• DAVID STEPHENS

MERRY CHUCKY-MAS


A retrospective of the “Child’s Play” franchise (1988 – 2017)

Introduction“Wanna play?”

One of the YGROY team has a custom-printed T-shirt called “Slasher Icons”. Alongside the shadowy profiles of Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers - in the words of “Sesame Street” - one of these things is not like the others. A tousled-hair freckle-faced little scamp brandishes a huge knife and sinister smile. So how did the freaky love-child of a Cabbage Patch Kid and Carrot Top manage to become the star of a franchise that refused to die, and has steadily evolved into an inventive and bloody series of films?

In keeping with our annual December retrospectives of popular genre franchises, we’re looking back at all the Chucky films. We’ll cover the plots and backgrounds of each movie; from the original “Child’s Play” right up to the very recent “Cult of Chucky”, and what the future may hold. As per previous retrospectives, these are the personal opinions and reflections of this writer, and some of the needless controversy that was directed at some entries. You are more than welcome to disagree or agree with any views therein. Certain sections will contain *SPOILERS* of the plots and certain twists in the storylines, so please skip the sections of any films that you intend to see and want to keep the surprises fresh for. With all that in mind, let’s go down to the local toy store and get ourselves a “Good Guy” doll for those kids who have been naughty – and not nice – in 2017.

Child’s Play (1988)

“Hi, I'm Chucky, and I'm your friend till the end. Hidey-ho!”

The late 80’s were something of a boom-time for the horror franchises. “Elm Street” sequels were in full swing, following the receptive audience for “Part 3: Dream Warriors”. “Friday the 13th” had just resurrected Jason in “Part 6: Jason Lives”. And Michael Myers was just about to wake from a seven year coma in “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers”. Just like shared movie universes are now seen as a lucrative cash-cows for franchises – although some aren’t (*Cough*Dark Universe*Cough*) – successful horror films (and their inevitable sequels) were sought after properties by the studios. Even so, when a killer doll wobbled onto the scene, its impact to the genre came as something of a surprise.

“Child’s Play” was released on November 9, 1988, and had a markedly different tone to the later entries. The promos even hid the fact that the antagonist is a diminutive child-sized toy. The original theatrical poster just shows lightning striking an apartment block, with a nameless victim hurtling from a window whilst evil-looking eyes glare from the sky. Nonetheless, the film is a neat variation on the killer doll theme, something that has been an effective creepy subgenre that had been utilised in horror films like “Trilogy of Terror” in 1975 (the Zuni fetish doll) and “Magic” in 1978 (“Fats”, the ventriloquist doll). Of course it remains just as popular today, with the “Annabelle” movies also making good use of wrong-looking figurines.

It was directed and co-written by Tom Holland from a story by Don Mancini. Holland was, and continues to be, an important figure in the genre, having written and directed the original “Fright Night” in 1985 and producing the screenplay for “Psycho II” in 1983. Mancini would of course become the “face” of Chucky and has stuck with the franchise through all of its incarnations. He also later became a writer/producer on much-admired “Hannibal” series. At this time though, Mancini was originally inspired to write the story by the aforementioned “Trilogy of Terror” and an episode of The Twilight Zone called “Talky Tina”, as he thought the concept had not yet been done full justice. He was also amused by the recent mania that had circulated around the ugly-but-insanely-profitable Cabbage Patch Kids (remember those little freaks?). He wanted it be a kind of dark satire on how marketing could affect children… and have a creepy killer doll of course. The working title for the film was "Batteries Not Included" before the schmaltzy Amblin film of the same name was announced. It was then changed to "Blood Buddy" before settling on "Child's Play".

“Child’s Play” would go on to be the only film in the series to be distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer with United Artists as the production company. It had a pretty strong cast for the time. Catherine Hicks was the female lead, who was well-known from TV soaps, her Emmy Award-nominated performance as Marilyn Monroe in Marilyn: The Untold Story (1980), and Dr. Gillian Taylor in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). Chris Sarandon, Jerry Dandridge himself from “Fright Night”, returned to work with Holland again and be the dashing cop hero. And perhaps most importantly, there was the inimitable Brad Dourif, the incredibly prolific actor with far too many genre performances to mention. He would physically play serial killer Charles Lee Ray, before becoming the iconic voice of Chucky… for now and ever more… as his origin was kicked off with this plot to the film.

It’s early November in 1988 and Charles Lee “Chucky” Ray (Dourif), aka the infamous “Lakeshore Strangler”, is on run through the streets of Chicago in the early hours. He seeks refuge from the cops in a toy store, but is fatally shot by pursuing Detective Mike Norris (Sarandon). With his last breath he casts a voodoo spell (as you do) on a nearby “Good Guy” doll, the best-selling child-sized toy. A bolt of lightning mysteriously causes an explosion with leaves Norris stunned and the lifeless corpse of Ray in the aftermath. A day later, hard-working single Mom Karen Barclay (Hicks) is desperately looking for a “Good Guy” as a late birthday present for her six-year old son Andy (Alex Vincent). At the last moment, a homeless dude sells one to her in a back alley. What could possibly go wrong? Andy immediately bonds with toy that names itself “Chucky” seemingly from pre-recorded speech. But almost immediately things start to smell of dead fish. His babysitter is hit with a blunt object and falls to her death from the apartment window, and Andy says that Chucky is telling him strange things. In a neat little “The Bad Seed”/Killer Kid vibe, the cops suspect Andy of being a pre-puberty psycho, but Mom is having none of it. Although when Chucky kills again, Andy earns a stint in the psych ward. In a brilliant sequence Karen discovers that Chucky has never had any batteries inserted, and has indeed been alive from the very start. This discovery causes the little bastard to go ape-shit on her and nearly kill Norris, who is working the case. Chucky escapes and tracks down his voodoo mentor, who informs him that he is slowly turning more human and will soon be trapped in the doll’s body forever. To escape this fate, he must enact a ritual on the first person he revealed his true self to, and transfer his soul into their body. Andy is now in Chucky’s cross-hairs for possession and is chased from the hospital by the little git. He returns to his home where he’s knocked unconscious by the doll and at his mercy. But as he starts to recite the voodoo chant, Karen and Norris interrupt and a full-on skirmish ensues. Chucky is badly burnt in the fireplace but scrabbles through the vents until Norris finally shoots him directly in his (now) human heart. The film ends with mother and son safe, and Chucky’s burnt body remains lifeless…

