In case you hadn’t heard the news, Chucky’s back. And that was all the excuse I needed to revisit a franchise that has held a special place in my heart for many years now. I first saw Child’s Play when I was about 14 years old, I think. A friend and I were allowed to rent it out and watch it while we stayed home alone for an evening. Despite the movie being rated a “15” here in the UK I’ll never forget that sensation of being so damn petrified as the third act played out. The adults returned later that evening, saw my friend and I still pale and jittery . . . . . . . . and we were never trusted to rent movies again. Well, for a few months anyway.
But let’s look at the movies, starting with the one I used to find so terrifying.
Child’s Play (1988)
Written by Don Mancini and directed by Tom Holland, Child’s Play is a great addition to the niche “deadly doll” movie market. It’s certainly much better than many of the movies it would inspire (I’m looking at YOU Dolly Dearest).
Brad Dourif plays killer Charles Lee Ray (aka Chucky), a man who ends up transferring his soul into a plastic Good Guy doll when he’s fatally wounded by cop Chris Sarandon. Cut to young Andy (Alex Vincent), a birthday boy wanting nothing more than a Good Guy doll for his birthday but with no chance of getting one until his mother (Catherine Hicks) is able to buy one “acquired” by a street vendor/homeless guy with a cart full of stuff for sale. When things start getting a bit strange nobody believes that Andy’s doll, Chucky, is responsible. The idea is, quite frankly, preposterous.
A killer doll is quite a tough sell in the horror genre. The static figures are spooky enough but seeing them move and prove a threat to grown-ups is not all that easy a concept for viewers to buy into. So it’s to Mancini and Holland’s credit that Child’s Play still works as well as it does. And let’s not underestimate the major plus of the great vocal work by Brad Dourif.
Watching the movie nowadays, the flaws are all too noticeable. The acting is not great (Dourif is as good as ever and Sarandon is excellent but Hicks is simply okay and Alex Vincent is quite a terrible child actor, I’m sorry to say), the effects and the cheats used to make Chucky a functioning little killer look quite obvious compared to more modern techniques and the finale teeters between typical genre stretching of believability and borderline absurdity.
I KNOW that Child’s Play is not the horror great I used to think it was, but the nostalgia, the plus points of the film and the fact that I’ve now enjoyed Chucky’s exploits in a variety of sequels all mean that I cannot rate this any lower than 8/10. Sometimes that’s just the way these things are.
DIRECTOR: TOM HOLLAND
WRITER: DON MANCINI
STARS: BRAD DOURIF, CATHERINE HICKS, CHRIS SARANDON, ALEX VINCENT
RUNTIME: 87 MINS APPROX
Child’s Play 2 (1990)
Child’s Play, the horror movie that gave Chucky the killer Good Guy doll to the world, was quite a success when it was released so it comes as no surprise that a sequel was made, and should also come as no surprise to anyone that it wasn’t half as good. It is, however, a lot of fun if you don’t care about things like genuine tension or believability.
Some time after the events of the first movie, Andy Barclay is in the care system due to his mother being committed and his own insistence that his toy doll was responsible for a number of murders after it had been possessed by the soul of notorious killer Charles Lee Ray AKA The Lakeshore Strangler. Unbeknownst to Andy, while he tries to adjust to life with some caring foster parents (played by Jenny Agutter and Gerrit Graham), the bigwigs who make the Good Guy dolls have decided to rebuild the killer doll and reverse the negative impact that the news story had on their company. So it’s not long until Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif) is once again trying to get to Andy in an attempt to transfer his soul into the youngster’s body before he is stuck in the doll form he chose to shelter within. But as the threat becomes apparent, will anyone believe the ravings of a troubled young boy?
Fans of the first movie knew that the concept was on a knife-edge, balancing between the creepy and unnerving and the patently ridiculous (it’s a DOLL, fer Chrissakes), but the material was given just the right treatment to make it a bit of a minor modern classic and certainly a nice modern spin on an old genre favourite. The sequel doesn’t do too badly, with sceptical people throughout voicing the standard reactions while the audience get in on the reality of the situation, but it suffers simply due to the fact that it’s stretching out a rather implausible conceit.
