he was arguably born to play. Dourif discussed this turn of events during a recent interview with The AV Club:
“What happened is when they did the first Child’s Play, I was doing Mississippi Burning at the time, and they needed me to go to the studio, which, of course, I couldn’t go to because I was on set working, so they got somebody else. They just couldn’t wait around. They got this guy, and him and Tom Holland did the whole movie, and they stood up and they laughed their asses off, and apparently it was really funny, and they loved it, and they put it in front of an audience, and the audience hated it. They f****** hated it.”
“…I listened to what they did, and I just said, ‘It’s very clear why this doesn’t work. You can’t really play it comedically. He’s serious, and what’s funny is funny.’ The ‘f*** you’ on the elevator, that was just improv. I said, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute. I know what to do here.’ It wasn’t like we were against something that’s funny. Everything is about the event, and Chucky’s always had to be a little camp. He’s never not been camp. It’s been a huge part of what’s made him successful. It eventually went into total self-referential, which was Bride and Seed, and now that everybody’s doing remakes, it’s gone back to being scarier.”
Considering how iconic Dourif’s work as Chucky has become in the nearly 30 years since the original Child’s Play hit theaters, it’s quite odd to think of a world where he had never assumed the role. While Dourif doesn’t name the actor who recorded the dialog first, he does mention that the person in question chose to play the part in a comedic fashion, which is definitely not what Dourif ended up doing. Sure, he has a few funny lines, but most of the laughs come from the inherent absurdity of the situation, not at the expense of Chucky himself.
Chucky — at least in the original movie — was never portrayed as anything less than a real threat, even surviving being burned alive to attempt one last kill, in an almost Terminator-esque fashion. As Dourif mentions, the sequels to Child’s Play did get progressively wackier, with Seed of Chucky — generally the least liked of the sequels — turning into an all-out farce at times.
That is until 2013’s Curse of Chucky, which took the series back to its straight-horror roots, and Dourif’s vocal characterization of Chucky back to being menacing along with it. Not coincidentally, Curse was the best reviewed sequel in over a decade. To think, if that late ’80s test screening had never gone bad, and Dourif had never been re-hired, the Child’s Play franchise may have never even become a franchise at all.
Screen Rant will have more details on the upcoming Child’s Play sequel as details are made available.