CULT OF CHUCKY (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Horror Violence, Grisly Images, Language, brief Sexuality and Drug Use

Directed by: Don Mancini

Written by: Don Mancini

Starring: Fiona Dourif, Michael Therriault, Adam Hurtig, Alex Vincent, Elizabeth Rosen, Grace Lynn Kung, Jennifer Tilly & Brad Dourif

In the realm of slasher series, most long-running horror franchises falter over time. Strangely, this has never really happened to the CHUCKY films, which have remained consistently entertaining and served as gory guilty pleasures. The first three CHILD’S PLAY movies were fun slasher flicks, BRIDE was a horror rom-com, SEED pushed campy limits to the friggin’ extreme, and CURSE OF CHUCKY was possibly the best direct-to-video horror sequel that I’ve ever seen. The comments made about CURSE also easily apply to CULT OF CHUCKY, the seventh(!) installment in this long-running slasher series about a possessed toy with a penchant for murder and a foul mouth.

After being framed for the murders of her family members, Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif) has been committed to an insane asylum and believes that Chucky (Brad Dourif) was a figment of her imagination. However, a killer doll did actually slaughter Nica’s family and its living severed head is currently in possession of original victim-turned-vigilante Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent). Things become stranger when another Chucky doll arrives at Nica’s asylum and begins talking, stalking, and slaying all over again. It’s up to Nica and Andy to get to the bottom of this blood-soaked mystery before Chucky plays a long-awaited game of “hide the soul.”

If you’re a fan of the CHILD’S PLAY series, then you’re bound to get a kick out of CURSE OF CHUCKY. This film has a ton of returning cast members/characters who aren’t merely included as fan service, but also further the plot along in new crazy directions. Though it’s not nearly as campy as SEED or as funny as BRIDE, CULT captures the creepy atmospheric suspense of 2013’s CURSE. That’s not to say that CULT is free of laughs and doesn’t fully embrace its wild plot revelations, because it revels in both and yet keeps a close focus on the ever-evolving series’ storyline.

It may sound weird to say that the seventh installment in a long-running slasher franchise is concerned about creating a good plot, but the reason for that is because series creator Don Mancini has been with this series since its beginning. Mancini has always found new and interesting places to take his pint-sized, plastic psycho killer and continues to do so in CULT. This film is completely entertaining, while also taking bold steps to move the franchise into more insane and unexpected directions.

CULT is also benefitted by a cast that clearly cares about delivering their best performances. While I’m not going to lie and say that the acting is flawless, I will say that most of these characters are compelling and deliver exactly what was required of them. Fiona Dourif plays the mentally unhinged, traumatized Nica as a protagonist worth rooting for. A returning Alex Vincent (who served as an awesome cameo in CURSE’s post-credits scene) steals the show as Andy, especially when he’s sadistically torturing the severed head of the killer doll that made his life a living hell. Be sure to watch for another post-credits scene too, which makes me hope that we’ll see an eighth installment from Mancini and company in the near future. The rest of the cast members (excluding Brad Dourif and Jennifer Tilly) range from good to mediocre in their moments.

I’d be remiss not to mention Brad Dourif (returning to voice Chucky again) and Jennifer Tilly (in the role of Tiffany who’s possessing Jennifer Tilly’s body). Dourif got lots of dark humored laughs out of the me, by injecting one-liners and sarcasm into his murders. Tilly is a bit underused, but still has a couple of shining moments that are sure to please long-time fans. As far as the murders go, this film (at least the Unrated version) delivers some pretty awesome kills. The weakest death is a pale imitation of BRIDE OF CHUCKY’s best scene, while the rest of the gory kills use things like scalpels, drills, and even Chucky’s plastic fists. The final third delivers images that fans never imagined they’d see in a CHUCKY film, making for some of the best highlights in the whole damn series.

Despite having a small direct-to-video budget, CULT OF CHUCKY looks mostly outstanding. There are a couple of shaky effects, mainly during an out-of-place nightmare sequence and the aforementioned kill that was stolen from BRIDE, but nearly all of the visuals look professional and worthy of a theater screen. Concerning the film’s narrative structure, there are a couple of slow moments and Andy’s storyline almost seems like an afterthought until the stellar final third. CULT is far from a perfect movie, but it’s near the top of the CHUCKY pillar and that actually means something for fans of this slasher series.