Jenny Agutter gives one of her worst performances, so that doesn’t help, and Alex Vincent is once again quite poor in role of the main intended victim, but Gerrit Graham does well in a small role, Grace Zabriskie and Beth Grant make good impressions with only one or two scenes and Christine Elise almost steals the movie as the plucky, rebellious young woman also being looked after by foster parents.
The script, once again written by Don Mancini, isn’t terrible and the direction by John Lafia has some decent moments (with one highlight being the scene showing Chucky burying another doll so that he can take it’s place) but, as the ridiculous starts to pile up on the ridiculous, the movie starts to struggle to keep you engaged throughout.
There’s a good finale with plenty of action and nastiness, but it also just throws in lots of unbelievable moments (a production line running with no staff to watch over it, an engineer who picks the very worst way to repair a broken mechanism, etc) that stop things being quite as enjoyable as they could be. Many movies within the horror genre (not to mention other genres) aren’t all that believable but the difference is made by how the execution of the material either glosses over things or embraces the absurdity of it all. Sadly, Child’s Play 2 doesn’t succeed either way and the series would get worse before it came back strong with Bride Of Chucky (which absolutely embraced the absurdity of the material and managed to spin gold from it).
Fans of Chucky will still have fun here, just be prepared to compensate for a lot of things while watching.
DIRECTOR: JOHN LAFIA
WRITER: DON MANCINI
STARS: ALEX VINCENT, BRAD DOURIF, JENNY AGUTTER, GERRIT GRAHAM, GRACE ZABRISKIE, BETH GRANT, CHRISTINE ELISE
RUNTIME: 84 MINS APPROX
Child’s Play 3 (1991)
Strangely enough, at the start of the 1990s most people in the UK would have heard all about the antics of Chucky and, in particular, this movie thanks to some disgusting, sensationalistic journalism that tied Child’s Play 3 to the tragic murder of young Jamie Bulger. When it was finally discovered that neither of the killers had even seen this movie the press were strangely quiet. The damage had been done. The movie had been pulled from shelves and it gained some notoriety that it, frankly, never deserved.
Because, taken on its own, Child’s Play 3 is a bad movie, plain and simple. Written once again by Don Mancini (who wrote every entry in the series, to date, and admitted to being unhappy with this one as he was asked to write it even before the second movie was released and he felt that he was already out of ideas) and directed by Jack Bender before a career in TV beckoned, there are few things I can think of to recommend this movie to those who aren’t fans of the smartmouthed killer doll. For those who ARE fans of the smartmouthed killer doll there is always the presence of . . . . . . . . . . . . the smartmouthed killer doll as a bonus (voiced again by the great Brad Dourif). Andy Barclay has grown up a bit and has now been enrolled in a military school. But it’s going to take more than an area full of trained military folk to stop Chucky from getting his revenge.
Missing everything that made the first two movies entertaining (even the second movie at least had moments that were just fun, even if they were totally unbelievable) and including lots of extra dead weight, Child’s Play 3 is one you could safely skip while checking out the better entries in the killer doll franchise.
Justin Whalin takes over the role of an older Andy and, true to form, manages to retain that essence of someone who can’t actually act all that well. Everyone else makes such a small impression that I really can’t pick anyone out to praise or criticise, with the exception of the consistently entertaining Andrew Robinson.
Even at just 90 minutes, the movie outstays its welcome by a long stretch. It’s boring, comparatively bloodless (and what deadly set-pieces we have are unentertaining and unexciting) and easily the worst of the series. Thank goodness for Brad Dourif’s vocal talent, stopping the movie from being a complete waste of time, and thank goodness that the next instalment would take things in a completely new direction for the series.
