Saturday, October 19, 2013

Curse of Chucky (2013)

Child’s Play was, as much as any horror movie, a pretty big deal back in 1988.  Based around the chilling concept of the soul of a serial killer inhabiting the body of a large “Good Guy” doll (closely resembling the then-popular “My Buddy” and “Kid Sister” line of toys), Child’s Play received generally good reviews and ended up making over $44 million worldwide – nearly five times its budget.  Two more sequels appeared in 1990 and 1991 to diminishing returns and less favorable reviews before going on to play on the USA Network every weekend for the next fifteen years.1  After a long hiatus, the franchise re-emerged in 1998 with a more comedic sequel¸ Bride of Chucky, that rode the wave of popular self-aware horror/comedy films to a $50 million box office.  Another long break followed and then in 2004 came Seed of Chucky, a full-blown dark comedy.

I won’t lie – I pretty much wrote this franchise off when it started switching to comedy.  I’ve never made it all the way through Bride and I’ve not seen Seed at all.  You may well imagine the eye-rolling on my part when I heard that yet another sequel, this time entitled Curse of Chucky was headed straight to DVD.  Who wants another dumb, comedic Chucky movie anyway?  But then a strange thing happened – I started reading interviews with series creator and writer Don Mancini in which he talked about his desire to return to the roots of the series with a serious, frightening vision of the character.  My interest was piqued.

Curse of Chucky begins with a simple set-up: A paraplegic woman named Nica and her mother Sarah live alone in a huge, isolated house.  One day a package containing a Good Guy doll is delivered to Sarah.  By the next morning Sarah is dead, the victim of what appears to be a gruesome accident.  Soon Nica’s sister Barb and her largely dysfunctional family descend on the house to settle Sarah’s affairs. It soon becomes apparent that Barb is up to no good, hoping to talk Nica into selling her share of the estate and pressuring her to move into a supported living facility.  In the meantime Sarah’s daughter Alice has latched onto the Good Guy –Chucky, of course - which is still floating around in the house.  As the night goes on, Chucky begins killing his way through the household as the truth behind his vendetta against this particular family is slowly revealed.

I don’t want to talk too extensively about the plot here, because there are actually some fun twists that I wouldn’t want to spoil.  I’ll say that the kills are generally well done, if not extraordinarily inventive.  The exception to that is a dinner sequence at the beginning of the film in which Chucky has managed to spike just a single bowl of chili out of a table setting of six with rat poison. That scene, with its Russian roulette feel, is a lot of fun.  I also like the choice to have a wheelchair-bound protagonist, as it adds an extra element of physical danger from Chucky.  After all, an adult who is actually aware of Chucky should basically be able to kick a field goal with him and be done with it.  By having Nica in a wheelchair, it makes Chucky nearly her physical equal and really ups the tension of their encounters.

Special effects-wise, there’s a lot more puppet and prosthetic work than I’ve come to expect out of a modern film and it all looks great.  Even during the scenes in which Chucky is CGI, he moves right – which is to say “wrong” I suppose, because puppet Chucky has always had a distinctive gait.  These effects look far better than I would’ve expected from a straight-to-video movie.  There’s perhaps not as much gore as I would’ve expected, but I guess the Child’s Play movies have never focused too much on actual blood and guts.  I also admire the decision to play it slow with revealing Chucky – sure, the audience knows what’s up, but you don’t see Chucky speak in his own voice or move full-body on camera until pretty deep into the film.  It’s especially easy to rush the pacing in horror sequels, but they did a good job here.  When you finally see Chucky speak to Alice in Brad Dourif’s voice for the first time it’ll give you the willies, even though there’s been a quarter century of Chucky films before this.

Acting-wise…this is a horror movie.  Brad Dourif, of course, returns as the iconic voice of Chucky and is great as always.  That said, I watched Child’s Play 2 scant hours before watching this one and his voice has noticeably changed through the years.  It’s unavoidable, but you can certainly hear it.  Nica is played competently by Brad Dourif’s daughter Fiona.  Nica's paraplegia gives her a unique feel for a horror heroine, but unfortunately she doesn’t get very much character development through most of the film.  Summer Howell portrays Alice, the young child, and she does a good job, though the director has made what I feel is the right choice by largely keeping Alice off-camera throughout the film’s final act.  Pretty much every other character comes across as a terrible douche, so it’s hard to judge the actors on their performances there. 

If this movie has a serious flaw, it’s the ending…or rather, the endings.  It feels a little like Mancini had a “maybe” pile of several potential endings and then decided “what the hell, I’ll just use them all.”  Pretty much any one of them would’ve been okay, but taken together they actually kind of don’t make sense, especially the (otherwise fun) after-the-credits scene.

The ending notwithstanding, Curse of Chucky is not only one of the better Child’s Play films, it’s one of the better slasher movies to come out in the last decade.  It’s refreshing that they opted to do a true sequel instead of a reboot like so many other venerated horror franchises and that they didn’t try to reinvent the wheel by adding tons of extra mythology to the character.  It’s a Child’s Play movie –a recognizable, good Child’s Play movie- that feels right at home with the first three films in the series.  While Curse of Chucky may not be groundbreaking, it’s an unexpected return to form for a series I’d given up for dead.  It was a lot of fun and I recommend checking it out.
1.) Well, maybe not, but it sure seemed like it.

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