Often pushed to a second tier among other iconic horror franchises like
Friday the 13th, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street, the murderous
misadventures of Charles Lee "Chucky" Ray have been just as persistent
and influential as those other game changing series. But Chucky, so too
like Jason, Freddy and Michael, these characters have had their fare
share of missteps in terms of quality, and in many cases saw their
franchises descend into unintentional self parody.
The Child's Play saga has seen a similar trajectory, with the 1988 original still standing as a horror classic, it's immediate predecessor coming off as passable but more or less a carbon copy and the third as a junky, bland mess. After a seven year hiatus, the surprisingly satirical Bride of Chucky arrived along with a perfect Jennifer Tilly as Chucky's partner in slaughter. Things again took a turn for the worse in Seed of Chucky which aimed to amp up the camp of Bride but it came off as a grating and, ironically, childish.
Almost 25 years on we now get Curse of Chucky, a direct to home video instalment – a rather unceremonious release which certainly did not instil confidence in this horror fan. Well, you can consider my mouth shut as this is not only a strong, well crafted fright flick, it's easily among the franchise's best entries. Curse of Chucky takes the more gruesome elements that worked so well early on, some of the parodic flare of Bride and then even goes on to subvert horror norms and cliché. This is a film that knows firmly where it stands and the expectations of its audience and uses those preconceived notions to surprise in a number of ways.
The biggest and most pleasant realization I made from the onset is how well crafted Curse of Chucky is, from the art direction that brings life to your typical isolated home (at which our bloody events can transpire) the composition of shots which expertly use every angle in the book to bring complexity to the carnage and its generally polished look. It certainly doesn't bare any resemblance to most home video fare that looks as if it were shot in somebody's basement. But the accomplished aesthetics only serve as the launching point for some clever prods at the genre, some fun kills and a thorough grasp on its own franchise roots.
One of the things Curse of Chucky is finally able to figure out is how to present an adult protagonist that would believably be in peril when facing off with a pint sized doll. Our heroine comes in the form of Fiona Dourif, daughter of Chucky's voice, the iconic Brad Dourif (whose cackling laugh still brings a weird smile to my face after all these years). Daughter Dourif's Nica you see is confined to a wheelchair, putting her quite literally on even ground when the climax rolls around. There is a young girl about, who serves as the vessel through which Chucky's evil rumblings are heard, but this is more about Nica, and it all works rather well. In the end, it really comes as no surprise that this entry is penned and directed by Don Mancini who has written every entry in the Child's Play franchise. Even though he is so close to the series and its central character, he has clearly taken the time to step back and re-approach his baby in new ways. It's not something you see too often from someone who has been involved with something for so long.
Then we get the funny, subversive elements to the story which plays against our expectations, such as the role of a promiscuous nanny, who gets the knife and when and fake-out scares and potential deaths. Constructed in the way it is, Curse of Chucky should easily please fans of the franchise but also win over general fans of horror who are tired of seeing cookie cutter productions. There are certainly conventional elements at play, but it's all pulled off with a great deal of flare.
As for Dourif's Chucky, he's as vulgar, funny and creepy as ever, and even when delivering more simplistic lines reminds us why the character has persisted. There will certainly be some who will overlook the more clever elements of Curse of Chucky and hone in on what remains ordinary, but for me it was time well spent and easily introduces a new spark to the franchise and shows there is life yet in everyone's favourite killer doll.
After the events of Seed of Chucky, Nica, a young woman forced to a wheelchair since birth, has to regroup her sister, Barb and her brother-in-law, Ian for a funeral after the death of her mother. While dealing with Barb, Ian, along with their 5-year-old daughter, Alice; Nica receives an odd package - a creepy doll. After people start showing up dead, the fearless Nica soon suspects that the creepy doll is much more than just a doll.
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