OCTOBER 9, 2013
GENRE: PUPPET, SLASHER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)
After the debacle of Seed of Chucky (the least attended entry in the Child's Play series), I figured Chucky would be dead until the inevitable remake, but I was delighted to be proven wrong when Curse Of Chucky was announced, as it would essentially be Child's Play 6 (no rebooting), and would retain the presence of Don Mancini, who had written every entry so far (unheard of in the horror genre) and would also be directing. Now, he also directed Seed, which should have given me pause, but his promise to return the series to its scary roots and largely leave the campiness of the last two entries behind was enough for me to give it a chance. And, I'm happy to say, it worked out well - this is the first time in the series' history that I've liked an entry more than the one before it (I know folks love Bride, but give me Andy Barclay - even the military academy variant - over Katherine Heigl any day of the week).
Even better, it's not an H20 kind of deal where they just ignore some of the sequels to stress that this was a "back to basics" approach. At first I assumed it almost HAD to be - how do you follow up the completely horror-free Seed in a scary film and not break continuity? Indeed, for the first half hour or so I was convinced that was indeed the case; Chucky was a pristine plastic doll once again, free of the scars he earned over the past couple of films, and there was nothing about Tiffany or Glen, or any other characters we've met along the way. But then, once heroine Fiona Dourif (a lovely, charming presence in her first lead role, and no her name is not a weird coincidence - she's Brad's daughter) starts to suspect that something is wrong with the Good Guy doll that was mailed to her and "adopted" by her young niece, she Googles "Chucky doll" and the first five entries match up to the events of the previous films (even the military academy! Yessss), putting to rest any fears that Mancini (and producer David Kirschner, another series mainstay) had opted to ignore the entries that weren't as well loved by the fans.
And there are more ties to previous entries, though spoiling them would be ruining your fun (unlike Dread Central and some other sites, who opted to put one such reveal in a headline). But the real surprise is that it actually dives into the character of Charles Lee Ray for the first time since the original Child's Play, which I found interesting as Mancini has previously said that he wasn't a fan of this concept (it was added by Tom Holland and other writers - Mancini's original script had no serial killer or voodoo). This allows Brad Dourif to appear on-screen in one of these films for the first time since 1988, and while the attempts to de-age him aren't entirely successful (the wig they gave him makes him look like Tommy Wiseau), it's great to see him still committed to this character, which could have been an easy paycheck for an actor of his abilities, something he also could have just turned down as the series continued (in 2004, Return of the King* was winning Best Picture right around the time he was doing his lines for a 5th Chucky movie!).
In fact, it's Dourif's continued presence that brings me to one of the odder aspects of this entry - the "Good Guy" voice is completely different. The usual lines ("I'm your friend til the end!") sound way off, even though there's seemingly no in-movie explanation for this (and would seemingly be an easy enough thing to duplicate). Similarly, his face is much different, even though it's the same doll (unlike in say, part 3, where his blood just went into a new doll). It's not that big of a deal in the long run, but it was kind of perplexing that they'd go out of their way to retain continuity for certain things but not even come close on others. That said, the puppetry behind the doll is pretty good; there are some unfortunate CGI touches on the face and at least one all digital shot that looks horrendous (I almost want to bet money that it was taken from the aborted video game), but otherwise they stick to a practical puppet just like in the old days, and considering the lower budget (about half of the money spent on the original - the previous "lowest budget" entry - and that's without even factoring for inflation) it's a pretty effective display of old and new tricks working together.
Faring even better with the limited funds is the set. The movie takes place almost entirely in one night and in one location, as Mancini wanted to put Chucky into a 1930's style "Old Dark House" movie, with constant lightning, creaking doors, windows opening on their own, etc. Hell there's even an inheritance subplot of sorts - Fiona's character is being visited on this night by her greedy sister, who wants her to sell the house (it belonged to their recently departed mother) and split the money. She brings along her husband, child, and nanny, and there's a priest (A Martinez) around for good measure - only thing missing is a Bela Lugosi-esque butler. And like those films, he milks the suspense for a while regarding the identity of the villain, except not quite as successful since we kind of know it's Chucky (though it would be ballsy to have the doll arrive but just be a doll, with a human character doing all the killing). Still, the best suspense bit in the entire movie is mostly Chucky-free - we see him pour poison into one of the bowls of chili that are about to be served, and then we get to watch everyone eat without knowing who has the poisoned bowl.
I do wish he made his grand re-appearance earlier - hands and feet are all we get until about the 50 minute point, and I get the thinking but at the same time - it's Child's Play 6, we don't need to milk it like Jaws. Plus, at 96 minutes its the longest entry, and didn't really need to be as the story only gets complicated (for lack of a better word) in the 3rd act, when the Charles Lee Ray stuff comes into focus. I thought this might have been because I was watching the unrated version, but (for a change!) the extra stuff IS the sort of thing the MPAA would have a problem with - there are some surprisingly gruesome kills that rated folks won't get to see in all their glory. The R rated version is also missing a fun post-credits scene (one without any sort of violence) for whatever reason, so make sure you're watching the unrated one (it runs 96 minutes instead of 94). Don't get it from Redbox!
The Blu-ray also has a few more bonus features than offered on the DVD. Both owners will get a pretty bland 15 minute EPK making of (hey, the actors all liked working together! Hey, the set was sort of like a character itself!) and some deleted scenes of little merit, but the commentary track by Fiona, Mancini, and FX man Tony Gardner is quite enjoyable - all bases are covered and Mancini offers some thoughts on what he was going for and why he opted to return to the darker style of the original (though he neglects to mention if the shot of Chucky sitting up behind Fiona was indeed a reference to Halloween! I tweeted the query but he didn't answer me) (UPDATE - he answered in the affirmative! Bump my non-existent grade up a half point!). He also explains why the remake never happened (legal issues between MGM and Universal), so hopefully that is dead forever and they can just move on with a 7th film (which he also teases). Exclusive to the Blu-ray are a pair of more interesting featurettes; one has the cast and crew discuss the legacy of the series and talk about their favorite kills (props to the actor who seems to be the only person besides me with a fondness for part 3), and the other shows how the puppet was created for this entry and how they blended a practical animatronic device and CGI for some shots (I'm still baffled why his face is totally CG for the electrocution scene - it doesn't look anything like the way he looks in the rest of the film).
I'm sure it's mostly nostalgia driving my appreciation for parts 2 and 3 (and being older, may also explain why I didn't care much for Bride or Seed), so for me the best possible approach for a new film would be to go back to the style of the original, which holds up nicely (I can tell when it's my nostalgia - this isn't one of those times). It's a shame Universal didn't think this could be a viable theatrical release (especially this year, when October is barren of major horror releases for whatever reason), but if the smaller budget meant they were able to do something a bit riskier (i.e. hiding Chucky for half the film), I'm all for it. It's not a home run, but it's the first time I walked away satisfied from a Chucky movie since I was 11 years old, so for that I'm pretty grateful.
What say you?
*Technically, he only appears in the extended edition of that one. But still.