In the world of horror movies, a filmmaker is lucky to have even one hit that transcends any kind of critical or financial success to become a genre classic. Writer-director Tom Holland has had several.
Released in 1985, “Fright Night” chronicles teen Charley Brewster’s (William Ragsdale) fight for survival against a vampire named Jerry Dandrige, played by Chris Sarandon, who moves in next door. With 1988’s “Child’s Play,” Holland created a pop culture icon in Chucky, a toy doll that becomes possessed with the spirit of serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif, who also provides Chucky’s voice) and terrorizes a young boy (Alex Vincent) and his mother (Catherine Hicks). Sarandon also appears in “Child’s Play” as detective Mike Norris.
Now 69, Holland is still enjoying success in Hollywood. The director is preparing to film the Stephen King story “The Ten O’Clock People” later this summer, and will release a series called “Tom Holland’s Twisted Tales” on FEARnet in November. An eBook, “Tom Holland’s Untold Tales,” is also planned for Kindle release.
In anticipation of Tom Holland’s June 22 appearance for a double-screening of “Fright Night” and “Child’s Play” at Philadelphia’s Awesome Fest, I sat down with the director to uncover fascinating details about his beloved horror classics.
Tom Holland on attending a “Fright Night” and “Child’s Play” double-feature: “I don’t know if I’ve ever done it before. I’ve seen one or the other, but I don’t know if I’ve seen both together. It’s really sort of nice, actually. Who would ever think that I’d ever get to a point where I could see two of my movies on the big screen on the same night and they both have been successful. The chances are very slim. When you think about it, it is quite something.”
On the original idea for “Child’s Play,” written by Don Mancini: “It was more like an episode of ‘Twilight Zone.’ It was called ‘Blood Buddy.’ The original idea, his idea, was the kid pricked his finger and exchanged blood with the doll, and then when the little boy fell asleep, the doll came alive like his alter ego and killed off people he didn’t like – the dentist, the teacher. You didn’t care about anybody, so I created Charles Lee Ray. I had a serial murderer dwelling in the body of a child’s play thing. Then you had somebody bad after the child and the mother trying to save her child. You had people you could identify with and care about. You had good and evil. None of those things were present in ‘Blood Buddy.’”
On designing Chucky’s appearance: “What there was at the time was the [‘My Buddy’] doll. Chucky’s first name – I originally called him Buddy, and I couldn’t use it because of the ‘My Buddy’ doll. I went out, I got a ‘My Buddy’ doll, I got a Raggedy Ann, a Raggedy Andy and I got one of those life-size baby infants. And I still have it out back. They are the creepiest things in the world. And what I told [designer] Kevin Yagher was, I wanted Buddy, but I wanted the Raggedy Andy coloring – those button overalls, and I wanted the freckles and all that. And then I wanted the meanest-looking son of a [expletive] Raggedy Ann and Andy doll that you could create, but I wanted it with the creepiness of that infant doll.
On choosing Chucky’s voice: “I tried to give it a mechanical quality. I used all kinds of different filters, because if you listen to the dolls then, when they talk they had this… [does a muffled voice]. And I could never get it. I tried other voices, too. I had Jessica Walters come in and voice the doll because she’d been so [expletive] scary in “Play Misty for Me.” And I tried to treat it and it just didn’t work. So I had Brad [Dourif] come in and Brad just did it clean.”
On Ed Gale, the actor who played Chucky in costume: “Ed’s terrific. Ed was totally fearless. I could tell him how to act it and he would act it. Chucky didn’t work, ok. Chucky is a combination of things to create the illusion, one of which is Ed Gale. I put Ed Gale in the costume for the burning – Ed did the scene where Chucky bursts out of the fire place and daggers across the room and falls. This is a guy who’d never done any of this stuff before. I needed a little person. I set him on fire! I also used him in costume. I built an enlarged set in the kitchen of the Voodoo guy. That’s Ed Gale doing all the movements. He says the lines. I didn’t use the voice, but he’s doing Chucky, he’s acting Chucky underneath that costume. And he was very, very brave. He knew how to act it. He had the enthusiasm and the brains and the talent to be able to animate the doll for real. It takes a talent to do that, and he had it.”
On how he made Chucky run: “The scene with the babysitter, when she’s reading and all of a sudden you see Chucky run by in the archway behind her – that’s Alex Vincent’s little sister wearing Chucky pajamas. On one side is the mother with the little girl, and on the other side of the archway, hidden behind the flats, was a social worker. There was no way you were ever gonna get that doll to be able to move like that, so I used this little three-year-old girl who could stay erect as long as she ran at a breakneck pace straight ahead. And that was out of desperation.”
On the Chucky dolls used for filming: “[Chucky] was a real actual doll model. There were a few bodies, but there were, like, 17 or 18 different heads. Every head had a different expression, from benign to I’m-gonna-rip-your-throat-out… You know when they remake it that [expletive] doll will be CGI up the [expletive]. And I tell you, it won’t have the same terror.”
On the Chucky dolls’ useless hands: “The doll couldn’t grasp the knife. We made the knife out of aluminum because it had to be as light as possible. We wired it on the doll’s hand because you couldn’t get the hand to grip. You could make the fingers move, but you couldn’t get a solid enough grip on the knife. It was literally locked into place on the doll’s hand. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when you’re sitting there with a whole crew and its costing $30,000 an hour, these were all enormous problems.”
On the Chucky dolls’ puppeteers: “The puppeteers were underneath looking at the doll on TV sets. We had cameras set up looking at the doll to try to give the puppeteers some sense of what the camera was seeing. However, the image was reversed and they didn’t know how to cure that then, so the puppeteers were looking at everything that was left-to-right, but it was filming right-to-left. The doll’s eye-line would have to be right so it looked as though it were looking at the actor. We had a terrible time controlling the doll’s eyes, and so we would just sit there and I would just shoot the [expletive] thing until the film ran out, again and again.”
On the “Fright Night” scene that still bothers him: “There’s a shot where Chris Sarandon, Jerry Dandrige, is in the mother’s bedroom, stops over the mother, and then, once he makes sure that she’s sleeping, he turns and he exits the room to go kill her son Charlie. And as he exits, he passes a mirror and he doesn’t have a reflection in the mirror. Nobody notices the shot, because it was too wide. I had to go in from a wide shot from a different angle – a tighter framing of that mirror – to see him pass, to pump it up. And I bet you don’t remember the moment and almost nobody does. That’s because it doesn’t work. But that shot cost a lot of money.”
On actor Chris Sarandon: “He’s a terrific guy – a little phlegmatic. [laughs] There’s an old line: Be careful of what you first succeed at in Hollywood, because that’s what you’ll be doing for the rest of your life.”
On his movie memorabilia: “I happen to have the props from ‘Fright Night’ here. I have the bat, I have the werewolf head and I have the armature of Jerry Dandrige burning at the end of the movie. I must tell you, I’m proud of it myself. I’ve got two of them in display cases. The bat has a five-and-a-half-foot wingspan when it’s full extended and I’ve got it lit and it is just [expletive] beautiful. My wife keeps yelling at me that I’m turning our living room into a horror museum, but people really get a kick out of when they come.”
See Tom Holland introduce an Awesome Fest double-feature screening of “Child’s Play” and “Fright Night” at the Parx Casino East Picnic Grove on June 22, starting at 9 p.m. “Tom Holland’s Twisted Tales’ comes to FEARnet in November.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.