Of course it wouldn’t end there as we now know. Although some of the FX look particularly dated now, they were pretty cool for the time. No doubt if the original was filmed today, Chucky would be realised as a grimacing uncanny-valley CGI creation. But here (apart from small-stature stand-ins) it’s all remote-controlled animatronics. There were multiple models showing the doll’s gradual transformation to a more human look, and for all his different actions: a walking Chucky, a stationary Chucky, and a going-bat-shit crazy Chucky. The early scenes with the “undercover” doll are pretty creepy as he sneakily glances to the side, which contrasts nicely with the later scenes where he openly attacks his victims and becomes the cocky little sadist that we recognise today. It goes without saying that Dourif’s lively vocal performance adds a hell of a lot to the character and it was immediately obvious why nobody would ever succeed him as the voice of Chucky.

Sarandon and Hicks, being well-known faces at the time, are solid as the initially disbelieving adults, and Vincent manages that essential child-actor trick of being sympathetic without being mawkish or brat-ish. The film actually opened at #1 in the US box office on its opening week, and got respectful reviews from mainstream critics. However in a slight foreshadowing of future events, protesters appeared at the MGM studios proclaiming it would incite violence in children. The possible controversy never caught fire, but it was something that would unfairly haunt the franchise at a later stage. In the meantime following the November release it ended up grossing more than $44 million against a production budget of $9 million, which is impressive for an 80’s genre film, even a studio produced one. Obviously the character of Chucky had hit a nerve with the intended audience and became something of a cult. A sequel was a no-brainer, but how to bring back a character that has been burnt to a crisp and had his heart obliterated?

Toy Scary (Best Bit): No contest. It has to be the brilliant moment Chucky finally shows his true colours and attacks Karen. Realising that the doll has no batteries in it, but still taunts her with “Wanna Play?” messages; she goes to throw him into the burning fireplace. This causes Chucky to break character, screw his face up in anger, and launch into this foul-mouth tirade: “You stupid bitch! You filthy slut! I’ll teach you to fuck with me!!”… This is wonderfully wrong coming from the mouth of a kid’s toy that has only uttered inane chatter so far. To cap it off, he bites a chunk out of her arm and goes on a rampage. A legend is born.

Child’s Play 2 (1990)“I'm not gonna spend the rest of my life as a plastic freak!”

A sequel to the profitable first film was inevitable, but the villain of the piece had been toasted and shot to heck. What to do? Well, if your boogeyman is a mass-manufactured toy… commercialism will find a way. Although it was profitable and a second film had been greenlit pretty quickly, production on the film was halted during a studio acquisition with a clamp-down on horror movies (BOO!!). After it bounced around studios for a while, it found a home with Universal Pictures distributing and independent production. So the stage was set for the terrible toy to return to cinemas.

The sequel was written by a returning Don Mancini, and was directed by John Lafia, one of the co-writers in the first film. It was decided that the plot would be a straightforward sequel with Chucky somehow returning in pursuit of Andy Barclay, with the aim of transferring his soul into the young boy’s body. To that end, the only cast members that returned from the first film were Alex Vincent and Brad Dourif (voice only obviously). New members of the cast included award-winning Brit actress Jenny Agutter (forever fated to be known as Alex the nurse from “An American Werewolf in London”), and Gerrit Graham (from “Phantom of the Paradise” and “CHUD II: Bud the Chud”). Christine Elise also appears as an adoptive sister to Andy (remember that name…). Chris Sarandon was originally going to appear again as Det. Mike Norris, but his scenes were eventually cut. And whilst Catherine Hicks isn’t in the movie itself, she was constantly on set for filming as her husband Kevin Yagher (they met whilst he was doing the SFX on the first film), was operating the animatronic dolls.

In comparison to “Child’s Play”, the cat was out of the bag as regards the main antagonist. Audiences knew what Chucky was all about (unlike most of the clueless victims in the films), and the did-the-kid-do-it? angle could no longer be exploited. To that end, Chucky was front and centre in all the advertising. Instead of the ambiguous eyes-in-the-sky image from the original’s art-work, here we had a grinning Chucky about to decapitate a terrified Jack-in-the-box with a giant pair of scissors. The strapline read; “Sorry Jack… Chucky’s Back!” It wasn’t going to win a Pulitzer, but the publicists knew what the audience was expecting. The only thing remaining was to concoct a way to bring the terrible toy back to life…