DIRECTOR: JACK BENDER
WRITER: DON MANCINI
STARS: JUSTIN WHALIN, BRAD DOURIF, ANDREW ROBINSON
RUNTIME: 90 MINS APPROX
Bride Of Chucky (1998)
Ronny Yu knows how to make fun movies and I have no qualms in saying that I have enjoyed all I have seen from him (which includes this film, The 51st State and Freddy vs. Jason). Bride Of Chucky breathed new life into the Child’s Play franchise and injected humour into a central concept that was, to be honest, easy enough to laugh at in the first place. So when the film-makers are in on the joke it makes for a much more entertaining time.
Tiffany (played by Jennifer Tilly) is a trailer-trash gal obsessed with death and killers and, especially, the Good Guy doll that supposedly held the soul of her serial killer ex-boyfriend, Charles Lee Ray (Chucky, voiced by Brad Dourif). When she gets hold of the doll she does what any good girlfriend would and tries to bring Chucky back to life. Things don’t go smoothly, however, and it’s not long until Chucky has his own dolly companion and the two small psychos end up hitching a lift to New Jersey (for reasons I don’t need to explain here and now) with a pair of fleeing lovebirds, Jesse and Jade (played, respectively, by Nick Stabile and a pre-bigtime Katherine Heigl). It’s not long until the bodies start piling up and Jesse and Jade start getting the blame.
While it’s really just an excuse to kick-start the franchise and get Chucky killing again, “Bride” benefits immensely from some sharp writing, inventive kills and sparky interaction between Tilly and Dourif. The cast all do well (John Ritter also has some limited screen time and does a great job) and everyone seems to embrace the humour of the situation with gusto.
Referencing many past genre outings (alongside the obvious Bride Of Frankenstein references we get nods to Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers in the first few minutes as well as a “Pinhead” gag, amongst others), this film provides plenty of fun for fans and newcomers alike. The intro covers the basics so that nobody feels left out and then it’s all aboard for a fun, lively slasher flick where the slasher just happens to be in the shape of a . . . . . . boy doll.
Ronny Yu knows how to keep people entertained and, while it may not be scary for anyone, manages to balance some suspense with the lashings of black humour throughout the script. He also gets added points for including the funniest sex scene outside of Team America: World Police.
DIRECTOR: RONNY YU
WRITER: DON MANCINI
STARS: BRAD DOURIF, JENNIFER TILLY, KATHERINE HEIGL, NICK STABILE, JOHN RITTER
RUNTIME: 89 MINS APPROX
Seed Of Chucky (2004)
It’s usually an ill omen when a writer takes the helm of the franchise they helped create and so, when Don Mancini came to direct this instalment of the Child’s Play series, there was probably already a bad feeling from the off. When he decided to go off on a tangent and put the characters Chucky and co. into a family drama that bad feeling probably got a hell of a lot worse.
Which is a great shame, because if you go along with the central premise then there’s a hell of a lot of fun here. Chucky (voiced, as ever, by the great Brad Dourif) and Tiffany have gone Hollywood this time around, featuring in a film based around possible killer exploits that stars Jennifer Tilly (who, fans will already know, also provides the voice of Tiffany). They also find out that they have a child (voiced by Billy Boyd), who’s helpfully responsible for their reanimation this time around. The idea of parental responsibility makes Tiffany eager to quit the killing lifestyle while Chucky sees an opportunity to pass along his particular skills. It’s the kid I feel sorry for.
With its wealth of sly digs at Hollywood (Jennifer Tilly gives a hilarious, self-mocking performance and deserves kudos for it), its display of the most fun dysfunctional family to consist of animated child’s dolls and it’s liberal sprinkling of gore, Seed Of Chucky takes the ideas alluded to in “Bride…” and simply follows them to their natural end. While that may seem too preposterous to many, it’s essential to remember that this franchise centres around a killer DOLL so some leeway can be given here, surely.
Mancini directs things, from his own script, energetically enough and never shies away from the increasing hilarity of the family unit dynamic. Alongside Jennifer Tilly, we get decent enough turns from Redman and Hannah Spearritt and a hilarious, small yet memorable, turn from John Waters. I don’t have to say how great Dourif is. But he’s great.
