After six films – with a seventh in development – the Child’s Play series is now safely an institution of modern horror. Equally as iconic as the series’ premise of a serial killer’s soul possessing a friendly looking doll named Chucky is the voice work for the aforementioned pint-sized fiend, provided by Oscar-winning actor Brad Dourif. Dourif has played many memorable roles over the course of his prolific career, but perhaps none are more closely associated with him than the wisecracking terror toy.
Dourif has voiced Chucky in the entire Child’s Play franchise so far, and is set to return for part 7. That said, the world came surprisingly close to a reality where Chucky was performed by a different actor. During a recent interview with The AV Club, Dourif went into detail about how he ended up landing the role, and it turns out to have been a much more complex process than most would have expected:
“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 fucking hated it.”
“At that point, I’d finished working on Mississippi Burning. I was going to go to Woodstock and spend some time there, and they said, ‘No, no, no. Please come and do this,’ so I went there and did 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 ‘fuck 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.”
Wow. It’s crazy to think about how close the horror genre came to being robbed of Dourif’s incredible work as Chucky. While audience test screenings aren’t always a good thing – they often lead to executives meddling in the creative process in a bad way – this case certainly presents a scenario where test reactions effectively saved the film.
It’s almost impossible to imagine a world without Dourif cackling at the top of his lungs in Chucky’s inimitable style. For all we know, had Dourif not played the part, Child’s Play may have bombed entirely and the entire franchise wouldn’t exist, leaving a massive hole in 80s and 90s horror. What a potential butterfly effect that could have had.