It’s been two years since Chucky was stopped in his tracks by the Barclay family. Since then, although the events are shrouded in disbelief and uncertainty, the link to the murders has unsurprisingly dented sales of the “Good Guy” dolls. In an (exceedingly dumb) attempt to rectify this, the CEO of “Playpals” Co. (which sounds like something completely different to kids toys) has ordered the remains of the “Chucky” doll to be repaired and rebuilt for… reasons. Cue a supernatural electricity surge, one dead worker, and Mr CEO has an instant change of mind telling his doomed lackey to get rid of it. Meanwhile, poor old Andy (Vincent) is stuck in an orphanage, due to the fact that his Mom wouldn’t shut up about killer dolls and has been locked up in an asylum. (NB: Seriously, this kid has the worse luck of any character in any horror franchise. See later entries for more details). His streak of shitty luck continues as he gets adopted by The Simpsons. No, not Homer and Marge, but Phil and Joanne (Graham and Agutter). Mind you, their house is as chintzy and colour-mad as the cartoon family’s home. By this time, Chucky has obviously come back to life, killed again, and found out (waaayy too easily) where Andy is now. He legs it to the house and takes the place of the resident “Good Guy” doll that the Simpsons already owned, burying it in the garden in a macabre touch. Fun Fact: The doll Chucky replaces is called “Tommy” in honour of Tom Holland. As Chucky secretly drops Andy in the shit multiple times, we’re in the similar position of the boy crying wolf… err, killer doll, and nobody believing him. Through various machinations, Chucky ends up offing Andy’s new parents but his adopted sister Kyle (Elise) comes to believe in his tales when she finds the buried Tommy. The climax takes place in the “Good Guy” factory, where Chucky finally gets his plastic hands on the little tyke for the possession routine. But in a nice twist, it doesn’t work due to him being in a doll’s body for so long. Pretty pissed off, he tries to kill Andy and Kyle, but the pair manages to maim and disable him. This culminates in an unfortunate incident with an air-pump and Chucky’s face, which blows his head to pieces. Job done, Andy and Kyle walk into the sunset, now properly bonded as brother and sister, by deed if not blood…

As far as sequels go, “Child’s Play 2” is pretty standard issue, especially for an 80’s/90’s horror franchise. It’s not terrible, but it steadfastly follows that (now hopefully) dated rule that a sequel will repeat the circumstance of the first film. Therefore we have Andy in another isolated situation, aware of Chucky’s sentience but unable to make anyone believe him, as they believe he’s some kind of adolescent psycho. That’s until a female family member (in this case his adopted sister Kyle) becomes his ally and protector. The situations become a little contrived as well, with the eye-rolling coincidence that a “Good Guy” doll is already in the Simpson house before Andy’s arrival. The tone is slightly uneven as well. Chucky gets Andy’s address ridiculously easy, and there’s a ludicrous moment where a character driving a car gets threatened by the gun-toking doll and barely acknowledges the situation. It’s a possessed toy FFS!!

That said, there are still some worthwhile moments and ideas in there. The relationship and bond between troubled kids Kyle and Andy plays out nicely. The sequence where Chucky loses his hand and replaces it with a knife is pretty cool, as he stalks his victims in the factory. Also the sequence where Chucky appears to have possessed Andy is quite atypical and dark for a horror sequel back then… until the unexpected moment when he realises that he’s blown his window of opportunity and goes nutzoid. It’s a workmanlike follow-up for sure, and franchise hadn’t yet achieved that level of self-awareness that marks it now. But there’s still stuff to enjoy and the animatronics have greatly improved for this time around, with plenty of neat and realistic facial expressions for Dourif to add his delightfully sweary one-liners to.

“Child's Play 2” was released on November 9, 1990, exactly two years after the first one. It did open at #1 in the US box office, and the overall take was down on the previous film, with a global gross of $35m, but that was par for the course for studio horror sequels back then. It got middling reviews, but still a fair share of critical respect. It was enough to convince Universal to bankroll another sequel, but it was evident that something had to change for Chucky’s next outing…iHist Hi

Toy Scary (Best Bit): Probably the sadistic death of teacher Mrs Kettlewell (Beth Grant). After locking Andy in detention, she returns to find him missing and hears noises from the cupboard. Of course it’s not him and Chucky injures her by stabbing her with air-pump. Shocked and dazed she lies on the floor, as he mockingly stalks towards her tapping a yardstick in his palm. (NB: The animatronics are pretty good here). Then he beats her to death, but the camera snaps further away with each strike, for quite an artistic kill scene. Who woulda’ thunk it?

Child’s Play 3 (1991)

“You just can't keep a Good Guy down.”

“Child’s Play 3” (or “Child’s Play 3: Look who’s Stalking” if you go with the strapline. Lol.) was an important film for the franchise for two reasons. One of those is due to the fact that it concludes the first “trilogy” or phase of the stories. The other is a far more notorious and unfair one… but we’ll come to that later. The story was written again by Don Mancini, who reportedly felt some pressure to quickly produce this particular sequel for Universal, having been asked to begin writing it before “Child’s Play 2” was even released. In fact this picture was released only nine months after the first sequel, leading him to refer to it as his least favourite because he was struggling for new ideas in a very short time. Although allegedly Peter Jackson was in the frame at one point, the film was directed by Jack Bender who is/was an incredibly prolific TV show director, and would later shoot much of “Lost” and some pivotal “Game of Thrones” episodes (including Hodor’s death scene *sniff*).

Apart from Dourif (by now irreplaceable as the voice of Chucky), no other original cast members returned for this sequel. An eight year time jump excluded Alex Vincent from playing Andy Barclay again, even though he remains the main protagonist. Instead Justin Whalin (“Serial Mom”, “Lois & Clark”) jumped into the role as an older Andy. Also noticeable in the cast is the great Andrew Robinson (“Hellraiser”, “Dirty Harry”). Although Chucky was still realised through practical effects and visual trickery, it was the first entry to use computers to aid in Chucky's puppetry and get the lip-syncing as good as it could be at the time. So the “Good Guy” was set to rise again from his packaging in US cinemas on 30th August 1991.