Some good death scenes should keep the horror fans happy but, as mentioned throughout this review, if you don’t go along with the wonderfully silly concept then you won’t like the film. But if you do then you will enjoy an irreverent, entertaining Chucky movie.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: DON MANCINI
STARS: BRAD DOURIF, JENNIFER TILLY, BILLY BOYD, HANNAH SPEARRITT, JOHN WATERS, REDMAN
RUNTIME: 88 MINS APPROX
Curse Of Chucky (2013)
Don Mancini returns with the creation that he’s guided from horror to horror comedy over the past twenty five years, and the results are impressive. Those who disliked Bride Of Chucky and then hated Seed Of Chucky (both movies that I really enjoyed, as you can tell) will be pleased by this return to a more serious approach to doll-centric horror.
The movie begins with Chucky being delivered to the home of Sarah (Chantal Quesnelle) and her daughter, Nica (Fiona Dourif). Nica is wheelchair-bound, having no feeling from the waist down, but she often gets frustrated at the way her mother handles her. That frustration disappears, however, when her mother is found dead the next morning. She committed suicide, apparently. As Nica is grieving and considering how to adjust to life on her own she is visited by her sister, Barb (played by Danielle Busitti), her brother-in-law (Brennan Elliott), her niece (Alice, played by Summer Howell) and her niece’s nanny (Maitland McConnell). It’s not long until young Alice finds, and takes a liking to, Chucky. And it’s not long until Chucky decides to play some games.
Setting itself up as a very traditional horror movie from the very beginning – the old, almost gothic, house in the middle of nowhere and the central mother-daughter dynamic (which then moves to sibling rivalry) – Curse Of Chucky is a return, as promised, to the straight horror roots of Chucky. It’s an attempt to get back that tension, that real horror, that so scared me when I first saw the original movie. Of course, I am older (and *ahem* wiser) nowadays, but that doesn’t stop me from seeing how effective this movie is.
It is, to use an already overused phrase, a well-oiled machine. Without the meta aspect, this is to the Child’s Play series as Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was to the Freddy franchise. That movie made Freddy seriously scary again, and this film gets Chucky back to being a ruthless, evil little shit (I really can’t think of any other way to describe him). There are still some wisecracks, but the tone is more serious and the kills are actually shown to be painful rather than entertaining (as was the case with the previous two movies).
The cast all do a good job, which helps a lot when the movie is about a killer doll. Fiona Dourif (yes, Brad’s daughter) is given a great character, and makes the most of her major scenes. There’s a dialogue between her character and Chucky at one point that ranks up there as quite possibly the best in the entire series. Busitti is stuck with playing a bit of a bitch, but does it well, Elliott isn’t bad, but he’s all too easy to forget, and McConnell has fun with her role. A. Martinez also has some screentime, playing a priest who slightly overstays his welcome. And it wouldn’t be fair of me not to mention young Howell, who does very well as Alice. She’s a much better child actor than Alex Vincent was and gets to deliver at least one truly memorable line, a piece of dialogue that fans of the movie have already started quoting as a favourite. And as for Brad Dourif, if you think that he’s not going to be the star of the show then you’ve clearly never seen any of the other movies. He may be, for the most part, only supplying a vocal performance, but he IS Chucky, and that vocal performance is always the highlight of every film.
Mancini may always be a writer, first and foremost, but his directing skills are none too shabby. He didn’t do bad work on the previous film either, but Curse Of Chucky shows a nice development as he brings the series firmly, but gently, back down to earth. He also shows great self-restraint, content to pace the movie slowly, but surely, before getting to a third act that proves as fan-pleasing as it is twisted.
With a couple of tricks still up his sleeve, Mancini may push his luck during the final moments of the movie, but it’s hard to deny him the indulgence when he’s worked so hard over the years to look after his memorable creation.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: DON MANCINI
STARS: BRAD DOURIF, FIONA DOURIF, CHANTAL QUESNELLE, DANIELLE BISUTTI, A MARTINEZ, MAITLAND MCCONNELL, BRENNAN ELLIOTT, SUMMER HOWELL
RUNTIME: 97 MINS APPROX