1988 was quite the year for franchise horror, unleashing an onslaught of sequels that included everything from the expected, annual Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street releases, to the return of long gestating titles like Halloween and Phantasm. In addition, a handful of new franchises also sprang to life that year; films like Punpkinhead, Maniac Cop and Waxwork… horror sagas that would, for the most part, peter out after one or two sequels.
With so many mainstream horror releases, who could have guessed that it would be the movie starring a foul-mouthed killer doll that would still be generating not just new entries decades later, but new sequels still featuring the same lead actor and writer, and still telling stories in the same continuity?
“I’ll come back! I always come back!”
I was ten years old when Child’s Play was released into theaters, and I can remember going to see it at least half a dozen times. My local theater played it in a double feature with the Dean Koontz adaptation / Corey Haim vehicle / Air Bud prequel Watchers, and while ten year old me thought Watchers was okay (mostly for the dog), I freaking loved Child’s Play.
While there is plenty to appreciate in that first film, what really appealed to my younger self was Chucky, and how unexpected he was. Even at ten I had seen creepy doll stuff before, like the titular creatures in Stuart Gordon’s Dolls, or the killer plastic doll in the Terror of the Autons episode of Doctor Who, but whereas those dolls tended to be tiny little automatons, blindly marching malevolently forward, Chucky possessed the one thing that none of them had: a personality.
Sure, initially that personality was probably more that a little bit inspired by fellow foul mouthed slasher, Freddy Krueger, but it didn’t take long for Chucky, and Brad Dourif’s powerhouse performance, to become distinctive and iconic in their own right. That magic combination of Dourif’s voice and Kevin Yagher’s (and later, Tony Gardner’s) puppet magic made for a fascinating character, one who has captivated me ever since.
And now, with twenty-nine years and six sequels under his belt, and as the only slasher to have escaped the dreaded continuity reset, it’s safe to say that Chucky the killer doll has more than earned his place in the slasher icon hall of fame.
With Chucky’s latest terror tantrum recently unleashed upon the world in the form of the DVD and blu-ray release of Cult of Chucky, now seems like a good time to take a look back at the twists and turns and complete tonal backflips that this amazing franchise has undergone over the course of its history…
Release date: November 9, 1988 (USA)
Synopsis: When serial killer Charles Lee Ray is gunned down inside of a toy store, he uses his mad voodoo magic skillz to transfer his soul into a nearby Good Guy doll. Soon discovering that if he stays in the doll too long, he’ll be trapped there, “Chucky” makes transferring his soul into the body of Andy Barclay – the little boy who was given the doll for his birthday – his top priority.
Review: Child’s Play feels more like an old fashioned horror film than it does a slasher movie, partially due to a cast that features mostly middle-aged adults, and partially due to the style of director Tom Holland, who brings a sort of Hammer horror vibe to things that is largely absent from the sequels. It also feels a lot bigger than later entries in the franchise, with more exteriors than any other Chucky film, exploding storefronts and extensive stunt work (including an impressive free fall from a tall building, a little person doing a full body burn, and even a car flip). You can tell that United Artists must have thrown some cash at the movie, which makes it kind of ironic that as soon as someone realized the potential to turn Child’s Play into a franchise, UA bailed and Universal Studios stepped in.
The acting in the film is pretty solid across the board, which isn’t surprising from a movie with Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon and Brad Dourif as its headliners, but the bond between Andy and his mother is particularly well realized and believable. This helps to make some of the mother’s questionable decisions later on in the film still feel authentic, due to the audience genuinely buying into her love for Andy.
More than any other film in the franchise until Curse of Chucky, the original Child’s Play features some strong horror elements. The very first kill in the movie is especially effective and well staged, and remains one of the scariest scenes in the whole franchise, ably demonstrating one of the advantages to keeping Chucky mostly off screen for large portions of the film.
However, it has to be said that when Chucky is revealed, and we finally get to see that placid Good Guy doll facade drop and become Chucky for the first time, it’s one of the most memorable villain introductions of all time. It’s one thing to say that a doll is possessed by a dead serial killer and malevolent, it’s another to have it attack the female lead while roaring out a string of profanities. The effects work on the animatronic puppet is astounding in this scene, and brings Chucky to life so convincingly that it’s easy for the audience to buy into the character from that point on.
While later entries in the series appear to be trying to make slasher flicks, with just a touch of classic Universal monster movie flavor (which is appropriate enough, since Universal would distribute the Chucky movies from here on out), the original Child’s Play feels more like a mix of crime drama and monster romp (somewhat akin, tonally, to 1981’s Venom, for example) than it does a Friday the 13th movie. This is largely due to the fact that the actors are all playing things so straight, and the relationship between Andy and his mother seems so sincere, that it helps the viewer to look past some instances of clumsy writing and the inherent silliness of the premise. The result is a solid little flick that, while perhaps not as wildly entertaining as some of the sequels, succeeds at being an actual horror film better than almost any of them.
