The Child’s Play series has always been the underdog of the post Halloween serial slasher films; the wicked tongued little brother to Freddy, and Jason, and Michael. It’s been nine years since the campy yet underwhelming Seed of Chucky struck longtime fans like a slap in the mouth. Now, just in time for Halloween, a sixth installment in the Chucky franchise is coming direct to the home and video on demand markets. Wise to the problems inherited by the previous film, series creator and writer Don Mancini (who has written all of the Child’s Play films and directs this one) has brought Chucky back to his horror roots, eschewing the overt camp embraced by more recent cinematic jaunts.
This new refocus on fright marks the crux of Curse of Chucky’s success. Yes Brad Dourif still cackles manically, dispensing foul mouthed insults while mangling unbelieving meat bags with whatever small weapons are at hand, but a decision was made to focus more on the creepy unsettling nature of a living doll than on a late game Freddy Krueger pun spewing machine. The result in an earnest effort to ground the series for a potential relaunch, but this is not a reboot, remake, or reimagining; it is a direct sequel which manages to continue the story while providing the perfect spring board from which to carry the series forward (should Curse prove financially successful).
Curse of Chucky stars Fiona Dourif (daughter of Chucky actor himself, Brad Dourif, and a success actress in her own right) as Nica, a wheelchair bound twenty something who lives alone with her mother Sarah (Chantal Quesnelle) in an opulently furnished home. Right from the start it is clear that mother and daughter both wear the scars of unfortunate circumstance. Nica has become a shut in because of her condition and mom Sarah has suffered past emotional trauma for which she is heavily medicated. When someone mysteriously mails them a pristine Good Guy doll, Sarah throws it in the garbage (not something one does to a certain Charles Lee Ray). Complicating matters is a visit from Nica’s money grubbing older sister Barb (Danielle Bisutti, Insidious 2), her despondent husband Ian (Brennan Elliott, Blood Shot), their young daughter Alice, and their amorous teen nanny, Jill (Maitland McConnell, Ninja Cheerleaders). The performances are consistent, with standout work from both Dourifs and Bisutti.
Wheeling around this powder keg spiked nitroglycerin cocktail is an adventure in impossible, and the audience doesn’t have to wait long for explosive shit to hit the fan. Yet Curse of Chucky succeeds upon the strength of subtlety. The paranoia orbiting Chucky’s true nature is played harder than an abused country fiddle, something the early films deftly stuck to, but which the latter films departed from. It works to build tension here and is a welcome return to form. Curse is also very reminiscent of the first Child’s Play film in that it refrains from showing Chucky’s autonomous movement in the early half of the film. When that shoe finally drops it becomes that much more unnerving as the spring has been tightly wound.
Apparently no one told cinematographer Michael Marshall (Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings) that Curse of Chucky would be direct to video because he has composed a compelling visual treat, well on par with (and even surpassing some) contemporary theatrical horror releases. Smart use of a lightweight Tim Burton-esk house setting (to which the film is contained) along with effective camera work give this five million dollar flick the airs of a production with three times the budget. Scoring duties were taken up by long Sam Raimi collaborator Joseph LoDuca, responsible for the music of the Evil Dead films as well as Hercules and Xena episodes. There’s absolutely a recognizable quality to the music for horror aficionados to be enamored by. A good effort is made to rely on practical effects, but there are two glaring instances of poor quality CGI which mar the film, causing the meager budget to show through at the seams, bluntly reminding you that this isn’t a modest budget theatrical release. While easily forgiven, it does smear immersion a bit.
Curse of Chucky is an earnest and effective effort by the original creator to bring the series back into focus. It’s a mostly successful effort that should frighten mainstream audiences and tickle longtime series fans in equal measure. Though not perfect, this film is entertaining and strives to set itself above its direct to video contemporaries. The usual manner of special features accompany the Blu-ray combo pack release including a gag reel, deleted scenes, three special features focusing on the series legacy, making of the film, and bringing Chucky to life. The commentary track features director/writer Don Mancini, puppeteer Tony Gardner, and star Fiona Dourif.
This is a solid addition to the series and worth a look during this horror holiday season. Curse of Chucky is already available via VOD and will be released for home video on October 8th as a DVD, a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital combo pack, and as a part of Chucky: The Complete Collection Blu-ray or DVD set. Don’t turn your back on this devil doll.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.