What better way to start our annual Halloween movie special than with the Chucky series, as dolls are always creepy, but can be bloody fun as well?
(USA 1988, director: Tom Holland)
A mother buys her young son a doll as a birthday present which turns out to be possessed by a dead serial killer.
Horror movie icons aren’t so easy to invent these days, and even if Adam Green’s Hatchet series comes close to it, Victor Crowley simply isn’t the same as Friday the 13th‘s Jason Vorhees or A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Freddy Krueger. Chucky the murder doll certainly belongs to this band of somehow likable killers, with the first movie still being highly enjoyable even today.
Brad Dourif’s voice is a perfect accompaniment to a foul-mouthed doll that is on a murder spree, and even if it’s not as scary today, the way how Chucky is slowly introduced without showing too much still works. Of course there isn’t much of a storyline, and the kid’s acting is pretty bad at times. But it’s not a movie that becomes boring, even after having watched it multiple times. The amount of blood and gore isn’t overwhelming, but the special effects and especially Chucky’s mask haven’t aged well. So in a nutshell, this is an entertaining blast from the past that might not be for every horror fan due to its trash-y concept, but it’s a great start of a long-running series.
Child’s Play 2
(USA 1990, director: John Lafia)
Young boy Andy is put in a foster home and is soon visited by murder doll Chucky who wants to take possession of his body.
The sequel does what many follow-ups do by simply using the same actor/character, in this case the boy who survived Chucky’s first killing spree, and making the villain stalk him again. Despite trying to be a bit creepy like the first one, half of the running time doesn’t offer many surprises, even if the death sequences are more graphic and sadistic. However, if one perseveres and forgets about the characters that aren’t interesting at all, one will be presented with a very cool finale.
It’s interesting how much one can do with a simple children’s toy in the gore department. Chucky’s kills might not be the most original, but his wise-cracking still works to make some of the more shocking scenes less serious, e.g. suffocating someone with a paper bag and beating someone else to death with a ruler. Still, this is nothing compared to what the finale offers, as it’s basically non-stop action with lots of disgusting gore thrown in. Some might mourn the lack of atmosphere as in the first movie, but as far as entertaining popcorn horror goes, the sequel achieves establishing Chucky as a violent, foul-mouthed, and sadistic but also quite likable force to be reckoned with.
Child’s Play 3
(USA 1991, director: Jack Bender)
Teenager Andy is sent to a military school where murder doll Chucky follows him shortly, but sets its eyes on a new victim for transferring his soul into.
Having a different actor due to a character’s age difference can be a blessing or a curse. In the case of the third installment, at least there’s some better acting, but not a great improvement. The problem isn’t so much that the characters are again rather forgettable, but that there’s simply not a lot happening horror-wise. The military backdrop with its unavoidable cruel mobbing by a superior who is only a few years older has been done so many times before. Even Chucky’s one-liners feel forced at times, trying to get some much-needed gratuitous violence and horror back into the game.
Unfortunately only the finale is exciting, but nothing compared to what the second movie offered. Having a very cool-looking scary train/rollercoaster ride with unrealistically dangerous contraptions seems like the last attempt to infuse some horror into an otherwise not so suspenseful, gory or fun movie with the only other redeeming feature being convincing puppetry work. Despite some good action sequences, the unnecessary love/relationship story thrown into the whole military setting feels as tired as Chucky himself. This is a shame, because Brad Dourif does his best to deliver a sinister performance that simply doesn’t work with the boring script and characters.
Bride of Chucky
(USA 1998, director: Ronny Yu)
Chucky, resurrected by his psychopathic girlfriend Tiffany whom he also turns into a doll, is in desperate need of a magic amulet and new bodies, and the only help they can get is two high-school graduates who have eloped and gone on a road trip to deliver the dolls.
Seven years after the lukewarm third instalment and ten years after the first Chucky movie was released, it’s surprising to see that the newest one is the best one yet. It’s often very silly, but as the movie embraces the trash premise of having two dolls kill people, this works perfectly. Having Jennifer Tilly’s Tiffany as the mad but also likable counterpart to Brad Dourif’s Chucky makes for the funniest scenes and even adds some much-needed personality to the character that has become rather stale in the preceding movies.