4 out of 5 Stars
“Horrifying burns? CHECK. Foul mouthed patter? CHECK. Now I just gotta get me a razor glove…”
- Child’s Play is definitely a film that takes that old screenwriting axiom of “always start a scene as late as possible” to heart, throwing the viewer into the middle of a chase between Charles Lee Ray and Detective Mike Norris right from the get go. It’s a pretty bold choice that has both benefits (it keeps pre-Chucky Charles Lee Ray more mysterious) and detriments (it does the same to Detective Norris, who never really feels like a fully formed character).
- I love the way that Chris Sarandon has just sort of nonchalanted his way through my childhood. Child’s Play, Fright Night, The Princess Bride, Jack Skellington, Deep Space Nine… Sarandon has sauntered his way through all of them, cool as hell, with no fucks to be given…
- The movie’s score, by Joe Renzetti, while pretty effective for the most part (and certainly conveying that Hammer horror sensibility that director Tom Holland seems to be going for), is also a bit predictable and uninspired.
- I hope you enjoy the F/X shot of the clouds gathering above whatever building Chucky is in when he starts his voodoo chant. You’ll be seeing a lot of it.
- Man, can you imagine if it really had been Andy doing the killing in this movie? We’d have lost an iconic slasher franchise, but gained a really, really fucked up one-shot film.
- I love that, when we come across Eddie Caputo on the lam in his abandoned shack, he’s lying next to porn and a handgun. Live the dream, Caputo. Live the dream.
- Did 1988 cops not need parental permission to tape record an interview with a 6 year old, or did 1988 screenwriters just not give a fuck?
- With all the bits added to Chucky’s backstory over the years, it seems odd we’ve never learned more about John, the oddly moral voodoo witchdoctor who taught Chucky how to body hop. But that’s probably because it’s only Ray Oliver’s great performance in the role that allows the audience to look past how totally nonsensical that character is.
Child’s Play 2
Release date: November 9, 1990 (USA)
Synopsis: Play Pals toys, the company that manufactures the Good Guy dolls, rebuilds Chucky, hoping to discover if Andy Barclay is just a nutbag, or if the doll malfunctioned in some way. But, wouldntchaknowit, doing so brings Chucky back from oblivion, determined as ever to transfer his soul out of the doll and into Andy Barclay.
Review: For Child’s Play 2 the director’s chair is filled by John Lafia, one of the three credited writers on the original film, and overall he does a pretty good job with it. The lighting and the cinematography add a nice “black and white era monster movie” style to the proceedings; and the score by Graeme Revell (who returns to the series in 1998 to score Bride of Chucky) very much so goes along with that (although Revell does seem to snag a bit of James Horner’s Aliens score for the car chase at the end).
Alex Vincent continues to impress as our prepubescent hero, Andy Barclay. I’ve heard it said that if you like a child’s performance in a film that you should give the director and the editor at least as much credit as you would the actual actor, and I imagine there’s a lot of truth in that. Regardless of who deserves the credit, however, Andy remains believable and sympathetic throughout, and avoids the two most commonly seen tropes of child characters, never becoming either cutesy or obnoxious.
As far as the rest of the cast goes… Well, when I say that I don’t know if Child’s Play 2 deserves the heavenly blessing from the casting gods that resulted in Gerrit Graham and Jenny Agutter appearing as Andy’s foster parents, you should know that is no slight against the film, as no movie has yet been written that is worthy of such epicness.
Christine Elise (as Andy’s “Late 80’s idea of a rebellious teenager” foster sister Kyle) is probably the weakest link in the main cast. She starts the film strong, convincingly portraying her character’s angst while remaining likable, but once she has to start sharing scenes with the animatronic Chucky puppet she seems to just sort of… glaze over. I imagine that doing forty takes with a shit talking, persnickety puppet lip-synching to pre-recorded dialogue might have that effect on an actor, but it is noticeable, nonetheless.
So, let’s talk about Chucky…
It’s only the second film in the series, and already I’m realizing that I’m going to have a hard time reiterating just how awesome and unmistakable Brad Dourif is in this role, and how lucky this franchise was to get him. So I’ll just say this with total sincerity: I believe Brad Dourif’s vocal performance as Chucky throughout the series to be every bit as iconic as Mel Blanc’s plethora of Looney Tunes roles or Jim Henson’s Kermit voice, and it fills me with the same level of admiration and affection.
That having been said, while Child’s Play 2 definitely continues the fine (?) tradition of horror movie franchises moving their antagonists to the forefront of the series, it hasn’t full-on leaned into it in the way the later sequels will. Instead, while the movie focuses on Chucky more than the original installment did (it’s less than twenty minutes in before Chucky is onscreen, spouting dialogue), scenes that exclusively follow the murderous doll are relatively rare, and the story still primarily belongs to Andy.