Eight years after the events of “Child’s Play 2”, the ever unlucky Andy (Whalin) has been bounced from foster home to foster home, and has ended up in a Military Academy. However the film opens in the disused “Good Guys” factory seen at the climax of the previous film. Now covered in cobwebs and with Chucky’s mangled body still present, a clean-up operation begins, and some of his blood (yeah, he was turning human, but how come that stuff is still fresh and dripping after eight years?!) oozes into the plastics vat, that is soon churning out “Good Guys” again. The same asshole CEO of the company (played by Peter Haskell again) is still whinging about profits and bad reputations, so now that everybody has conveniently forgotten about the murders mass production begins again. Of course the first one off the conveyor belt is the main-man Chuckster who easily offs Mr CEO, and just as easily finds Andy’s location.

Pulling a Looney Tunes cartoon trick, he mails himself to the academy, but finds himself attracting the attention of under-age cadet Ronald Tyler (Jeremy Sylvers), who is thrilled with the kids toy. Realising that the voodoo reset button has been hit with his rebirth, Chucky reveals his name to Tyler and tries to play the possession game with the boy. But he’s interrupted and eventually finds and taunts Andy. This leads to various incidents where Andy becomes the protector of Tyler, and is (yet again) the only person who knows the toy is stalking the location. After screwing up a War Game (where Chucky has replaced paint-pellets with real bullets), the climax switches to a travelling carnival near the academy, and an INSANELY large Ghost train. Whilst trying to possess Tyler, Chucky is disfigured and finally falls to a splatty death in a huge fan (WTF is that doing in a Ghost Train?). Andy is hauled off to an uncertain fate, but Tyler is safe and Chucky is surely dead now. Isn’t he?

As previously stated its Mancini’s least favourite film in the franchise, and also Dourif’s apparently. It’s understandable, because it’s a bit of a mess. The military academy location is a little bizarre and doesn’t really work within context, it could just as easily been a college or prison… or something, because it jars with the coming-of-age story in the plot. It does let Chucky fool around with grenades (?!) and firearms, but the final shift to the carnival feels more appropriate… even if that Ghost Train is ridiculously big for a travelling fair. The rushed production is noticeable and the plot just doesn’t really flow. Whalin is okay, but making Andy a moody teenager and then introducing a new kid for Chucky to menace feels a little obvious. It also lacks the dark-humour (apart from Dourif’s usual fun vocals and one-liners) from the previous and future films, with only Chucky’s destruction and Sergeant Botnick’s death showing some imagination. However, the animatronics are pretty sweet again, and the doll feels more alive and dangerous than ever. But this sequel opened poorly at the US box office and only made $20m on a $13m budget, which is the main reason that there was not another Chucky movie for seven years. That wasn’t the worst of it though…

The British film industry was still being affected by the “video nasty” scare of the 80’s, when horror films were vilified and banned for misguided reasons. In 1993, “Child’s Play 3” was freely available for home video rental, and was unfairly drawn into a national tragedy. Two ten year old boys had killed two year old James Bulger in an unfathomable act of violence. As usual, the British tabloids were looking for scapegoats to vent their spleen on and somehow picked up on a connection with this movie. It was erroneously reported that the young killers were influenced by scenes in the film, but this was later proved to be untrue. Although one of the fathers of the boys had rented it, his son had never even watched it. Nevertheless the press went on an appalling tirade against the film. This writer can genuinely remember a headline from one national newspaper that urged its readers to burn VHS copies of the film in bonfires on the streets!! It was like something out of some fascist state and completely unwarranted. For an innocuous horror sequel, it was a shameful way to be treated.

Unsurprisingly, the franchise was as dead as Chucky was for the time being. But luckily for fans of the terrible toy, Mancini would not let it end there…

Toy Scary (Best Bit): The film is fairly light on outstanding moments, apart from Chucky’s final moments. However, Botnick’s death is enjoyably OTT. It’s established that the Academy barber has something of a hair fetish, but when he finds Chucky lurking in his studio, he can’t resist attempting to give the tousled little freak a trim. Not for this redhead though, as the doll slits his throat with a razor. The SFX aren’t great, but Robinson hams it up splendidly as he douses the room in scarlet and dramatically collapses in the barber’s chair.

Bride of Chucky (1998)

“Martha Stewart can kiss my shiny plastic butt!”

After the dark and unnecessary tribulations (and lack of financial success) that troubled “Child’s Play 3”, it wasn’t until 1998 until it was seen fit to resurrect the little troublemaker once again. But the original trilogy had been closed, and things would be different from now on. For a start, Chucky was the star and “Child’s Play” was no longer an appropriate title for the franchise. But perhaps more notably Mancini (who wrote the screenplay again) had adopted an irreverent tone that winked at the audience and embraced its place in the genre. No longer would it be about a child being in danger from Chucky in a straightforward horror, this time it would be all about the lols and an outrageous fun ride that would go all out to please.

The director chosen to shoot this sort-of reboot was also a bit left-field. Ronny Yu was a Hong Kong film director, producer, and movie writer best known for acclaimed HK films like “The Bride with White Hair”. This was his first Western film, but he would also go on to make “Freddy vs. Jason”. He also had a hand in the redesign of the “stitched” Chucky as he appears here. Dourif was of course back for vocal duties as Chucky, and he found a partner in crime with the always-good-value Jennifer Tilly. Other significant members of the cast included Katherine Heigl (who replaced Julia Stiles after she dropped out) and comedy actor John Ritter (“Three’s Company”). It opened in North America on October 16, 1998.

It’s only been a month in Chucky-verse since “Child’s Play 3” so the events are current and in 1998 (NB: If that seems weird, check the timeline in part 3 and you realise that it takes place 8 years in the future!), and Chucky is still in pieces from hitting the fan (appropriate for a little shit). But a new character is unveiled as Chucky’s girlfriend drops into the mix. Tiffany Valentine (Tilly) was his main squeeze back when he was Charles Lee Ray and not a smart-ass doll. Still devoted to him (and his voodoo practises), she steals his remains and manages to stitch him back together, as he adopts a cool Frankenstein-like appearance. Tiff then resurrects him using a “Voodoo for Dummies” textbook (?!). They immediately resume their squabbling love/hate relationship, as she belittles his baby-like appearance. Bad idea.

