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doll lotta slicin' going on

Cult of Chucky (15)

Director: Don Mancini

Screenplay: Don Mancini

Starring: Allison Dawn DoironAlex VincentBrad Dourif

Review: David Stephens

Many long-running horror franchises have had distinct “phases” to their movie runs and story-arcs over the years. “Elm Street” has the original film and sequel, the “Dream Warriors” trilogy, a “final” chapter, a meta-slasher, a fan-driven mash-up, and a remake. “Halloween” has the original, a wrap-up sequel, the “Jamie Lloyd” trilogy, a ret-con sequel (and crappy follow-up), and the two re-imaginings. Likewise the “Child’s Play” franchise has had some distinct story arcs. The original was followed by two straightforward sequels focusing on Chucky’s stalking of Andy Barclay, then two comedy-based satirical films that introduced a female version, along with Chucky’s child and the real Jennifer Tilly! Then 2013’s “Curse of Chucky” surprised everybody by being an effective return to the scarier roots of the possessed toy… as well providing the last minute returns of some familiar characters. So here we are with a 7th film that continues the legacy of the “Good Guy” doll. Directed and written by franchise-runner Don Mancini, who made the last two sequels, it continues with the plot threads started in “Curse of Chucky” and focuses mainly on Nica Pierce, the wheelchair bound protagonist of that film who’s played by the returning Fiona Dourif. Of course, her dad Brad Dourif is still voicing Chucky. Who else would dare take that gig on now?! After opening at Frightfest this year and screening on Netflix, it’s now on DVD in the UK. And unlike Netflix, it’s uncut and has loads of extras (*blows raspberry at streaming services*). So YGROY gets ready to Chuck, and takes in a viewing…

Following the events of “Curse”, it’s now four years later and the ever-unlucky Nica is incarcerated after being convicted of the massacre depicted in that film. After years of electro-shock treatment and the slimy attentions of her punchable therapist Dr Foley (Michael Therriault), she is convinced that Chucky was merely a figment of her imagination and she did some messed up things. Her acceptance earns her a place at a medium-security hospital for less observation and more treatment. But during a group therapy session, Foley rather ill-advisedly introduces a classic Good Guy doll for Nica to confront. She surprisingly takes it in her stride, but it unnerves the other patients, apart from Madeline (Elisabeth Rosen) who “adopts” the doll as a replacement for her baby. But Chucky is of course “real” and has learnt some dangerous new tricks, making Nica the target of his malicious new plan. He hasn’t taken into consideration that someone else is still gunning for him after all these years though…

You’ve gotta love the Chucky franchise (unless of course you don’t). After some generic sequels, the more campy turns of “Bride” and “Seed” may have divided genre fans, but overall the roots-returning tone of “Curse” (along with the warped Father/Daughter double-act of the Dourifs) won over a lot of people. “Cult” continues that trend of acknowledging its past, whilst introducing new elements. We haven’t mentioned a couple of characters for spoiler-reasons, but if you saw the post-credits scene from “Curse” you’ll know who we’re talking about. Be prepared for further nods to its predecessors as well, with a t-shirt from the military academy in “Child’s Play 3” and a sly reference to a certain offspring. It’s also really good to see old characters being reprised by the original actors rather than new stand-ins.

There is a nice retro quality to the film. Chucky is realised by practical effects and animatronics again, just like most of the previous entries. And there’s something undeniably cool about still having him move with herky-jerky movements, rather than the cartoonish CGI scampering that afflicts other genre movies about diminutive killers. The movie goes for old-school gore as well (at least the uncut DVD does) with graphic disembowelling, decapitations, driller killing, and a vicious head-stomping. It won’t disappoint gorehounds that’s for sure.

“Cult” also has a surprisingly evocative visual style about it. There’s a beautifully shot death scene that incorporates snow, glass, and blood in slo-mo, that has an almost Giallo art-house quality about it. This is coupled with some Hitchcock-ian camera angles of the building exterior and some jump-cut zooms that could come straight from “Psycho”. The opening credits have a film-noir twist to them, and even the use of brightly-lit corridors and constant falling snow is atypical for a movie like this.

If all that seems too high-falutin for a slasher flick about a killer doll, then don’t worry. Chucky is as potty-mouthed and as un-PC as ever. Still spritely voiced by Brad Dourif, he throws out one-liners like scattering gummy-bears at a kid’s party. “If I wanted you dead, you’d be tits-up by now” and on witnessing some scumbag behaviour “…and they called ME sick!” There are also some in-jokes and a bit a satire in there. “I can’t believe they cancelled that series”, says Chucky of “Hannibal”. (NB: Mancini was a writer and producer on the show). And the sight of a jolly-faced kid’s toy slyly grimacing and giving the camera the finger, never, ever gets old.

If truth be told, the pace does flag a little at the mid-way section. All the pieces are in place, but things feel like they’re teased out just a bit too long. The ending feels a little “too” sequel-baiting as well, without being totally conclusive and with some of the motives and plans feeling nebulous and underdeveloped. Full-marks for another neat post-credit sequence though, and one that die-hard viewers of Chucky will absolutely love, although it may have others scrambling for relevance and further details.

In short, this is a riot for long-time fans of the franchise. It’s almost a love-letter to those that have watched each and every one, with some of the in-jokes and sight gags flying over the heads of newbies. It does manage the clever trick of “honouring” its legacy whilst trying new tricks. Fiona Dourif also deserves some credit for her portrayal and for having some fun with her what-did-I-do-to-deserve-all-this-crap character. So if you’re fresh to Chucky, you might have some issues joining the “Cult”, although it’s still a fun and clever slasher. But if you’re a buddy with the Good-Guy, you’ll get an extra-special blast from this. Mancini has spoken of several (really weird) ideas for the future, but this will do nicely for now. A cult above the rest…

DVD Extras: Yes! You see, THIS is why some of us wait for DVDs. A great little collection here; 3 deleted scenes that mainly provide extra character details + a making-of feature + a featurette exploring the different incarnations of Chucky + a featurette that explores the “family” of the franchise, with the Dourifs and Tony Gardner (puppeteer and producer) getting some love across + a predictably entertaining commentary with Mancini and Gardener.

Real good fun and much better than the sixth sequel in a franchise should be. The Dourif’s play well together (again), and it’s hilariously nasty and gory. Some really good visuals and clever/dumb innovations to the Chucky lore reinvigorate the plot. It does flag a little in the middle, and the ending is a little disappointing in its sequel-baiting way. But otherwise, the liddle bastard still entertains…
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