There is no doubt that Chucky (or Charles Lee Ray, if you want to get technical) sits on the pantheon of iconic cinema killers we absolutely can’t get enough of. Along with Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Leatherface, Jason Voorhees, Hannibal Lecter and many others, Chucky is a character that will never stay dormant for too long.
Thus we have this October’s Cult of Chucky, the seventh installment in the Child’s Play franchise.
With six films released, one on the way and the potential for many more doll slasher adventures to come, it’s time to give this franchise its due. Child’s Play is the best horror franchise of all time. There. It was said, and it will not be taken back.
These films have a secret weapon that similar killer-centric franchises don’t, and that secret weapon goes by the name of Don Mancini, who has long been the captain of the ship. It’s incredibly unusual for a horror franchise to have one creative mind behind each film in some way. Wes Craven was in and out of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, John Carpenter parted ways with the Halloween flicks early on, and other franchises similarly change hands behind the camera, sometimes with each individual sequel.
This can lead to a standalone nature to the films that make up many of the various horror franchises we love. The movies don’t always necessarily grow on previous work or evolve in any significant way. They can end up being basic retellings of the same story, only through the lens of a different director.
This is not the case with the Child’s Play saga.
Don Mancini has managed to be behind the camera on every single adventure of his killer doll. He’s received solo writing credit on each installment except for the first 1988 feature, which he has stated was rewritten in parts to change it from a psychological horror flick to more of the cut and dry, good vs. evil movie it became. He’s been there from the beginning pushing Chucky through the original trilogy of films, which concluded in 1991 with Child’s Play 3 and then he was behind the reinvention of his franchise with 1998’s Bride of Chucky, directed by Ronny Yu.
From there, Mancini took full control of the ship by writing and directing every following feature – Seed of Chucky, Curse of Chucky, and the upcoming Cult of Chucky. Mancini’s voice being present in each film has made it a unique horror franchise in that there is no rehashing of stories. Each movie genuinely grows and builds upon the last. When Mancini sits down to carve out a new Chucky screenplay, he sits with the memory and history of each film behind him – and it shows.
Mancini’s long-standing presence in the franchise is also what helps the Chucky films to have what all the best horror flicks have – character. The horror movies that stick with us are the ones that present us with characters so well developed and eerily relatable that they worm their way into our brains and never leave. Think of Norman Bates from the original Psycho or Jack Torrance from The Shining. Unfortunately, character can be missing from a lot of our favorite horror franchises. Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and others are always fun and interesting to watch, but the characters around them are usually interchangeable from film to film, there to serve the purpose of providing our villain with something to do…. or, rather, someone to kill.
There are of course exceptions to the rule, like Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween or any of the characters making up the ensemble of the original Nightmare on Elm Street, but those characterizations and the various emotional developments don’t typically last over multiple films. It can happen here and there (think Heather Langenkamp reprising her role in the Nightmare franchise), but we are typically stuck with characters inside a 90-minute feature that don’t particularly stand out or have memorable emotional arcs to go on.
The Child’s Play films, again, are different. Mancini is a lover of the horror genre and he understands that the tales that stick with us are the ones with characters that take residence in our mind and refuse to leave.
This October’s Cult of Chucky sees the return of Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent), the original boy to be tortured by Chucky in Child’s Play in 1988. We’ve already seen the character through the original three films develop, and he made a cameo appearance in Curse of Chucky in 2013. This sort of consistency is what helps give each of these films gravity.
We’ve seen Andy live out a child’s nightmare when he faced off against a killer toy in 1988, and then we saw him live the horror of believing something happened that all those around him told him wasn’t real in 1990 (Child’s Play 2). Now he’s an adult and Barclay carries with him the weight of years and events we have been witness to.
Also returning in Cult of Chucky is Fiona Dourif. The wheelchair-bound heroine from 2013’s Curse of Chucky is back in the newest feature, now residing in an insane asylum facing the same roadblocks Andy did years ago after facing off with Chucky.
This sort of characterization and development is what helps the Child’s Play franchise stand out and have more weight than its competitors. Even Chucky has evolved as a character through the various films. Sure, he still wants to grab the nearest knife and indulge in some good old-fashioned slicing and dicing, but we’ve seen actor Brad Dourif be forced to move beyond the screaming and one-liners and express real emotion through Chucky. Through six films we’ve seen our favorite killer doll became a husband and a father. A lot of it was played for laughs in Bride of Chucky and Seed, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant to who the character is now.
Another unique benefit to this franchise remaining under the rule of original creator Mancini and never going through the full reboot or remake treatment is that it stands as a fascinating chronicle of a filmmaker’s career and evolution as a creator.
Mancini has expressed himself as an artist almost exclusively through the Child’s Play films. He is credited with writing one other movie under a different name, and he has worked on television shows like “Tales From the Crypt,” “Hannibal,” and “Channel Zero.” Other than that, it’s been all Chucky, all the time.
While some might see working with the same character for twenty-nine years as a chore or a grind, Mancini is clearly as passionate about the franchise as ever. Each film may have DNA from the previous flicks, but Chucky is always being reinvented in some way. Since Mancini hasn’t gone outside the franchise too often, we’ve been able to watch him play with various genres and themes that interest him at different points through the tales of Chucky.
His using the franchise as a platform to express his various interests as a filmmaker is what has led to the subversive and comedic Bride of Chucky and the wacky, off the wall farce that was Seed of Chucky, as well as the toned down, psychological horror of Curse of Chucky. Mancini has taken his character down so many different alleys that one is hopeful that his continued interest in making sequels will mean just as many surprises to come as have been laid out for audiences before.
Saying Child’s Play is the best horror franchise is not a knock against what are some absolutely amazing pieces of art by other filmmakers within various other horror sagas. It’s merely a recognition of a franchise that perhaps doesn’t get enough credit for doing what almost no other horror franchise has been able to do. Cult of Chucky lands this October not as an attempt to cash in on a marketable name or a bid to reboot or retell the same story we’ve already seen, but rather as the next chapter in a long-running novel of horror that has made many of us both gasp and laugh, sometimes in the same movie.
The franchise remains one epic saga, making it something truly special for horror fans.
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