There are just so many stand-out funny and gory moments with lots of action that it’s difficult not to be entertained by the whole carnage both dolls leave behind. The kids might not be the most interesting characters, but they work quite well, and having John Ritter as a police chief with delivering some very quotable lines is a clear bonus. A rocking soundtrack, well-done and original kill sequences, situational comedy, and everything else that makes a popcorn horror movie is present and correct here, and just like Ronny Yu’s Freddy vs. Jason, it shows that there is still life left in a late 80ies/early 90ies horror icon to adapt to modern horror standards.
Seed of Chucky
(USA/UK/Romania, director: Don Mancini)
Murder dolls Chucky and Tiffany are resurrected by their child Glen who is torn between good and bad behavior, as the killing starts again in Hollywood.
This movie is clearly trash and doesn’t care how silly it is at times, but the humor and horror don’t gel well together. While the idea of having Tiffany voiced by Jennifer Tilly meet her acting self is great and makes for the funniest tongue-in-cheek scenes, including rapper Redman is always a bad idea, as he’s simply a terrible actor. The humor feels forced at times, as seeing Chucky masturbate clearly isn’t something one wants to see. Despite having some very funny scenes in which Tiffany and Chucky discuss why killing is good or bad (a habit or a hobby), the movie often doesn’t know if it should shock or entertain.
The blood and gore elements are still present and correct, especially in the first violent scene and the finale, but there are too many akward comedy scenes, involving the even weirder and pretty annoying Glen character whose whiny voice and hysterical laugher gets worse and worse by the minute. Of course Chucky’s son is a logical development of the storyline, and the obvious reference to legendary bad movie director Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda is funny to a certain degree, but one can’t shake the feeling that this is either the downfall of horror Chucky or the resurrection of comedy Chucky.
Curse of Chucky
(USA/Canada 2013, director: Don Mancini)
After the death of her mother, a handicapped young woman is visited by her relatives for support, but soon murder doll Chucky turns their house into a bloodbath.
Taking into account how ridiculous Mancini’s last attempt to bring Chucky into the modern era was, this is a surprisingly dark movie that finally makes the murder doll scary again. Just like the original, it takes some time before the doll moves or talks, cranking up the level of suspense and fear, as the story progresses. The movie might take itself a bit too seriously at first, with the characters being not the most likable one, but when Chucky finally shows up and does his killing thing, it’s more than worth the wait. A fun fact: Fiona Dourif who plays the disabled young woman is the daughter of Brad Dourif, the voice of Chucky.
Despite having a new look at first, the Chucky design is perfect in an age when dolls simply aren’t scary anymore (except maybe for the excellent Dead Silence). The atmosphere is spot-on creepy and even if Chucky’s one-liners feel a bit out of place or time, the death sequences and special effects more than make up for it. The movie is also quite gruesome and violent, so the German 16+ age certification is certainly a joke. The only problem the movie faces is that it tries to tie up too many things and deliver too much fan service in the finale and after the credits, as well-known characters show up and things are revealed that almost feel as if the director wanted to do Saw-like twists following one after another. But it leaves the audience confused, as it’s too much to take in and would have been better used for a sequel.
Cult of Chucky
(USA 2017, director: Don Mancini)
Killer doll Chucky returns to haunt both his long-term enemy Andy and recently institutionalized survivor girl Nica.
The Chucky series hasn’t been good with psychological horror, even if the first movie and Curse of Chucky played with the audience’s fear more than with making them laugh because of the murder doll’s one-liners. The setting of an insane asylum is probably the oldest trick in the horror cliché book, but it doesn’t mean that it works in itself. Way too much time is spent on unnecessary psycho babble and characters that are neither interesting nor likable. Suspense is only present to a certain degree, because Chucky takes his time with the victims. However, this doesn’t make it less boring, and it’s also telling that Fiona Dourif actually plays her asylum patient role very similarly to her Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency role as a psychopathic killer.
All the previous movies haven’t taken themselves very seriously and had their fair share of ridiculous ideas, but what happens here is beyond description. Soul hopping is one thing, but having multiple Chuckies run around brings silliness to a whole new level, not necessarily in a good way. Sure, there are some fun scenes later on when the dolls discuss their killing methods, and having Jennifer Tilly return and not being sure if she’s the actress or the character makes things even weirder. But it all feels rather contrived. As with the previous movie, there is an attempt to put as many twists into the movie to make it more Saw-like, at least in the way how everything is connected, with enough open questions for a sequel. Despite a satisfying amount of gore and violence, this still remains the weakest entry yet, which will hopefully receive a much better follow-up in the near future that does away with pretentious psychological horror and get back on the fun slasher track the series is known for.
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