Some people have complained about Universal “mistreating” the CHUCKY series so far, by “dumping” these later sequels onto video shelves as opposed to giving them wide theatrical releases. While I’d love to see these CHUCKY films on a theater screen and I also complained about this in my CURSE OF CHUCKY review (back when this blog was just getting started), Universal deserves props for letting Don Mancini do his thing and still bothering to even fund these films. This is a niche slasher flick for a niche group of fans and delivers exactly what they (myself included) want to see. With an inevitable eighth film awaiting down the line (especially with the way that CULT concludes), I look forward to seeing what else Mancini and Universal can bring to the table. CULT OF CHUCKY is far better than it has any right to be and continues to deliver new highs in one of the most consistently entertaining slasher series ever.

Grade: B

SEED OF CHUCKY (2004)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Horror Violence/Gore, Sexual Content and Language

Directed by: Don Mancini

Written by: Don Mancini

Starring: Brad Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Billy Boyd, Redman, Hannah Spearritt, John Waters & Jason Flemyng

1998’s BRIDE OF CHUCKY delivered a refreshingly different tone in the long-running CHILD’S PLAY franchise. The follow-up to BRIDE, 2004’s SEED OF CHUCKY, cranks that over-the-top approach to already silly material up to the friggin’ extreme. SEED takes adds an ultra-meta tongue-in-cheek layer and gross-out sexual humor onto the horror-comedy execution. This results in the fifth CHUCKY flick being quite the unique beast in the series, while occasionally suffering from flaws that don’t work and pacing that drags in spots. There’s something special about a slasher flick that showcases its main killer going through domestic drama.

A big Hollywood movie is in production that features the now-animatronic Chucky (Brad Dourif) and Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly). The infamous plastic couple aren’t the only killer dolls around because Tiffany gave birth to a sharp-toothed offspring at the end of the BRIDE and that doll child is named “Shitface.” After Shitface (Billy Boyd) escapes from an evil ventriloquist (Keith-Lee Castle), he arrives at Hollywood and resurrects his parents. Desperate to inhabit human bodies, Chucky targets rapper Redman (played by Redman himself) and Tiffany eyeballs actress Jennifer Tilly (played by Tilly herself). All the while, poor biologically incorrect Shitface is searching for his gender identity (as son Glen or daughter Glenda) and winds up stuck in the middle of his dysfunctional family’s murder addiction.

SEED OF CHUCKY is the point of the franchise where CHUCKY doesn’t take itself seriously in any way, shape, or form. Sure, BRIDE OF CHUCKY was a rom-com told through a slasher lens, but it still had a semblance of continuity to it and tied itself in with the rest of the franchise. SEED is pretty unclear as to what universe this plot even takes place in, because there are mentions of the cemetery from the last movie and an amulet that was left in Shitface’s possession (somehow). That’s about all the continuity the viewer gets. SEED functions on the viewer not asking to many questions and simply sitting back to enjoy the crazy ride.

Indeed, SEED gets crazy. There’s the constant self-mocking of Jennifer Tilly in her performance as herself and the overly critical Tiffany (who looks up to Tilly as a role model and gets a rude awakening from the actress’s slutty actions). You have to commend Tilly for being willing to make fun of herself in such a ridiculous manner and SEED’s self-degradation towards her hasn’t stunted the actress’s desire to return the role of Tiffany for future roles in the series (popping up as a cameo at the end of CURSE and filling a bigger role in the upcoming CULT). Tilly arguably steals more of the show than Dourif’s expectedly entertaining vocal role of Chucky.

Speaking of which, Dourif is at his funniest as the domesticated version of Chucky. The script revels in the absurdity of placing a slasher killer into everyday family life. That’s what’s so special about the CHUCKY series as a whole. You never see Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Pinhead, or the various incarnations of Ghostface saddled with an angry wife and gender-fluid kid, or dealing with the struggles of dysfunctional family melodrama. You see all of this goofiness with Chucky. Dourif elicits lots of laughs as a result and is especially funny during a later meltdown scene. You see Chucky and Tiffany watching TV in bed together and we see Chucky taking Shitface/Glen/Glenda out on a “hunting” trip that results in one of the weirdest (yet oddly satisfying) cameos in the series. SEED is one hell of a strange slasher flick.