Chucky kills her and transplants her soul into a female doll. Now with a common purpose, the murderous pair plot to take over the bodies of young star-crossed lovers Jade and Jesse (Heigl and Nick Stabile), tricking them to courier their doll-bodies to Charles Lee Ray’s grave, where a voodoo McGuffin is buried. On the road-trip, the terrible twosome secretly barbeque a cop in his car, and the human lovers are suddenly fugitives. Although suspecting each other of the murder, Jade and Jesse get married in Niagara Falls. Meanwhile Tiff spectacularly kills a swinging couple that attempt to spoil things, which totally turns on Chucky. Sooo… doll sex ensues (“Have you got a rubber?”, “Look at me Tiff! I’m all rubber!”). Following more violence, the dolls finally reveal alive-ness to Jade and Jesse, and force them to carry on with the journey. Both couples argue, they crash, Tiffany is burnt in an oven, and things blow-up. The climax takes place at the Lee Ray grave, but all thoughts of possession are lost as the killer dolls fight again, and they literally stab each other in the backs. It finally comes to a head when Jade shoots Chucky to death (bit lame) and Tiff succumbs to her burns. But as the young couple walks off into a crappy sunset, a Private Investigator checks out Tiffany’s body… and is mauled by a killer baby that she quickly gives birth to. The end.

Absolutely barking mad from beginning to end, “Bride” is nevertheless a huge amount of fun. If you didn’t get the Frankenstein references from the title and Chucky’s appearance, then Tiff watching “The Bride of Frankenstein” in the bath before an electrocution will hammer it home. But there are plenty of other fun in-jokes and movie references in there for genre fans. The Police storage room at the start has glimpses of Michael Myers' and Jason's masks, Leatherface’s chain saw, and Freddy Kruger's glove! Chucky does an “Exorcist” head-turn at one point. Tiffany tells her partner to “drag himself into the 90’s” and be more inventive with his kills. Best of all is the self-referential moment where Chucky is asked to explain his predicament and he responds; “If it were a movie it would take 3 or 4 sequels just to do it justice".

The movie backs it up with more good animatronics and some barnstorming interplay between Dourif and Tilly, who have an absolute ball with their material. The kills are inventive and bloody, and there’s just a real good sense of fun about the whole thing that was a little lacking since the first film. The sub-plot between Jesse and Jade is a little annoying (as are the characters), but it sort of cements the whole anti-rom-com type satire that’s going on throughout the plot. Chucky and Tiffany are definitely the stars here though, and they’re missed when they’re not the focus of the story.

Overall, it was a good inventive romp that steered the killer doll into a new and fresh direction. This seemed to be reflected in its release as well, where it scared up $11m on its opening weekend, and became the second most financially successful Chucky film domestically with over $50m worldwide, although a larger budget of $25m has to be taken into consideration. Nevertheless it proved that there was still life in the old doll yet, and the ending pretty much hinted where the follow-up was going to go…

Toy Scary (Best Bit): Unquestionably the moment where Tiffany schools Chucky in the art of inventive killing. In the hotel room of the thieving swinging couple, she throws a champagne bottle at the glass ceiling. It shatters and cascades shards of glass onto the unlucky pair who are reclining on a water bed, where it creates a gushing fountain of blood and water. Cool. No wonder Chucky was… ahem… “impressed”.

Seed of Chucky (2004)

“I am Chucky, the killer doll! And I dig it!”

Although “Seed of Chucky” marked a direct sequel to “Bride”, and it continues the Tiffany/Chucky story arc, there was an element of change about the whole production. It was the first film to be distributed by another company since “Child's Play 2”, with Rogue Pictures taking over from Universal. Also it was the first to be actually directed by Don Mancini (his debut in that position), who unsurprisingly had written the screenplay again. It was shot in Romania, mainly for budgetary reasons, and it turned out to be the last Chucky film to be released theatrically in cinemas.

The film is set six years after “Child's Play 3” and “Bride of Chucky”, and following the previous events it centres on the offspring of Chucky and Tiffany. It features Dourif and Tilly voicing the killer dolls again (and Tilly playing herself!). The cast also includes Hannah Spearritt (from teen music group S Club 7 and dinosaur series “Primeval”) and US rapper Redman. Billy Boyd (“Lord of the Rings”) voiced the role of the titular “Seed”, the gender confused Glen/Glenda, and there’s also king of bad taste and kitsch John Waters. Not to mention Britney Spears!!... Not really, it’s a lookalike that Chucky runs off the road for absolutely no reason… apart from a lame-ass punch-line. So it was released in November of 2004, and if you thought “Bride” was camp and bat-shit crazy… you hadn’t seen anything yet!