Not that you can’t see where the series was headed, as Chucky does already get a bit too much screen time to maintain much of a fear factor, and most of his victims are portrayed in an unsympathetic manner to ramp up the “antihero” factor (at the cost of both audience empathy and actual scares). It’s hard to get too worked up about Chucky killing Andy’s teacher right after she is repeatedly mean to the poor kid, so instead the audience is more set up for the “roller coaster ride” style of slasher movie: a horror movie that contains all of the trappings of a scary movie, minus any actual “danger.”
Unfortunately, more than any other entry in the series, Child’s Play 2 is trapped between the mostly straight-faced, horror film tone of the original Child’s Play, and the balls out splatstick style of Bride of Chucky (a problem that, to a lesser extent, Child’s Play 3 will also suffer from), and the lack of commitment to either direction ends up making the film feel too toothless to ever be genuinely scary, and too straightlaced to just be a crazy good time.
Which is unfortunate, because when the final sequence at the Good Guy factory rolls around the film finally seems ready to let it’s hair down, relax and indulge in a bit of silliness, which culminates in a final battle between Andy, Kyle and Chucky that is delightfully insane… but because the tone of the film prior to that point has been so, relatively, restrained, you may have a hard time just “going along for the ride” and find the climax a trifle unsatisfying instead.
3 out of 5 Stars
- You gotta love how the company toadie guy’s car is just stuffed full of Good Guy crap.
- And speaking of that guy, they really needed to make it clearer that he couldn’t see Chucky in his rearview mirror. As it stands, his lack of reaction to this DOLL THAT IS OBVIOUSLY ALIVE is unintentionally hilarious.
- I love that they give the “Previously on Child’s Play” exposition dump to Andy. “Here you go kid, tell the audience everything they need to know about what happened last week… but make it sound, you know, natural!” And then, amazingly, he does.
- 30 YEAR OLD SPOILER ALERT! The decision to kill Joanne off screen is a bad one. She’s pretty much the only victim in the movie that the film has taken the time to make somewhat sympathetic and likable.
- The animatronic Chucky is still a sight to behold, capable of delivering an actual acting performance and going between the docile “Good Guy doll” face and the “Chucky” face on camera in a way that, while not a perfect match (something the series will never quite manage until Cult of Chucky, almost twenty years later), is still far more convincing than what the original puppet could manage, only a year prior.
- Gotta love that even the industrial equipment at the Good Guy factory is painted in their bright, kid-friendly colors!
- Chucky, trying to pretend to be just a regular old doll, but still identifying himself to the cop with a sneer, is comic gold.
- I love that, when a certain button is pressed, the industrial machine that attaches arms and legs to Good Guy dolls will just start jamming limbs into whatever. That’s a good design.
Child’s Play 3
Release date: August 30, 1991 (USA)
Synopsis: 8 years have passed since Chucky was blown apart inside the Good Guy factory, and, hoping that the controversy has now blown over, Play Pals toys is ready to move forward with their new line of Good Guy dolls. Unfortunately, while removing his remains, the company manages to drip a heaping spoonful of Chucky blood into a batch of molten plastic and – whoops! – sorry Jack, Chucky’s back. This time Chucky tracks down the now 16 year old Andy Barclay to a military school, but realizes shortly after doing so that he doesn’t actually need to keep Andy alive anymore. Having been reborn into a new doll body, he can now choose a new human host to transfer his soul into – specifically, a younger student at the academy named Tyler.
Review: Despite having different directors (this time it’s Jack Bender at the helm, who would later go on to have quite the prodigious career directing television), Child’s Play 3 is shot in much the same “old school monster movie” style as the previous entry. Which seems appropriate enough, seeing as how Child’s Play 3 focuses more on its central monster than either of the previous films ever did.
While a surprisingly solid and entertaining entry in the series, it has to be said that there are really only two new ideas that this sequel brings to the table: the military school setting and being the first film in the series where it feels like Chucky, moreso than his victims, is the actual main character.
It does help that Chucky continues to be an impressive creation, and that Brad Dourif seems incapable of providing a performance in the part that is anything less than captivating, but it’s just a shame that, two sequels in, the series has already reached the point where it has more or less given up on (after a ho-hum attempt with the first murder) trying to film Chucky in any real suspenseful way, and just makes love to him with the camera instead.
It took Friday the 13th about five sequels to stop trying to shoot Jason Voorhees in any sort of evocative or restrained manner and just start pushing him in front of the camera as much as possible. I guess it says something about how fast Chucky joined the ranks of slasher icons that the Child’s Play films fall into this particular trap so relatively quickly.
But, once you accept that we are firmly in the “fun roller coaster” horror movie mode now, and have left any genuine creeps and shivers behind, I think Child’s Play 3 is a pretty entertaining film. And while, sure, Chucky has basically become the series protagonist at this point, at least part 3 does manage to do something that the sillier entries in this series at times forget – or choose not – to do, and that is to effectively remind us that Chucky, no matter how endearing he may sometimes seem, is a freaking monster.
