Chucky Creator Tom Holland On The Anxiety Of Selling A Murderous Doll

Cut scenes and unearthed stills give fans get an in-depth look in CHILD'S PLAY: A VISUAL MEMOIR.

By Gabriel Theis · @gabe_theis · May 4, 2023, 3:55 PM EDT
Photos courtesy of MGM, shot by on-set photographer Peter Sorel.

Forty years after he penned Psycho II, writer/director Tom Holland is as busy as ever. Having published Fright Night: Origins, the first in a trilogy of novels based on his seminal vampire classic, Tom Holland has written a retrospective on the making of his most iconic creation with Child's Play: A Visual Memoir. Currently available for purchase, the official description reads as follows:

"A never before seen look at 1988's horror film, Child's Play through rare behind the scenes photos and narrative by the film's writer/director Tom Holland. Tom explores the making of the film through on-set and personal photos taking during the making of this classic 80's horror film. Special contributions by Bill Butler, Howard Berger, and Budd Davis. Featuring a foreword by film star Chris Sarandon and afterward by Alex Vincent."

Tom Holland sat down with FANGORIA in this exclusive interview, previewing the behind-the-scenes insights fans can expect from this tell-all, featuring photographs from on-set photographer Peter Sorel. It turns out that bringing Chucky the Killer Doll to life was anything but child's play as Tom recounts the difficulty of working with animatronics, the importance of balancing horror and comedy, and the relief he felt as Child's Play became one of the biggest hits of his prolific career.


This isn't just a memoir, you also have a collection of BTS photos and your original treatment here.


Right. What I did was I started going through the production photos, and I was asking myself, "How did I ever do that?" [laughs] There were twelve, fifteen puppeteers in every shot of the doll, it was incredible if you saw it with everything revealed. I ran across the first treatment I ever wrote for Child's Play and put that in there.

Chris Sarandon remarked in his foreword just how difficult of a production this was. Apparently, that scene where Chucky tries to kill him in the car, he says, took an "eternity." Do you have fond memories of this shoot, or do you remember the stress and the times the doll didn't work?


What I remember is how thrilled I was getting one shot after the other that I needed in my storyboards. The most difficult part was not knowing for sure if I was getting enough cuts of Chucky doing things that seemed impossible with wires. The "hey look Ma, no wires" shots, that kind of thing. The anxiety went in selling the doll to the audience.

Then I started to see the sequences emerge in the rough cut. A lot of it seemed to be working great, and other bits came perilously close to making you laugh. It was piece by piece, but I felt like I was winning.

You go into this with the book, but at what stage did Brad Dourif become involved?


He was Chucky in my head from the get-go. I had worked with him on a previous movie called Fatal Beauty with Whoopi Goldberg. But then I got to post-production to do the dubbing, and Brad wasn't available. He was working on that Tobe Hooper movie, Spontaneous Combustion, I couldn't get him, and I desperately needed a voice for the previews. I started rehearsing with other actors, and none of it really worked until I got Brad back.

So many things came together in that movie. And what I learned when we previewed it is that the audience wanted to go with Chucky the doll. They wanted him to be alive.


Once they responded to Chucky coming alive as a character, did you realize you had a hit?


You know, I had gone through so much anxiety because when we had first started previewing it, the acting scenes were a lot longer. I started taking those down and began sharpening the doll. But the acting was sensational, especially on Catherine [Hicks] and Chris' part. And Alex Vincent too.

He was a real little boy, and he had hardly worked. He was not an actor, he had been in like one commercial or something. There was something vulnerable about him, and I was worried about ruining his life as a child actor [laughs]. I was really sensitive to it, having worked with Roddy McDowall on Fright Night. Roddy said that the hardest thing in the world was going from being a child actor to an adult actor.


I'll tell you what was transgressive about the concept: putting a serial murderer, Charles Lee Ray, inside a doll. Taking one of the most innocent toys of little kids, and I mean little, and giving them a murderous doll. I don't think it had been done before in a way that threatened the experience of childhood.

Have you ever met fans who were scarred because they watched Child's Play when they were too young?

Yes, but it's become more accepted now. I had people coming up to me saying they'd seen it at eight or nine. But as they make more of the sequels, and it goes on to other platforms, it becomes less threatening and more of a, I don't know how to put it, a pop culture icon.


There's dark comedy to this original Child's Play, but it seems that, famously, the Chucky movies got campier and campier. Basically, they became comedies at some point. Was it important to you to make this a real horror movie?

In order for Child's Play to work, it had to seem real. The situation had to seem real, something that you think "could" happen no matter how fantastic it seems. If you take something as incredible as a murderous doll coming to life, then everything around it better be as real as you could make it. Which I did, including the human relationships. Catherine reaching out to Chris Sarandon, or her reacting to the danger her son was in. That's what makes the fight in the apartment work as well as it does.


That, and the fact that I designed it to work with Steadicams. I knew that if I ever got in trouble with the doll, I would go to the doll's point of view. Especially when it was moving, then I knew that I could make it visually work. I knew it would work because of The Shining, which was a huge advancement of Steadicam.

What will fans learn from this book about the making of Child's Play?

The missing opening scene. Chris Sarandon, in drag, was being attacked by Charles Lee Ray. I don't have the film of it because we cut it out, but I have the stills, and I have other stills from scenes that were cut. The scenes in the mental institution, when Chucky is coming for Andy, there were shots that worked and shots that didn't.


There was an entire scene that I had Ed Gale do with the voodoo doctor where I built the kitchen set over scale because Ed was taller than the doll would've been. So I had Ed do the scene while I read his lines. He tried to mouth them the best he could. I shot all that, Ed did a fabulous job. I cut it together, it was a great scene. But you knew it wasn't Chucky because he wasn't limited by movement anymore from those wires. So there are a lot of shots that aren't in the movie that are in the book.

Child's Play: A Visual Memoir is now available from Amazon and Terror Time.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]