Glen (Boyd) is the vicious little puppet baby that we glimpsed at the end of the previous film. Now somewhat older (how the hell do puppets grow?), he wakes from a POV nightmare (which spoofs “Halloween”) where he slaughters an English family (NB: You have to wonder if this is some latent bitterness from the treatment that “Child’s Play 3” got). On waking we find out that he’s forced to perform as a ventriloquist doll called “Shitface” in the style of “Pinocchio”, and he has no idea of his origins. Despite his violent dreams he seems a harmless character though. Cut to snowy graveyard and Chucky and Tiffany are inexplicably killing Santa Claus… except they aren’t. This is the set of “Chucky goes Psycho”, an exploitation flick based on the insane ramblings of Jesse and Jade from “Bride”. The film’s lead actress is… yup… the real Jennifer Tilly. Meta overload. When “Shitface” sees a news report of the film, he realises that the dolls are his parents and immediately travels to Hollywood. Sneaking into the movie props room, he awakens the spirits of Chucky and Tiffany within the actual movie animatronic dolls with the voodoo amulet from “Bride”. After decapitating the SFX guy (played by Tony Gardner… the actual SFX guy… this movie screws with you), the family reunion ends with “Shitface” being renamed by his parents. Glen by Chucky and Glenda by Tiffany. Their offspring isn’t sure of his/her gender… due to a severe lack of genitalia. (NB: The whole Glen/Glenda thing is an obvious riff on the infamous Ed Wood transvestite film of the same name). Anyhoo, Tilly is busy flirting with Redman (also playing himself in a role that was offered to Quentin Tarantino reportedly) to get the Julia Roberts role as the Virgin Mary in a new bible epic. We are NOT making any of this up. The dolls have hitched a ride out of the studio in her limo and hide in her attic, deciding that the two Hollywood stars will be the recipients of their souls.

As Redman and Tilly pair up, they’re knocked out and Tiffany… err… artificially inseminates Tilly with Chucky’s sperm so that Glen/Glenda will also have a host. *Pause*. Yeah. That happens. Tiffany has a change of heart over violence now that she’s a parent, but Chucky finally embraces his existence as a psycho doll and doesn’t want to possess humans anymore. This leads to a pretty messy finale (figuratively and physically) where Chucky and Tiffany open a can of whup-ass on each other (again). But it culminates with Tiffany possessing Tilly (!) and the pregnant actress giving birth to twins, which host the male/female sides of Glen/Glenda. Chucky is dismembered by his vengeful offspring, but the obligatory shock ending shows his severed arm making a jump-scare appearance.

Nuts. Absolutely nuts. It’s kind of fun, but the insistence on trying to shock and push the boundaries of campy taste go over-the-top, it takes the franchise into campy realms that fans of the original movie would have never believed. But there are some moments that hit the target (the film-within-a-film, Tilly’s brilliant sportsmanship as she ridicules herself in numerous ways, the gory deaths). The meta references and moments that spoof everything from “The Shining” to “Mission Impossible” are pretty amusing as well. And the points where Tilly has conversations with herself, and references her earlier film “Bound” are admittedly absolutely priceless!

The only problem is that despite the gore (which nearly earnt the franchise its first NC-17 rating), the film was pure comedy with no horror to speak of. The humour was just a bit too far for some fans of the franchise, with moments like Chucky… erm… jerking off, leaving some viewers stony-faced. Despite Tilly and Dourif going for it in their roles, it didn’t review well and the box-office was underwhelming. It seemed for the franchise to continue, another retcon might be on the cards.

Toy Scary (Best Bit): John Water’s acidic demise is entertaining, but for sheer unabashed nastiness it’s Redman’s death that hits the mark. Irked by hearing the rapper drop Tilly from his movie, Tiffany sneaks under the dinner table and disembowels the would-be director. Cue a huge pile of steaming innards to drop to the floor underneath the glass table and gross-out the audience.

Curse of Chucky (2013)“I know this sounds nuts but that doll… I think there's something in it!”

It took nearly a decade, but Don Mancini never gave up on the Chuck. At one point it looked like a straightforward remake was going to happen, but that eventually didn’t happen. In interviews, Mancini had indicated that he was listening to the fan feedback and the overall response to “Seed”. To that end he indicated that people wanted to see a return to the more horror-focused scares of the first films, rather than continue with the overtly comic tone of the last entry. Intentions and hints were dropped at horror conventions over the years, with Dourif indicating he was keen to voice the little rascal again.

Originally Mancini and producer David Kirschner were said to be working on a sequel called “Revenge of Chucky”, but in June 2012 it was confirmed that the film would be titled “Curse of Chucky” and be released direct-to-video. The film began shooting September 2012 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and ended in mid-October, with an eye on a 2013 Halloween release.

Brad Dourif was obviously back again, and surprisingly gets a visual cameo (under heavy make-up) as the human Charles Lee Ray as well. The franchise also welcomed another Dourif into the mix as Fiona Dourif joined the cast. Fiona is the daughter of Brad, had previously appeared plenty of TV works such as “Deadwood” and “True Blood”, and was playing the main protagonist here. It made for a lot of entertaining verbal sparring with her dad. There’s also a couple of returning faces from previous films in a super-secret post-credit sequence that firmly establishes “Curse” as a bona-fide sequel and not a reboot or remake. But we’ll get to that…

It’s 9 years after the events of “Seed” and we’re in the remote gothic mansion where paraplegic Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif) and her mother Sarah (Chantal Quesnel) are living. A large parcel is delivered and contains a brand new fresh “Good Guy” doll. Puzzled they immediately trash it, but in the dead of night Nica finds her mother dead, with scissors embedded in her gut, and an inanimate Chucky lurking nearby. Ruled a suicide by cops, Nica’s bitchy sister Barb (Danielle Bisutti) and her family arrive to help, but basically take over the household. Her young daughter Alice (Summer H. Howell) finds Chucky and predictably bonds with him. During a dinner Chucky (still maintaining his undercover doll antics) poisons one bowl of chilli, the random victim of which turns out to be the family priest Father Frank (A Martinez), who bites the dust in a brilliantly bloody car accident on leaving the house. After some family drama, Chucky finally finds his voice as he “comforts” Alice during a thunderstorm (“Chucky, I’m scared”, “You fucking should be”). As Nica does some internet searching and gradually realises the death toll that the doll has left behind him, Chucky electrocutes the nanny and stabs Barb in the eye socket. During this, some of the plastic skin covering his face is removed and it becomes clear that this isn’t a “new” Chucky, it’s the old stitch-faced one from “Bride”/”Seed”… but with literal plastic surgery. Revealing himself to Nica, her disability prevents her escape and she seeks help from Barb’s husband (Brennan Elliott as Ian).