In Child’s Play 3, this is primarily achieved in the scene where Chucky tricks the wargaming soldiers into using live rounds on each other. It’s a surprisingly intense sequence for a movie this goofy, but it’s also a scene that’s hard to imagine happening in any other slasher franchise, and one which nicely demonstrates what makes Chucky so dangerous.
As opposed to the physical threat of most slashers, or even the psychological threat of Freddy Krueger, Chucky is dangerous simply due to the fact that he’s a sneaky little shit.
Both that wargaming scene, and one other sympathetic and relatable character that they allow Chucky to kill onscreen by the end of the film, serve to give this installment a little more bite than the previous one, and keep a touch of actual horror in the mix.
3.5 out of 5 Stars
- I didn’t really talk about the acting, but only a few of the performances really stick out. Perrey Reeves is quite good as Da Silva, Travis Fine does a great job making his one-note, bully character more endearing than he had any right to be, and Andrew Robinson pops up to be delightfully weird for a couple of scenes. Justin Whalen is fine as Andy, and certainly looks the part, but you might be forgiven for wishing that the previous eight years would have toughened Andy up a bit.
- When the Chucky doll goes all “Chucky face” it is wonderfully malevolent looking in this one.
Peak Chucky Face… achieved!
- The score (credited to John D’Andrea and Cory Lerios), is a bit more modern sounding than the one in Child’s Play 2, but still quite good at capturing the proper, monster-y feel.
- I’m not going to tear into a kid actor, so I’ll just say that, unfortunately, Tyler doesn’t end up being nearly as endearing as Andy was.
- Possibly the most unrealistic thing in the film is that Tyler seems to enjoy playing an Atari Lynx.
- The film continues the fine tradition of people thinking Chucky is just a doll, picking him up, and just bashing his face into crap as they carry him away.
Bride of Chucky
Release date: October 16, 1998 (USA)
Synopsis: Shortly after the events of Child’s Play 3, Tiffany, Chucky’s girlfriend from back when he was still just simple, straightforward Lakeshore-area strangler, Charles Lee Ray, manages to acquire his remains. She promptly returns him to life, but before long the two end up squabbling, and Tiffany ends up dead, resurrected and inside of her own Good Guy-style doll. Together, the two of them attempt to reclaim a magical amulet from Chucky’s human corpse so that they can transfer their souls into convenient nearby receptacles, Jesse and Jade.
Review: Everything – from the change in title, to the stylized cinematography, to that opening Rob Zombie song – let’s you know right from the get go that this is going to be a different sort of Child’s Pla… er, I mean, Chucky film.
The shift in tone from the somewhat suspenseful first three Child’s Play movies, to the more comedic, Chucky-centric roller coaster style horror flick is totally complete here, but it feels a lot more organic than the same sort of transition did in, say, the A Nightmare on Elm Street series.
But that’s probably because the idea of a serial killer stuck in, and desperate to escape from, a doll, is inherently a lot more silly than that of a burned up kiddy fiddler cracking one liners… power glove or no.
Visually, the movie delivers in that glossy, late ‘90’s/early 2000’s Scream sort-of way, but unlike a lot of the other films that adopted this style, director Ronny Yu (who would later go on to direct Freddy vs. Jason) makes it work for him, and delivers a movie that is a constant treat for the eyeballs.
The major problem with the film is that all the additional time spent with Chucky, besides diluting whatever limited scare factor that he had at this point, also comes at the expense of spending much time with the other characters in the film, who therefore are never really given the chance to develop or become endearing enough for us to actively root for.
And Bride of Chucky also aggressively embraces the “fuck that victim anyway” trope, with its kill count consisting solely of faceless unknowns or obnoxious assholes (with the one exception being a death that is more of an accident than an actual murder), thus allowing the audience to more comfortably cheer on Chucky and Tiff, and the gruesome deaths they dole out.
Child’s Play 3 was certainly headed in this direction already, but it still managed to throw in at least one death that hurt, just to remind viewers that, yes, Chucky really is a bastard despite his impressive animatronic spectacle and awesome Brad Dourif vocal performance, but we get no such reminders in Bride. Instead, since everyone Chucky murders is either undeveloped, vile or downright evil, Chucky seems more like an antihero than ever before (especially when you add in his “Joker and Harley Quinn” style relationship with Tiffany).
Oh Chucky! You’ve brutally murdered so many people, traumatized a series of children and ripped whole families apart… You pot smoking rascal! You so crazy!
Instead, most of the actual horror in the film is of a more subtle nature, like the moment where Tiffany lies crying in her bed next to the bloody, suffocated corpse of Chucky’s first victim. It’s more twisted than scary, but it does help to make sure that the comedy doesn’t totally take away all of the film’s bite.