As newcomer Shitface/Glen/Glenda, Billy Boyd (who played Pippin in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy) lends his voice to the gender-fluid doll child. Shitface’s decision of choosing between the identities of Glen or Glenda remains strangely relevant in today’s political climate of transgender people being more open, whilst also serving as a deliberate nod towards one of director Ed Wood’s best known bad films. The rest of the supporting cast features Redman mocking himself, John Waters (who’s admittedly an avid fan of the series) plays a paparazzi scumbag, Steve Lawton as Tilly’s lovestruck limo driver, and Hannah Spearritt receives one of the film’s best scenes (a confusing phone call with both Tilly and Tiffany) as Tilly’s publicist.

SEED OF CHUCKY has plenty of solid jokes, but noticeably lacks in the kill department this time around. There’s a body count of about six people and only four of those moments really stick out in memorable ways. While those notable kills are fun, they’re over quicker than expected and don’t really milk the gory fun that BRIDE celebrated. Other kills are regulated to dream sequences and a fake movie scene (featuring a cameo from Jason Flemyng for some unknown reason) and these fake deaths feel like a waste of time. Another big complaint is that SEED almost wears out its welcome around the hour mark. Many funny moments elicit laughs, but a handful of references are tired and stale. One scene (in the finale) contains both a nod to THE SHINING and a lame homage to THE MATRIX that is more stupid than funny.

SEED OF CHUCKY is easily the weirdest installment of the CHUCKY series and will likely remain that way. This slasher sequel is ultra-meta, campy beyond belief, and not meant to be taken seriously in any way, shape, or form. It suffers from dull moments, certain jokes that fall flat, and a distinct lack of great kills. However, SEED also gives us a “family life” look at a slasher killer that elicits laughter from its premise alone and revels in the absurdity. I am glad that the sixth installment (the far better-than-expected CURSE OF CHUCKY) took the series back to an effectively creepy note and established strong continuity that ties everything together, but SEED is ridiculous fun for what it’s worth.

Grade: B-

BRIDE OF CHUCKY (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Horror Violence and Gore, Language, some Sexual Content and brief Drug Use

Directed by: Ronny Yu

Written by: Don Mancini

Starring: Brad Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Katherine Heigl, Nick Stabile, Alexis Arquette, Gordon Michael Woolvett, John Ritter, Lawrence Dane & Michael Louis Johnson

In 1988, CHILD’S PLAY introduced the iconic killer doll known as “Chucky.” Though CHILD’S PLAY 2 and CHILD’S PLAY 3 were fun follow-ups to that first slasher flick, they were both a step below the original. Ten years after its creation, the CHUCKY series returned to its former quality 1998’s BRIDE OF CHUCKY. This fourth installment had a distinct change in tone from previous CHUCKY entries. While the pint-sized plastic serial killer had previously made goofy quips and cheesy one-liners in the past, those pieces of humor are nothing compared to the deliberately over-the-top nature of BRIDE OF CHUCKY. This is straight-up horror comedy that has loads of laughs, some of the best kills in the series, and also pays homage to old school Universal monster movie BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. To put it quite bluntly, BRIDE OF CHUCKY is one of the best films in the consistently entertaining CHILD’S PLAY series.

A few months after the events of CHILD’S PLAY 3, long-deceased serial killer Charles Lee Ray’s former girlfriend Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) collects the bits and pieces of his Chucky doll form. With a little black magic and lots of stitches, Tiffany puts Chucky back together and brings him to life once again. However, things don’t quite work out as planned because Tiffany winds up dead and her soul is thrown into a female doll. As a result, Chucky and Tiffany road trip to Charles Lee Ray’s grave to recover a voodoo amulet that can transfer their souls into human hosts and they’re eyeballing naïve young couple Jesse (Nick Stabile) and Jade (Katherine Heigl) as potentially nubile new bodies.

