With the quite good Curse Of Chucky now available on VOD (and hitting Blu-ray on October 8th) I thought it would be an interesting time to discuss a somewhat controversial notion among fans of Don Mancini’s iconic Chucky character – is Child’s Play 2 actually a better film than Child’s Play?
There was a time when suggesting such a thing seemed like heresy. For years I’ve just assumed that my childhood enthusiasm for the Child’s Play sequels was nothing but a youthful flight of fancy. I had it in my head that the first film was the only true important component of the franchise (with Bride Of Chucky being an interesting postmodern footnote). But as I began revisiting this series last month I began to see a real case developing for the enduring quality of Child’s Play 2 (unfortunately I can’t say the same for the rushed Child’s Play 3 – though I applaud that film’s effort to change the scenery a bit). Is it the perfect Chucky film?
For years the fanbase has been carrying the torch that the 1988 original film is the only one that is “truly scary.” I’d contend that none of the films are actually scary. That’s not to say they’re not good – it’s just that the best Child’s Play movies are exemplary “fun” slashers. You can take the kills kind of seriously, but the pleasure you derive from them usually stems from their inventiveness more than anything else. There’s gore, but you’re not grossed out. These movies scratch the horror itch in a big way, but they’re not going to haunt your dreams.
The first film might take itself slightly more seriously at times, but it’s still certainly in on the joke of having the world’s most diminutive foul-mouthed killer. The moments where the film acknowledges this (such as Catherine Hicks’ first violent encounter with Chucky) are its most successful. They’ve got the suspense, intensity and wit we associate with Chucky’s best moments, but the surrounding elements still aren’t fully nudged into the Chucky-verse. I’d argue that the series had yet to find its true identity and that Child’s Play is peppered with slight tonal miscalculations that keep it from really coming into its own.
Child’s Play 2 manages to strip away all artifice and still manage to be an effective slasher. It knows it’s dealing with a sassy killer doll, and it fully embraces that path. It doesn’t have to hide Chucky’s true nature from us like the first film did in its first few acts (and initial marketing campaign). In fact, it begins at the “Good Guy” factory and seems to ratchet up the more playful elements of the universe from frame one. The film is brighter, more colorful and runs at a brisk pace. The initial kill, a technician being electrocuted during the process of restoring (reanimating) Chucky perfectly sets up the film’s mix of youthful whimsy and adult cynicism.
Andy’s new foster parents, Joanne and Phil (played by Jenny Agutter and Phil Simpson), are painted in broad strokes. She wants to nourish Andy back to emotional health, he wants the kid out of the damn house. But you can sense just a hint of the warmth that must have initially bonded them as a couple (and Joanne’s grief over the later loss of Phil is palpable). Again, we get a youthful shorthand with just enough layering added to not make it a farce (a different dynamic with a similar balancing act informs Andy’s relationship with his foster sister, Kyle).
Then, you have the kills. Almost every one of them makes expert use of Chucky’s size, available tools and skill set. From the sleazy “Good Guy” exec to Beth Grant’s disciplinarian teacher to Phil’s untimely demise. Where a few of the kills in the first film took place from Chucky’s anonymous POV (before his reveal), here we really get to see him relish the art of murder. It’s something he really enjoys and that joy, sick as it is, works incredibly well when shared onscreen.
The film’s finale in the makeshift funhouse of the “Good Guy” assembly line embodies the success of the piece in a nutshell. It’s exploding with color and inventiveness. It’s violent and bloody, but playful. It has a nice sense of momentum and is able to oscillate between humor and menace in a deft manner. Thematically, it brings Chucky sort of full circle in his demise (at least in terms of his 2nd life as a doll). And it sums up how John Lafia’s Child’s Play 2 outshines the original Tom Holland film a bit – it manages to have its cake and eat it too. That’s what Chucky’s all about isn’t it?