And, with the understanding that no decision that the franchise has ever made, or will ever make, will ever be as smart as the one to hire Brad Dourif… the second smartest decision the series has ever made was casting Jennifer Tilly as Tiffany. Her appearance and her performance are both captivating and formidable, and she easily holds her own in her scenes with Chucky (in either her human or doll incarnations).
To be honest, what the tonal shift between Bride and the Child’s Play movies reminds me of the most, is when the same sort of shift happened between the first two Evil Dead films and Army of Darkness. In both instances there were sequels that went a little bit more comedic, followed by an entry that just decided to go full on goofy. And, in both instances I went through a series of feelings about this new direction.
Stage 1: Gleeful Disbelief. Initially, I was floored by the audaciousness of it. The willingness to shift from “Ash, tormented and somewhat capable survivor” to “Ash, stupid and unheroic, one-liner spewing ass kicker” was just as delightfully wackadoodle to me as the shift from “Chucky the killer doll that terrorizes children” to “Chucky the deranged but oddly charismatic slasher icon who gets into madcap hijinks.”
Stage 2: Resentment. But then, as the years passed and it started to look like both Army of Darkness and Seed of Chucky would be the last word on their respective franchises… I started to resent them a bit. I hated the lack of any real horror in those entries (especially when compared to the original films) and the idea that such toothless sequels would end up being the final word on their franchises, and the characters therein, left a bad taste in my mouth.
Stage 3: Acceptance. Finally, after even more years passed, and it became apparent, with the release of Curse of Chucky and Ash vs. The Evil Dead, that not only would the franchises be continuing, but that they had also managed to outgrow the Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein phase of their existences, it became easier for me to just relax and enjoy the sillier entries on their own terms.
And the bottom line is, when you get right down to it, while not every gag lands and not every kill delights, Bride of Chucky is still one heck of a enjoyable ride.
4 out of 5 Stars
- That ‘90’s rock soundtrack though… Guh. I started enjoying movies a lot more once filmmakers stopped trying to score every movie like it was The Crow.
- Super bummed that the hockey mask glimpsed in the evidence locker at the beginning is just a cheap, Halloween store knock off, and not the real deal.
- The acting is pretty solid across the board, by the way, but pretty much none of the characters whose names don’t rhyme with “Fucky” or “Biffany” get much to do. But at least John Ritter is in it. Everything is better with John Ritter.
- I never really noticed before how much the stitching on Chucky’s face doesn’t actually match up with the wounds he took at the end of Child’s Play 3. Like, at all.
- Stitched up Chucky still looks cool as shit, though, and the animatronic puppets look freaking amazing in this film.
- Ah yes, the “Rude fucking DOLL” guy, proudly continuing the tradition of the Hollywood stoner whose whole sense of reality is warped by smoking his devilweed (see also, Spencer from Freddy’s Dead).
- Man, I don’t know who was responsible for that shot of what is blatantly either a child or a little person in a Chucky suit crawling down the sidewalk, but this shit was done almost flawlessly in the original Child’s Play, made some eight years previously. SHAME! SHAAAAME!
- Gordon Michael Woolvett’s delivery of the line “what the fuuck?!” is one for the ages. After Dourif and Tilly, he is definitely the film’s acting VIP.
Seed of Chucky
Release date: November 12, 2004 (USA)
Synopsis: Wow. Okay… So, Chucky and Tiffany’s offspring, born at the end of the previous film, is the abused second half of a ventriloquist show where he answers to the name “Shitface”. Also, he sounds like Pippin from Lord of the Rings and thinks that he’s Japanese because of a “Made in Japan” stamp on his wrist. Seizing upon an opportunity to escape, Shitface promptly resurrects his parents, who name him Glen… or Glenda. It seems Glen/Glenda wasn’t born anatomically correct, so no one is quite sure what gender he… or she… possesses. Chucky and Tiffany then embark on a plan to artificially inseminate actress Jennifer Tilly, transfer Tiff’s soul into Tilly, Glen/Glenda’s soul into the baby and Chucky’s soul into… rapper/director, Redman?
Look, it’s all a lot easier to follow when you watch it.
Review: It’s been awhile since I last saw Seed of Chucky, so I had forgotten that it opens with footage of Chucky’s evil doll sperm flying through Tiffany’s corrupt uterus as the name “John Waters” briefly appears in the cast list.
Well, you can say whatever else you want about Seed of Chucky, but sometimes it’s nice when a movie is just immediately up front and honest about exactly what it is.
However, like all Chucky films, Seed does feature at least one scene with the dolls filmed effectively and with actual scares in mind. This time the sequence does, unfortunately, turn out to be a dream sequence, but nevertheless it has to be said that first time director Don Mancini (finally getting his shot in the big chair after writing and otherwise caretaking the franchise from the very beginning) really knocks this bit out of the park. It’s one of the most effective scare scenes in the entire franchise (that first surprise stab gets me every time!).
