Written and directed by Don Mancini
Distributed by Universal Studios Home Entertainment
It’s a rare thing to find a direct-to-video sequel to a once-theatrical horror franchise where the creative principals have decided to return in spite of the series’ now smaller budget and scope. Rarer still is it to find such a sequel so very well made that it should’ve been released in theatres anyway, in spite of the original intentions of the studio that bankrolled it. But such is the case with Curse of Chucky, the sixth film in the now 25-year-old Child’s Play saga, which stands as a superior sequel and a damn good film that really should’ve seen more of this nation’s silver screens.
The film opens simply enough, introducing us to Sarah (Quesnelle), a reclusive painter holed up in a Gothic mini mansion with her paraplegic daughter, Nica (Fiona Dourif – yes, Brad’s daughter). The two receive a large package from parts unknown, containing a vintage “Good Guy” doll (yes, it’s Chucky). Before the night’s out, Sarah has kicked the bucket in what seems to be a suicide, leaving Nica behind to prepare the funeral and welcome her incoming family. They are: sister Barb (Bisutti); brother-in-law Ian (Elliot); niece Alice (Howell); nanny Jill (McConnell); and family priest Father Frank (Martinez). The visiting family settles in, each member dealing with their issues concerning one another (tension between the sisters, matters of faith or lack thereof, and a possible infidelity), even as the li’l ginger bastard plots against them right under their noses. Bodies begin to drop as revelations are made concerning Nica’s family and why Chucky seems so intent on killing every last one of them…
For those who had issues with the more darkly comic tone which presented itself in Bride of Chucky (before turning to outright camp with its follow-up Seed of Chucky), consider Curse a return to form. This is probably the franchise’s creepiest entry since the original, full of tension and several setpieces that take full advantage of the villain’s unsettling possibilities. Chucky himself is more menacing this time ‘round as well, with Dourif’s vocal performance foregoing the hammy murderer schtick of the last two entries and tapping into the character’s mean-spirited, utterly evil side not glimpsed since the first three films. Though he doesn’t get much to do in the film’s first two thirds, Dourif proves to be in top form once he’s able to cut loose with his horribly funny one-liners and that iconic maniacal laugh.
Aiding writer/director/Chucky creator Don Mancini’s more subdued, Hitchcockian approach is Michael Marshall’s alternately shadowy and colorful cinematography, which is quite beautiful to behold at times (the design of the lovely yet decaying home that sits at the story’s center should be commended as well, as it’s practically a character in itself). Add to that Evil Dead II and Brotherhood of the Wolf composer Joseph LoDuca’s musical score, which is every bit as playfully malevolent as Chucky himself, and you have a film which is far more technically competent that you would expect from a DTV sequel.
And then there are the performances. There isn’t a weak link here, as everyone delivers strong work, but the real surprise here is Fiona Dourif. Coming off of her appearances in “True Blood” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Dourif acquits herself of any eye-rolling accusations of nepotism by completely owning this film from her very first appearance. She gives Nica a warmth, strength, and vulnerability that make her one of the very best heroines in the franchise (and one of the better performances in all of genre cinema this year). SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT HERE If the franchise continues on to another installment, and it should, here’s hoping Mancini sees fit to bring Nica and Dourif back. END SPOILER
Though I wouldn’t dare reveal the many fun twists and reveals in the film’s final act, I’ll simply say that, as a longtime fan, I couldn’t have been more thrilled with how Mancini chose to acknowledge the previous installments of the franchise (and yes, I’m a fan of both Bride and Seed). In these days of remakes, reboots, and rehashes, leave it to Chucky’s creator to figure out a way to revitalize and reintroduce the character for a new generation, without shrugging off the decades of continuity that precede this film. Simply put – not only does Mancini know his fans, he respects them as well (also – be sure to stick around for the very end of the credits for a, erm…mind-blowing easter egg).
If I had but just a few qualms about this film, they would start with the occasionally unconvincing CG. The animatronic Chucky still looks and moves wonderfully, but some of the digital assists he has don’t always work so well (still, there is no VFX moment in the film I’d call truly awful or of Syfy caliber). In addition, one wishes we could have spent a bit more time with Nica throughout the film’s middle section, as she seems to get a bit lost within a couple of the film’s other subplots. More might have also been done to more fully exploit the “friendship” between Chucky and Alice – though, I suppose, the danger there might have been the possibility of retreading too much of the original Child’s Play’s events. Still, these are minor nitpicks when judged against the very successful whole.
Universal’s shameful handling of this film by neglecting its theatrical possibilities does not extend to the treatment they’ve given to the title on Blu, which is impressive. This shot on digital feature looks absolutely gorgeous in high def, boasting superb colors and razor-sharp detail (this writer wanted to run his fingers across the wonderfully textured sets at times). The DTS-HD 5.1 track is appropriately punchy when it needs to be, while employing some neat, subtle surround effects at times for maximum creepiness.
The bonus features section is perfectly solid as well. There is an audio commentary featuring Mancini, Fiona Dourif, and Chucky puppeteer Tony Gardner. This track is a fun listen, full of cool anecdotes and neat behind-the-scenes tales that’ll be essential for Chucky fans to hear. There are also six deleted scenes, all of which are quite decent (though it’s understandable why each was cut). In addition, there is a brief gag reel (which, unlike most gag reels, is genuinely amusing), along with a set of storyboard comparisons for four of the film’s major sequences. Then we have three featurettes taking decent looks at the production, the puppetry, and the franchise as a whole. A good package for a great flick.
Ultimately, folks, if you’re a fan of Chucky, you’re going to dig this flick. It’s an unsettling, intense, and occasionally funny film with more than enough surprises to keep veteran fans and uninitiated viewers grinning ear to ear. Here’s hoping Universal not only gives Mancini the go-ahead for another follow-up but puts this franchise back into theatres where it belongs.
4 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5