The killer doll is back in this straight-to-Blu Halloween treat for Child’s Play fans.
The Child’s Play saga, to me, has always been the best slasher film series. No-one will ever call these films genre-defining or even original, but its a franchise that has remained freakishly consistent. At worst perfunctory and at best genuinely entertaining, each of the six films has boasted sufficient production values and a general competence rarely seen in the average Elm Street or Halloween sequel. That consistency is down to creator Don Mancini whose entire career has been devoted to the devilish “Good Guy” doll, Chucky. Mancini has written every film, beginning with Tom Holland’s Child’s Play in 1988 and continuing through straight horror sequels Child’s Play 2 (1990) and 3 (1991), and the outright horror-comedies Bride of Chucky (1998) and Seed of Chucky (2004). The latter was his directorial debut and easily the weakest of the series, but Mancini is back to make amends in what could very well be the best sixth chapter in a slasher franchise ever made. Granted, there isn’t much competition.
It all began with murderer and fugitive Charles Lee Ray (cult legend Brad Dourif). After being gunned-down by the police in a toy store, he invoked a Voodoo ritual and conveniently transferred his spirit into a kid’s doll. Unfortunately, this particular range was red hot in the 80s, and the possessed Good Guy landed into the hands of young Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent), who then spent the next three pictures battling the little bastard. Chucky almost always gets destroyed (sometimes spectacularly so, as in part two), but he is nevertheless resurrected again and again to spew fresh one-liners between killing promiscuous co-eds. Along the way, he became a genuine horror icon and a recognised screen psychopath alongside Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers. Soon, his fame dwindled any fear factor he once had, and the franchise’s tongue-in-cheek nature became a full-blown parody to the annoyance of many fans.
It is obvious from the moment Curse of Chucky begins that Mancini also desired a return to the “terror” of Child’s Play. It begins with the wheelchair-bound Nica (Fiona Dourif) receiving a package in the mail. Lo and behold, it contains the Chuckster who soon begins his fiendish ways. He sets his sights on Fiona’s mother, who is found lying in a pool of plasma in the hallway. All Fiona can do is scream for help as the doll looks on, silent and seemingly innocent. With friends and relatives later convening at the house for the impending funeral, it isn’t long before the bodies begin to pile up…
First and foremost, Curse is well above-average for a straight-to-video presentation. Considering the previous five instalments were all theatrically-released, Mancini’s efforts are all the more laudable. Though the budgetary restraints are occasionally apparent in the restrictive location and the odd animatronic effect, this is still a handsomely-produced picture dripping with old school flourishes (thankfully, there is a lack of perceptible CGI). Mancini takes his time setting up the scene and the principle players, invoking the slower build-up of bygone horror films which valued suspense over excessive gore (there’s even a sequence partially lit by lightning, tee hee). You’ll be surprised by how long Mancini holds off the big moment, and when Dourif Sr. finally lets rip with those memorable vocals, it feels like a reveal worth waiting for. That Curse manages to make the rote and utterly conventional structure enjoyable is an achievement in itself.
Mancini’s script is also no slouch with more than passable dialogue and a few sequences that are effective in their construction; a poisoned-dinner scene in particular keeps the audience guessing whilst keeping Chucky in the background. Even when the obligatory make-up effects kick-in, Mancini throws in some surprises and at least one plot twist I never saw coming (although it might be questionable in retrospect). There’s also something to be said for a lead character who is disabled but is nevertheless strong and resourceful. Not only is Nica’s unfortunate situation a great boon for the scares (think Rear Window), but the younger Dourif is also a great actor and by far the best in this ensemble. Nica is the only character we actually care about, but then, who else were we going to root for? The rest are there to be on the chopping block.
You know exactly what to expect from Curse of Chucky, and those who positively hate slasher films won’t be swayed, but as a continuation of the Child’s Play series, it is a sequel to be welcomed with open arms. This is a film made with pure love by people who adore the genre, and any imperfections in the effects or performances are easily overlooked. You’ll be frequently wondering why Universal didn’t fund this as a cinema release, since Curse is ten times better than it had any right to be (the 83% on Rotten Tomatoes is justified). Fans should be happy that they didn’t just reboot the series, because this is undeniable proof that Chuck has life in him yet.
Oh, and keep watching until after the credits for a surprise you just won’t want to miss…