But yeah, after that this is a movie that is, obviously, going for laughs above all else. It’s still shot and lit rather stylishly though, in what almost seems like a middle ground between the extreme Ronny Yu, late ‘90’s, glossy look of Bride and the more “classic monster movie” feel of the first three Child’s Play films.
I’ve often read about how actors that seem like they are having a blast making a movie are actually, in reality, going through every level of Dante’s Hell instead… but, man, it sure seems like everyone in this movie is having a blast. I guess that’s because it’s just kind of hard to imagine Redman and Jennifer Tilly signing on to play what are pretty much the worst possible versions of themselves in a movie that also features a murderous masturbating puppet if they weren’t at least having a bit of fun.
Something the casting director also seemed to be doing when they hired Billy Boyd as the love child of Chucky and Tiffany, who mistakenly believes himself to be Japanese. Putting Billy Boyd in that part, when you know that Billy Boyd is the gentlest sounding Scottish man on the planet, is probably just about the most outside-of-the-box piece of casting I have ever seen, but it pays off awesomely. While I’m not the biggest fan of Glen/Glenda’s design in the film, Boyd’s vocal performance is a constant goddamn delight.
Really, all of the acting is top-notch in this installment. There’s the obvious heavy hitting trio of Brad Dourif, Jennifer Tilly and Billy Boyd, but Steve West, Redman and Hannah Spearritt are also fun in relatively brief, comic relief-style parts, and even John Waters delivers with his inspired cameo.
Obviously humor, like horror, is extremely subjective, and might be even moreso when pushed to the forefront of a series not initially known for it, but I have to say that about 95% of the jokes in the film land for me. What I especially appreciate though, is that (for the most part) the humor flows naturally from the established characterizations, and isn’t just random, flyby gags like you might see in Family Guy.
I love the idea, for example, that Tiffany would be so enticed by the domestic lifestyle she’s obviously been craving since Bride that she would be willing to (attempt to) give up killing and settle down and raise kids, but that Chucky is just so bloodthirsty that not even wealth and the temptation of his own humanity is enough to pull him away from his murderous ways. It’s a darkly funny conflict that stays true to both characters.
And hey, what do you know? For the first time in the series Chucky actually undergoes character development by the end of the film, and, shockingly, not only does the franchise stick to it, but it ends up being something of a turning point for the series, giving Chucky a change in motivation that nicely segues into the darker approach of the next installment.
Seed of Chucky was never going to be for everyone, but it certainly isn’t the affront to the series that some consider it to be. The writing is a lot smarter than most people give it credit for, the direction and acting is excellent, and what it lacks in hard hitting horror, it makes up for with fun splatstick style comedy, generous heapings of gore, and smart, character driven humor.
4.5 out of 5 Stars
- “I don’t know much about myself. I know I’m an orphan. I know I’m a freak. And, of course…” * Looks at “MADE IN JAPAN” stamp on wrist as a blatantly Japanese wind instrument plays* …I know that I’m Japanese.” Am I really supposed to hate Seed of Chucky? Do I need to become totally devoid of joy first, because it sort of feels like I would.
- That jump cut from Glen escaping his mother’s womb to a little girl tearing open her present is just… it… it’s something.
- “Jennifer, how old are you really? What year were you born – give us the exact date!” God bless you John Waters, you beautiful, trashy man.
- When Glenn starts speaking Japanese to Chucky and Tiffany… Oh shit, dude.
- Seed of Chucky – the only movie where you can see Jennifer Tilly slut-shaming and body-shaming… Jennifer Tilly.
- Okay, the Britney Spears joke is random and painful, but they can’t all be winners.
Curse of Chucky
Release date: October 8, 2013 (USA)
Synopsis: Poor Nica! Someone is brutally murdering everyone around her. Could it have something to do with that creepy Good Guy doll that was mailed to her mother?
Review: Curse of Chucky has the seemingly impossible task of returning the series to its darker roots after the madcap horror farce that was Seed of Chucky, and the most amazing thing about the film is that it manages to do so admirably.
The film immediately sets the proper tone with both a tremendous and often unsettling score by Joseph LoDuca (that contains some nice hints of the childlike chimes heard in the first two Child’s Play sequels) and with direction, by proud franchise papa Don Marconi, that maintains a lot of the slickness from Seed of Chucky, but injects a heavy, and welcome, dose of gothic sensibilities into the mix with the setting, lighting and cinematography.
And Marconi is certainly going above and beyond to try and make Chucky scary again in this installment. While I’ll miss those heady days of hearing Brad Dourif delivering more lines as Chucky than most of the actual humans in the film were, holding him back for a good portion of this movie was definitely the right call. As was the, relatively subtle, redesign of the puppet, which helps take Chucky away from the iconic and familiar and back into the territory of just being a creepy fucking doll.