BRIDE OF CHUCKY is far more clever than most folks might expect. Series creator and constant screenwriter Don Mancini structured his fourth CHUCKY installment as a romantic comedy with killer dolls and gory kills. This means that there are lots of misunderstandings that lead to funny hijinks alongside a developing relationship between couples Jade and Jesse…and Chucky and Tiffany. The way that these subplots weave in and out of each other is pretty damn entertaining to watch. There are also long awkwardly humorous moments where Jade and Jesse suspect each other of possibly being a serial killer, because bloody corpses are left in their wake. This is all very reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde…but with killer puppets, voodoo, and doll sex (yes, you correctly read that last bit).

To boot, BRIDE OF CHUCKY is directed in a fast paced manner that has plenty of style. The entire film looks slick and there’s a creepy atmosphere to it, even though the events are as ridiculous as you could possibly imagine from the film’s premise. Director Ronny Yu later went on to take the reigns of the long-anticipated FREDDY VS. JASON (another very fun slasher sequel) and his early sense for gory giddiness was showcased here. BRIDE’s soundtrack is also phenomenal with lots of rock and metal from groups like: Rob Zombie, Monster Magnet, Kidneythieves, Slayer, Stabbing Westward, Motorhead, Judas Priest, and more. This is one of the few movie soundtracks that I went to the trouble of purchasing during my teenage years and the rockin songs are incorporated in ways that perfectly jive with the film’s flow.

Brad Dourif is especially fun as Chucky in this fourth go-round, because he’s given extra room to goof off and kill to his heart’s content. The animatronics on Chucky (and Tiffany) are amazing and make you feel like you’re watching an actual performance…when it’s just one big bloody puppet show. It’s also worth noting that Chucky’s stitched-up, mutilated look is far nastier and cooler than his early clean-cut “Good Guy” appearance. Jennifer Tilly is perfectly cast as Chucky’s love-interest Tiffany. This colorful antagonist is a sadistic serial killer who finds a role model in Martha Stewart and maintains a sensitive side. The chemistry between Dourif’s Chucky and Tilly’s Tiffany is believable as these two psycho killers seem (literally) made for each other, resulting in lots of laughs and an ever-changing relationship dynamic. Also, there’s doll sex (which paves the way for 2004’s comedic SEED OF CHUCKY).

As far as the human characters go, Katherine Heigl is the biggest name here and this role was very early in her career. Heigl is fun as Jade, while Nick Stabile (who hasn’t been in many movies since this debut performance) is convincing enough as Jesse. The story’s main focus is on Tiffany and Chucky, whilst Jesse and Jade happen to be unwittingly stuck in the middle of the doll couple’s road trip/killing spree. The rest of the victims, er…I mean supporting characters, are all fun in their small bits of screen time. We get corrupt cops, a pair of swindling swingers, an over-the-top annoying goth, and a few more. There’s also a stoner (who regrettably doesn’t get offed) and he delivers one of the funniest scenes in the film.

As for the kills, BRIDE OF CHUCKY far excels above its predecessors. There’s loads of creativity thrown into each demise and specific scenes pay homage to past horror classics. From a darkly comedic electrocution set to BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN playing on the murder weapon (a TV) to a literal blood bath and one hilarious nod to a certain Clive Barker flick, horror fans are bound to have a great time in watching Chucky “getting lucky” (according to the poster’s tagline). BRIDE OF CHUCKY clearly wasn’t meant to be taken seriously and winds up as a very fun slasher sequel as a result. The 89-minute running time flies by and CHUCKY fans (who enjoy the goofier side of this already silly series) are sure to have a blast watching BRIDE!

Grade: B

CURSE OF CHUCKY (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Horror Violence, and for Language

30. Curse Of Chucky

Directed by: Don Mancini

Written by: Don Mancini

Starring: Brad Dourif, Fiona Dourif, Danielle Bisutti, Brennan Elliott, Maitland McConnell & Chantal Quesnelle

I can openly admit that none of the movies are great, but the CHILD’S PLAY series has a place close to my heart. I found that while other slasher franchises got stale or repetitive, Don Mancini (who’s written the series from the very beginning) has always found a way to take Chucky in interesting directions. Let me run a quick recap of how this concept has stayed entertaining for 25 years! The first film is essentially just a slasher with a killer doll and it’s a fun cheesy 80’s horror flick. The second is a very enjoyable sequel that follows in the logical aftermath of the first film. The third takes place at a military academy and while the weakest of the series, it’s still enjoyable. BRIDE introduced a dark humor element to the mix and wound up being a memorable piece of horror-comedy. The much maligned SEED followed, but I still found this to be a fun piece of camp, even though it sometimes got too over-the-top for its own good. With CURSE, Mancini has taken the series back to the horror roots and made a genuinely creepy thrill-ride that is a blast to sit through. It’s not great, but CURSE OF CHUCKY is a very fun film and winds up being the second-best in the entire franchise (right behind the first CHILD’S PLAY).