But when he finds the bodies, he thinks she’s the psycho, although he ultimately gets massacred by the doll. Now there’s a full on battle between Nica and Chucky, which continues even when the “Good Guy” is decapitated (just puts his head back on basically). An injured and helpless Nica then has to listen to Chucky in full exposition/flashback mode. It seems that Nica’s mother was Charles Lee Ray’s last victim back in the 80’s, and although she survived, the serial killer had stabbed her in her pregnant stomach causing Nica’s disability! That’s harsh, dude. In a great link to “Child’s Play” it seems that Lee Ray was fleeing the scene of that crime when he was shot, and fled into the toy store where he first possessed the “Good Guy” doll. Mind. Blown. And that’s why he got himself posted there and hates Nica. In a final struggle, a cop arrives and seeing the bloody scene (and Nica holding a knife) assumes the worst. Nica is convicted of the murders and seems to be on the verge of insanity, as Chucky is sent to police storage…

only he isn’t, as a scene aping the opening of “Bride” occurs where the cop is killed by Jennifer Tilly and she takes the doll away. (NB: Incidentally, this is presumably the “real” Tilly/Tiffany hybrid that we saw at the end of “Seed” and not Tiffany somehow in her old body or something… although her appearance is not explained). The film ends with Chucky apparently about to possess orphaned Alice. Except that it doesn’t… in a great screw-you-Marvel post-credits scene, we are reunited with the OG Andy Barclay, with the adult Alex Vincent now reprising his role. Chucky has posted himself to Andy and prepares to kill him… but Andy’s wise to his shit now and blows his head off. Great stuff.

With the possible exception of the original and maybe “Bride” to some extent… this is easily the most enjoyable entry in the franchise. Mancini has reportedly described this film as his first real horror film as a director, viewing “Seed” as more of a comedy. And he’s right, because even though it was shot apparently in only 90 days, there’s a maturity and stylishness about the movie that marks it much higher than being a cynical and needless entry in a tired franchise. It initially feels like a retcon, with the brand new doll and characters. And it has a visual style and narrative that feels fresh. From clever moments like the playful “Russian roulette” sequence with the rat poison, to the excellent cinematography involved in a tracking shot around the doll during the opening credits. It’s also very gory (possibly the bloodiest entry) with graphic eye-wounds, flesh-melting, and a slow decapitation. It “feels” like a “proper” horror film.

It also adds to that positivity with some crowd-pleasing nods to its past. Not only do we have a new story-arc, but it acknowledges ALL of the previous films in some way or another and adds a prequel segment for “Child’s Play”. Even that crappy Military Academy in part 3 gets a call-out and there are updates on rest of the Barclay family. Mancini deserves credit for going the extra mile to get Alex Vincent to play Andy again, when it could have been presumably easy to get a stand-in for the part. A nod needs to go to Fiona Dourif for her lively portrayal as Nica, who’s a great protagonist. If there’s any real criticism it’s that the denouement is a little underwhelming and cynical, but the post-credit scene negates all that.

The film did really well on the festival circuit, premiering on August 2, 2013 at the Fantasia Festival in Montreal, and getting its European premiere at London Frightfest on August 22, 2013. There were positive reviews and it currently holds the highest rating of the franchise on Rotten Tomatoes with a fresh 82%. Generally perceived a success when it debuted on streaming services and home media when it was released, the announcement of another film was not a great surprise.

Toy Scary (Best Bit): Some really good and inventive kills in this one. For sheer chutzpah though, it’s probably the end of poor Father Frank. Poisoned by Chucky at a family dinner, the woozy priest has an (off-screen) accident in his car. We see the long drawn out aftermath though. The barely conscious Frank is pinned to his car with wreckage surrounding his neck. The cops tell him he’ll be fine, but as they attempt to move him blood starts to spurt. It then becomes clear that the ragged metal was the only thing holding his head on, as it slowly rolls off his shoulders. Ridiculous, but brilliant. It’s like a dark version of the crash scene in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs”.

Cult of Chucky (2017)“A true classic never goes out of style.”

It was as early as December 2013, when Mancini announced that he was working on the seventh Chucky film. Of course the only dead cert was that Brad Dourif would be returning as the voice of the killer doll. It was then confirmed that Jennifer Tilly, Fiona Dourif, and Alex Vincent would also be returning. Like the previous “Curse”, Mancini was writing and directing again, and indicated that the less-comedic tone and existing plot strands would be continued. Also like “Curse”, the film would be aimed at home media and streaming (specifically Netflix) rather than a theatrical release.

Production started in December 2016, and shooting began in Winnipeg, Canada on January 9, 2017. It finished on February 18 and prepared to play the festival circuit again, starting with a premiere at the London Frightfest Film Festival on August 24. Like “Curse” it concentrated on the continuing bad luck of Nica, who is now joined by Andy Barclay as he continues to fight against his childhood nemesis.

Set four years after “Curse”, the opening scenes acknowledge that post-credit sequence from that film. Andy Barclay (Vincent) lives in a cabin, but has a memento from his past. He has a living Chucky head (presumably from that shotgun blast in “Curse”), and he regularly tortures and interrogates it to see what his game-plan was. Meanwhile Nica (Fiona Dourif) is still incarcerated for the murders in the previous film. Driven to a breakdown by those events, intensive therapy has “cured” her and she now believes that Chucky was merely a figment of her imagination. As a result of her acceptance, she is sent to a lower security facility at Harrogate Psychiatric Hospital, to continue her treatment. Whilst there the doctor introduces a “Good Guy” doll to her therapy group. Most of the patients are unsettled by the doll except for one patient who treats it as her baby. It should be okay though, because the “real” Chucky is with Andy. Not necessarily, because Tiffany (Tilly) turns up at the hospital with another “Good Guy” doll. She pretends to be the guardian of Nica’s niece Alice from “Curse”… even though she’s Jennifer-Frickin’-Tilly! (“Has anyone ever told you, you look like Jennifer Tilly?”, “Yeah, I get that a lot”). She explains that Alice is dead and has bequeathed her doll to Nica, which accounts for another doll being at the location.