Gah! Kill it! KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!
The change in tone is also apparent in scenes like the one where Chucky silently, and while remaining mostly off-camera, pours poison into a victim’s food. While the murder is somewhat par for the course for Chucky (sneaky wins the day!), it’s hard to imagine this scene being shot this creepily in any of the previous sequels (unless it was the first kill, and Chucky immediately said something cute to the camera afterward).
It’s a nice return to the style of the first film, and really does prove that, no matter how cool looking or popular your titular slasher is, it is often scarier, more effective and more satisfying if you don’t plaster them all over the screen for the whole movie.
Having said that, when Chucky finally does start appearing on camera, the new doll is delightfully creepy. It’s still recognizably Chucky, but with a new and unsettling aspect to it that wasn’t there in the previous design. Chucky (especially the stitched up version of him) has often looked cool, but he’s rarely looked scary. This film, however, was the first time that, when I looked at Chucky, I found myself thinking I might be genuinely uncomfortable keeping a doll like that in my house.
There’s also an extra wrinkle added to Chucky’s backstory here, which is a masterful stroke as it simultaneously reminds us of how little we actually know about Charles Lee Ray, while also giving us a new glimpse into his madness in a way that is both upsetting and impactful.
The small, contained cast is comparable to Child’s Play 2, and while the supporting cast isn’t as awesome as the one in that movie, all of the actors in the film are solid and believable in their roles. Fiona Dourif, however, is legitimately amazing. She can go big when she needs to, but even in small moments (like her line reading of “…really?” when told that Chucky has been found somewhere other than where she left him) her performance is honest and relatable.
It really is quite the magic trick that Don Mancini managed to pull off with Curse of Chucky, not only rebooting the tone of the series back to its more horrific roots, but crafting what is, by far, the darkest entry in the franchise, while still completely embracing all the aspects of its past, and even adding a new layer to Chucky’s backstory for good measure!
If you had told me back in 2004 that one day there would be a sequel to Seed of Chucky, and that it would end up being the most effective horror film in the entire franchise, I would have had a real hard time buying it… but here we are.
Five sequels later, and Chucky continued to surprise.
4.5 out of 5 Stars
- The way Chucky’s eyes dilate as the little girl hugs him is outrageously creepy.
- Also, welcome back Barclay family portrait, and congratulations on having now appeared in the same amount of Chucky films as Jennifer Tilly.
- There’s some great misdirection going on with how the characters are written and presented in this movie that nicely sidesteps making them into the cliches that some of them appear to initially be.
- Man this movie is gorgeous. The use of lighting and the choice of shots come together repeatedly to provide visuals that are both creepy and beautiful at the same time.
- Chucky is also shot really well in this film, and his redesign really does make the little bastard genuinely unnerving in a way I would never have expected possible, following Seed of Chucky.
Cult of Chucky
Release date: October 3, 2017 (USA)
Synopsis: Having been blamed for her family’s murders, Nica now finds herself incarcerated in a mental hospital, but when she’s transferred to a lower security facility and the bodies start piling up once again… is it Chucky getting up to his old tricks? Or have her experiences finally taken Nica on a one way trip to crazytown?
Review: If there is one aspect of the Child’s Play / Chucky franchise that the other horror big bads could learn from, it’s the series’ willingness to jump from setting to setting, while simultaneously embracing a wide variety of secondary styles. From the urban environments and crime/drama elements of the first film through to the asylum-based, psychological horror that plays out in this newest entry, it’s been quite a ride for horror’s favorite pint sized murder puppet, and the variety offered by the series’ ever-shifting tone keeps this franchise fresh in a way that the cosmetic changes of putting Jason on a boat or a spaceship never will.
In a way though, Cult of Chucky takes things even further than movies like Seed or Curse did, because instead of just leaning into complete farce or gothic horror (or trying to tread the line between the two in a way that never completely satisfies either, ala Child’s Play 2), Cult confidently jumps from splatter movie, to psychological horror, to monster movie, to farcical humor – and the film goes all in each time. This results in a movie that could have easily felt disjointed, but instead feels fresh and different and like a microcosm of the franchise itself up until this point, but with a new flavor added into the mix to stop the film from just being the cinematic equivalent of a Chucky Greatest Hits album.
Visually, for the first five minutes or so Cult feels like it’s pulling further away from the hyper stylized look of the last few films – the slickness of Bride and Seed and the overt gothic look of Curse – and moving towards the more natural look of the first few films in the series. But once the setting shifts to the hospital things instead take on a vaguely Jacob’s Ladder sort of tone, with Hitchcock-style cinematography that serves to emphasize the surreal nature of what Nica is experiencing. And, with the majority of the film taking place in an institution, the desaturated nature of the color scheme really makes the great big splashes of red seem that much more impactful and vivid when the blood starts spouting.