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Nica is a paraplegic living with her paranoid mother in their isolated run-down mansion. One day, a mysterious box arrives in the mail. In the package, lies the cursed doll that we all know and love. Less than 5 minutes into the film, Nica’s mother lies dead of an apparent suicide, while the Chucky doll ominously sits in the corner. It doesn’t take a hardened horror fanatic to guess what really happened and who’s really the culprit. Nica’s dysfunctional family consisting of her sister, her brother-in-law, her niece (Alice), a nanny, and an unwelcome priest, make their way into the mansion for the funeral arrangements. Turns out that the problems only began with her mother dying, because her sister is a conniving bitch, while her brother-in-law is eyeing the nanny with possibly impure thoughts in mind. While all this drama is going on, Chucky befriends young Alice and becomes her “friend to the end.” Without retreading too much familiar territory, the film then proceeds with Chucky executing a calculated plan to murder each and every member of the family, while Nica tries to find out a reason why he wants them dead.

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CURSE OF CHUCKY is connected to the previous films in the series in many ways and performs fan service by directly linking to the original in a somewhat surprising way (though I had kind of guessed why Chucky wanted to kill them all). We do see Brad Dourif as the serial killer, Charles Lee Ray, before he possessed the body of the Good Guy doll. There are also a couple of cameos (including a great bit after the credits finish rolling) that will make fans grin ear to ear. I certainly felt like cheering after the fantastic end-credits sequence. If you haven’t seen the previous films, then you might not dig CURSE OF CHUCKY as much as a fan of the series would. As a sequel, especially a direct-to-video one, this film holds its ground.

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Speaking of which, there is no earthly reason why CURSE OF CHUCKY should be going the direct-to-disc route. The production values, acting, and (most of) the effects are all top-notch. There was clearly care and heart put into this sixth entry in a well-known franchise. Unlike HELLRAISER or CHILDREN OF THE CORN, the CHILD’S PLAY films have never really stopped drawing in their target audience. If there’s any horror series that should be hitting direct-to-video, it’s those terrible RESIDENT EVIL films. There is no justice in the cinematic world for great horror films. This is the same world we speak of where MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN gets dumped into 100 discount theaters on its opening weekend and TRICK ‘R TREAT gets shelved for two years and then shoved onto DVD with little-to-no promotion. It’s a bit disheartening when YOU’RE NEXT is the only great wide-release horror film I’ve seen all year and it was an independent production that was stuck on the shelf for two solid years. CURSE OF CHUCKY should have been granted a bigger budget and currently be playing on 2,000 screens across the nation.

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On the negative end of the spectrum, some of the CGI used to make Chucky move is a bit cheesy looking. The animatronics still look great and so does the traditional midget-in-a-suit approach. There are also a couple of minor plot-holes near the conclusion, but these are overshadowed by the simply dark nature of the whole movie. This successfully takes a character that had become a literal joke of his former self and makes him creepy again. This is an EVIL Chucky and even though he has a couple of lame one-liners, he’s fairly creepy. He has no qualms with trying to kill a wheelchair-bound young woman and totally uses every resource he can against her, manipulating little things that she really can’t do anything about. Talk about cruel!

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While I won’t immediately side with everybody claiming that CURSE OF CHUCKY will revive the entire series and was fantastic, I will say that it’s a FUN time! The entire series (even when it was trying to be scary) was mainly FUN. Of course, the concept is silly. It’s a movie about a killer doll and it’s the sixth entry in a 25-year running slasher series. However, it’s a good time and I do recommend it for fans of Chucky! This is a good choice to watch this Halloween! Give it a look!

Grade: B

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