Of course, that last doll is Chucky, and when Nica tries to commit suicide, he oddly saves her… although he does kill another inmate. It then becomes apparent that Chucky has somehow acquired the ability to possess multiple dolls at the same time and starts to go on a rampage. Andy has twigged this and tricks an entry into the hospital, smuggling a gun in via an unsuspecting Chucky clone. With three dolls now running through the building (and having killed most of the occupants), he tries to save Nica. But he’s too late! Chucky possesses the paraplegic (who can now walk?) and wanders out of the no-longer-secure compound. He/she walks into the arms of Tiffany/Tilly, who has a living Tiffany doll in the getaway car (having presumably learned the same cloning trick). As they drive into the sunset, Andy is trapped in a cell and will probably take the blame for the carnage. But wait a minute… another cool post-credit scene shows the first Chucky head still chilling at Andy’s cabin… until a familiar character rocks up. It’s Kyle; Andy’s adopted sister and ally from “Child’s Play 2”, played by original actress Christine Elise. “Andy sent me. We’re gonna have some fun”, she grins as she closes in on a screaming Chucky.

Whilst a lot of fun and continuing on the more horror-focused arc started by “Curse”, “Cult” probably isn’t quite as successful as that film. The idea of Chucky-clones is a good one, and something that Mancini wanted to explore in “Child’s Play 3” (remember the blood in the plastics vat?), but the budget wouldn’t run to it. You have to wonder how it works though. Is each doll a separate entity or are they all part of a “hive-mind” or collective consciousness? For that matter, is Nica possessed by the “original” Chucky, or are they all part of the same thing? Is Nica still in there? Our heads hurt! The sub-plots of Nica’s douche-bag doctor and the multi-personalities of her inmate boyfriend all complicate things as well. And when will Nica and Andy EVER catch a break?!

But we’re being unfairly critical of minor details. It’s still a great piece of genre entertainment that tries to do something new and interesting with its legacy. Like the previous film, there are some marvellously filmed scenes and inventive kills. It’s almost filmed like an arthouse movie at some points, and looks great. It’s also worth mentioning the fact that after so many years, Chucky is STILL nicely realised by some neat practical effects and the action is still blatantly hard R-rated (unless you watch the Netflix version though, which has some edits *SMH*).

We won’t over-analyse the film too much, because we reviewed the DVD version recently and gave it a very positive rating. The fact that the seventh film in a franchise scores 81% (1 below “Curse”) on Rotten Tomatoes says a lot as well. Mancini should be applauded for his determination and loyalty to the franchise. For a long-running brand this still displays plenty of life and potential….

Best Bit: It’s a bit of a cheat, as this scene is very close to another death sequence in “Bride of Chucky”… but it’s so stunningly filmed here that it has to get a mention. As a hospital inmate is confined to a bed in a surgical room (Grace Lynn Kung as Claire), Chucky launches a canister of compressed air into the skylight above her. As the film goes slo-mo, a single tear trickles from her eye as falling glass punctures her body and then decapitates her. The snow falls into the room as her head rolls towards Chucky’s foot. Marvellously composed and shot, it’s like a scene from an Italian Giallo movie.

“Go ahead and shoot! I'll be back! I ALWAYS come back!” - The future of the franchise and other material.

As far as future film entries in this mad horror franchise goes… the sky could literally be the limit. Mancini has teased directions for further sequels. In various past interviews he has stated his intention to film “Chucky on the Orient Express” and “Chucky in Space”. He has also allegedly spoken to New Line cinema about a crossover with the Elm Street franchise. How true any of this turns out to be is anyone’s guess. Mancini is a mischievous character and loves to troll his own audience in certain ways… but you never know.

However, it is far more likely that the concepts introduced into “Cult” will be explored. The idea of multiple Chucky and Tiffany dolls on the rampage is an appealing one (if slightly higher budget no doubt). Then there’s the situation of the human Nica/Chucky and Tilly/Tiffany going on a crime-spree. Not to mention the fate of Andy Barclay and what new player Kyle could bring to the table. And if Mancini is going to bring other old cast members back, we’d love to see Catherine Hicks and Chris Sarandon again. One returnee is almost definitely going to be Glen and/or Glenda, which is suggested in “Cult” and Mancini has certainly teased at conventions. Billy Boyd has been reportedly approached to reprise the role. Given the time that passes between each Chucky film, it’s early days yet and we can only guess at what the future will bring. But you can bet that it WILL bring further killer doll antics…

In the meantime, you can hunt down entertaining shorts involving the errant “Good Guy”, both online and on DVD extras. “Chucky’s Vacation Slides” shows the dysfunctional puppet family killing people on holiday. “Chucky Invades” shows him inserted into other horror films like “Psycho” and “Mama”. There are a number of comics, including one where he goes up against Image comics character Cassie Hack. And some of the film novelizations add extra details to the backstories. The official one for “Child’s Play 2” for instance reveals that Charles Lee Ray had an absent father and his abusive mother was a little person, who he eventually strangled to death… which probably accounts for the reason why the Chucky dolls are so sensitive about their height.

So that’s the history of horror’s favourite killer toy, and we hope you enjoyed this look back at his mis-adventures. YGROY wishes you all a merry Chuck-mas. Better trash that suspiciously doll-shaped wrapped present before you-know-who bursts out though…

#childsplay

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