The score, by Joseph LoDuca (returning from Curse of Chucky), also does its part to emphasize the creepy aspects of the hospital scenes. Like the lighting and cinematography, it can be synthetic and off-putting (at times even resembling bits of Clint Mansell’s score for the film Pi), but, like the film itself, it shifts in tone when appropriate. That it manages to do all this while still tactfully referencing the Chucky theme from the previous film (which itself felt like a bit of a shout out to similar themes in Child’s Play 2 and 3) is especially impressive.
It’s hard not to take Brad Dourif and Jennifer Tilly for granted at this point; such is the curse of continuously delivering standout performances in these films. Rest assured they are as compelling as ever. It’s also a real treat seeing Alex Vincent play Andy Barclay again. The rest of the cast is also pretty great, but special shout out to Elisabeth Rosen, who has to play some pretty dark shit for being a supporting actress in a killer doll movie.
The standout of the film, however, is undeniably Fiona Dourif as Nica. The character is really put through the ringer in this film, and Dourif plays it real and honest throughout. It’s nice to see a slasher series following a strong and capable protagonist that you actually want to root for, something that has been somewhat lacking in franchise horror as of late.
For much of the movie Mancini does a masterful job of combining all of the film’s separate elements in such a way that he creates an atmosphere where – despite the viewer being aware that Chucky the living killer doll is, like, for sure an actual thing in this universe – he still manages to make you doubt first one protagonist, and than the other, until the truth is finally revealed and the movie is left with the unenviable task of wrapping things up in a satisfying way that all makes sense.
Thankfully, Cult of Chucky pulls it off, and, when things are finally revealed, it opens up a lot of potential new directions for the series without betraying anything (tonally or in terms of continuity) that has come before.
After seven films and almost thirty years, the Chucky franchise is still going strong due to a willingness to fearlessly and repeatedly change things up while still remaining connected to its past in a way that no other slasher series has ever managed to do.
4 out of 5 Stars
- I have to admit that seeing the Universal Logo at the beginning of a Chucky film always feels good. It’s nice to see at least one of the big screen slashers at the same studio as the classic monster icons.
- The consistently entertaining puppet magic remains up to the high standards of the series in Cult of Chucky, but the Chucky redesign, while cool in a “more believably an actual doll” sort of way, is less effective as a source of terror than the dead-eyed monster muppet from Curse of Chucky (although it does feels like more of a natural evolution from the Child’s Play 2 and 3 design than the one used in Curse did).
- Love the sly call back to the mass murderer / multiple murderer lines from Bride of Chucky. Between that, Andy’s Kent State sweatshirt and the post-credits scene, Cult really is Chucky nerd heaven!
- Yeah, I’m thinking that a mental hospital having an unlocked drawer labelled “sharps,” within which they place all of their – beautifully displayed – killing implements, might not be the best idea ever.
- Apparently the gravediggers at the hospital are hiring Ash to make their crucifixes.
“He was into Voodoo, Ash.”
“…Well I really wish you’d told me that before I’d gone and made this stupid cross.”
- SPOILER WARNING FROM HERE ON OUT
- Gotta love that brilliant reveal during the pre-credits sequence at the start of the film. For long term Child’s Play fans, it’s hugely rewarding, and it was nice to have my complaints about Andy in Child’s Play 3 (I wished that his experiences in the first two films had made him a little more capable than how he was portrayed in that film) so definitively put to pasture.
- The scene where Tiffany comes to visit Nica is a nice reminder that, despite the fact that she was often portrayed as the more sympathetic character in the franchise (at least, compared to Chucky), Tiffany really is just a terrible, terrible monster person. Heck, if you really think about it, these fairly elaborate plans that Chucky is now undergoing almost seem more like the sorts of things that Tiffany would conjure up rather than something Charles “you stab an awful lot for a strangler” Lee Ray would bother with.
- I really like how, since Chucky decided that he actually enjoyed being “Chucky the Killer Doll” at the end of Seed of Chucky, and no longer wants to (permanently) return to his human form, his motivation has shifted back to just getting revenge on anyone who has ever fucked with him. Because, if you think about it, before he found out that he was turning human in his doll body during the first Child’s Play, what was Chucky doing? Getting revenge on all the people that fucked with him.
- Man, Chucky’s right hand just can’t catch a break in these movies!
- I’m really confused about what happens in that grave between Chucky and Malcolm, if Chucky didn’t put the voodoo whammy on him.
- It’s funny that the movie gives a shout out to Hannibal, because a lot of the shots really remind me of that show, especially the way Claire’s murder is filmed.
- Gotta love Dr. Foley’s response to Nica proclaiming that she thinks Chucky may be inhabiting multiple dolls now, and that she “knows that sounds crazy.” “No crazier than a single doll, Nica. Please tell me you understand that,” he says; speaking just as much to those of us in the audience questioning Chucky’s new ability, as he is to Nica.