One of the things that I loved about Ronny Yu’s 1998 Bride of Chucky was that it took the Child’s Play franchise in a completely new direction. After two sequels, creator Don Mancini wrote in Tiffany, the “bride” to the infamous slasher, Chucky, which turned the fourth film into a buddy comedy. Even through the gags, both Mancini and Yu kept a straight face, delivering one of the biggest shockers in horror history: a terrifying half doll-half human baby with razor sharp teeth. Mancini, who created the franchise, and penned all of the films, would take the reigns with the 2004 Seed of Chucky, which made a sharp turn that many weren’t expecting. While I judge each film on its own merits (I really liked Seed of Chucky), it wasn’t the movie that Bride of Chucky promised when it left us with our jaws on the theater floor.
Curse of Chucky, written and directed once again by Mancini, returns to the Child’s Play roots, and finally delivers on that promise way back in 1998.
On the franchise’s 25th anniversary, Chucky fans are in for a treat with the latest installment, which puts Brad Dourif’s (the voice of Chucky) daughter Fiona in the lead role. She plays Nica, a born paraplegic, who is tossed in the middle of family drama when a “Good Guys” doll is delivered to her house. Neither her nor her mother knows who or why it was sent to them. Tossed in the trash, that night Nica is awakened to screams, only to find her mother dead on the floor from an apparent fall off the balcony. The Good Guys doll sits in the corner watching. Brooding. Waiting. Classic.
The next day, Nica’s house is infiltrated with family, including her sister (Barb; Danielle Bisutti), brother-in-law (Ian; Brennan Elliott), their young daughter (Alice; Summer Howell) and a live-in maid (Jill; Maitland McConnell). The Good Guys doll immediately enamors Alice, making them best friends forever.
Chucky – for those of you unacquainted, is a serial killer named Charles Lee Ray that became trapped inside the doll (see Child’s Play) – immediately begins his mischievous games, causing bizarre and unexpected deaths to occur. It all needs to look like an accident, which sort of ties Mancini’s hands from being able to do much “slashing”; it forces him to create suspense in other ways, for example, like putting rat poison in a random bowl of the guests’ soup.
Curse of Chucky shows serious restraint, which is rare for a fifth sequel. Instead of jumping right in, Mancini works his way to the reveal, treating the film like an introduction to a completely new, younger audience. And even after ol’ Chuckster is on a path of destruction, Mancini continued to peel layer, after layer, after layer off of the story, blasting the hardcore fans with more hat-tips than they’ll be able to handle.
The new design of Chucky, which will make sense when you see the flick, is crazy scary. Complimented with astounding effects work and puppetry, Chucky has never looked better…
And even though budget appears to have no bearing on Chucky, you can definitely “feel” the constraints, especially since the near-entirety of the film is limited to a single location. Yet, Universal deserves serious props for getting creator Mancini back behind the camera because it was shot with extreme love and care, delivering on quality, classic camerawork and scares that feel intimate to a Child’s Play film.
(Editor’s note: the following contains some spoilerly “references” that you may want to avoid.)
As a hardcore Child’s Play fan, I find the flaws weren’t so overpowering, although I do wish it were a bit gorier. And oddly enough, I really didn’t like what Mancini did with Charles Lee Ray’s backstory, which I felt turned him into a more mean-spirited serial killer.
Speaking of backstory, Mancini ties everything together in Curse of Chucky. It’s a sincere love letter to the fans that really drop the gloves and goes for it. For some, the self-referential model may even be a little too much – but it without question carries the biggest geek-out moments since the 2003 Freddy vs. Jason.
Following the finale, the overly long epilogue plays out like something you’d see in Ocean’s Eleven; and in terms of a payoff, it’s what makes or breaks the movie. Audiences should stick through the end credits for what will be the ultimate sendoff if the franchise were to die tomorrow.
Curse of Chucky may just be the best home video sequel since Wrong Turn 2. It’s alarmingly good, which puts pressure on Universal to answer as to why they didn’t let Mancini shoot this for theaters. Chucky fans should rejoice, though, as Curse of Chucky is clearly going to re-ignite the franchise for years to come.
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