Written and Directed by: Don Mancini
Starring: Fiona Dourif, Danielle Bisutti, and Brad Dourif
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“It's time to play!"
As far as horror icons go, Chucky has always (perhaps appropriately) been one of the second string ankle-biters just nipping at the heels of contemporary big dogs like Freddy, Jason, and Michael. Maybe he never quite ascended to their heights, but, as it turns out, he’s going to get the last chuckle. Not only has he endured right alongside them, but, with Curse of Chucky, everyone’s favorite Good Guy Doll has also avoided the reboot treatment, which is something few other icons can boast at this point.
When series creator Don Mancini announced that he would helm a sixth film, it was easy to assume that Curse would at least be some sort of “soft” reboot; after all, it’s been nine years since Seed of Chucky, so you could forgive Mancini if he decided to disentangle the series from its continuity and produce a standalone entry, especially given his desire to take Chucky back to his more serious roots (well, about as serious as those roots could be considering the whole killer doll premise). However, Curse of Chucky allows long-time fans to have their cake and eat it, too, as it’s a full-course meal of old school Chucky thrills smothered in a gravy of continuity, which is both to its benefit and to its (slight) detriment.
Initially, it’s not quite clear what we’re dealing with: at some indeterminate but obviously modern time (the technology gives it away), paraplegic Nica (Fiona Dourif) receives a mysterious package containing the seemingly innocuous Good Guy Doll. Later that night, however, she finds her mother (Chantal Quesnelle) bleeding out on the floor, the victim of an apparent suicide. The tragic death brings the rest of the grieving family together, including Nica’s sister Barb (Danielle Bisutti). With her husband (Brennan Elliot, looking like the unholy union of Mark Ruffalo and Nathan Fillion), daughter (Summer H. Howell), and live-in nanny (Maitland McConnell) in tow, Barb arrives and immediately hatches a plan to boot Nica from the family manor in an effort to alleviate her family’s financial problems. But, Chucky’s gonna Chucky, of course.
If Seed of Chucky was Mancini’s Psycho riff by way of Glen and Glenda, then Curse finds him trying his hand at an Old Dark House movie, complete with familial drama, lurid twists (there’s even an adulterous lesbian subplot!), and, of course, plenty of bloodshed. Obviously, this is no whodunit, but that’s not to say that Mancini doesn’t engineer a fair amount of suspense and play off of the central dramatic irony to great effect. The early going is especially full of creepy bits that have Chucky mysteriously moving around and getting “lost,” much to the dismay of Alice, Barb’s daughter who receives him as a gift. Mancini treats Chucky as a novelty at first—his shifty eyes dilate, he subtly moves in the background. Even his first overt act is relayed in piecemeal fashion: we see his arms pouring some rat poison into a single plate of Nica’s big family dinner, which leads to this great, darkly entertaining sequence where Mancini’s camera essentially hides the poisonous plate as if part of a demented shell game.
Once Chucky does spring fully to life (via animatronics and CGI work), Mancini still keeps a good handle on the tone. Curse is dialed far back from the heightened splat-stick approach of both Bride and Seed, but Mancini carries no unwarranted pretenses about this franchise: from the beginning, Child’s Play was semi-serious at best, with Chucky serving as a foul-mouthed wisecracker, so it’s nice that Curse stays faithful in this respect. It reins Chucky in without cutting off his darkly comic balls, which is something the Nightmare remake largely missed out on in Freddy. Curse carries a fun and splattery mean-streak that delivers the requisite gory dispatches (some more over-the-top than others—there’s a great, practical decapitation early on, plus a silly death-via-electrocution that’s pretty ludicrous) and the accompanying Chucky barbs (Dourif slides back into the voice with ease).
While the low budget does catch up with Curse in a few notable areas (the scope of the film, some of the CGI gore and Chucky effects), it works as a throwback to the gory era that spawned Child’s Play and beyond. By the time we arrive at the sixth entry in a slasher series, we’re here to watch the killer do his thing, but Curse appreciably provides some compelling and likable would-be victims. Anchoring the cast is Fiona Dourif, whose casting carries some immediate and obvious intrigue (one might even consider it a sort of red herring); however, it’s quickly obvious that nepotism isn’t a factor. She’s the real deal and imbues the wheelchair-bound Nica with an admirable toughness and plenty of smarts. Strong characters have frequently been this franchise’s unsung bedrock (there’s a reason Andy Barclay feels every bit as important as Chucky), and Curse carries on that tradition. Without doing so, the film’s emotional climax wouldn’t be nearly as effective as it is—there are actual stakes here that result in some unexpected pathos down the stretch, a direction that represents a change of pace from the abject silliness of the previous films.
Those previous films haven’t been forgotten, though: make no mistake, this is part six and a direct sequel to Seed, even if that status winds up feeling a little perfunctory. In addition to the core story, Mancini has sprinkled in a little something on the side for long-time fans who might be trying to guess exactly how this film fits into the series. The obvious breadcrumbs show up once Nica begins her investigation into the mysterious doll on the internet, where she finds articles referencing the Barclay saga. That alone might have served as a nice nod, but Mancini keeps his foot on the pedal by cleverly tying Curse into the original Child’s Play in a Saw-esque turn of events. The revelation requires an exposition dump that slows the momentum a bit, but it at least provides a good explanation for what Chucky’s up to (even if it means he’s executing the most patient revenge scheme this side of Oldboy).
And Mancini doesn’t even stop there, as he eventually plows the pedal all the way through the floor by indulging in a rash of continuity porn that spreads even beyond the credits and may leave casual audiences fumbling. The various nods and scenes do feel a little tacked onto the main narrative (this is often true of most credit tags), with one bit existing as pure fan service. I doubt too many fans will be too terribly upset at the pandering, though, myself included. Mancini’s attempt to send fans home on a nostalgia buzz distracts from a pretty solid movie that doesn’t need it, but, if we’re being honest, this might be the last chance he has to put a bow on the franchise. Maybe I’m wrong about that—perhaps Curse will revitalize the property and keep it from the reboot treatment, but, failing that, Mancini has scrappily rigged together a sequel that can also serve as a fairly satisfying finale.
In an era where Chucky’s contemporaries were hastily shuttled into immortalization via reboot, it’s nice that we at least have a movie that serves as an outlier and as a possible proper finale. And, if we’re lucky, it could also provide a roadmap for other horror icons to get a second life via direct-to-video, which isn’t nearly the ignominious fate it once was. Curse of Chucky stands as a testament to that since it’s slick and energetic once it finally gets moving (it could perhaps use a bit more of a pulse here and there, but it otherwise moves well). Let’s just put it this way: it’s not like we’re in the same territory as the DTV Hellraiser series.
After debuting at some festivals over the summer, Curse of Chucky comes home to Blu-ray and DVD via Universal, who has put together a solid release that features both the rated and unrated cuts for the sequel (the latter adds about two minutes of footage). The high-def presentation is strong, as the 5.1 DTS-MA track is a lively, engrossing compliment to the sleek transfer. A host of supplements especially graces the Blu-ray disc, which features a few exclusives not found on the DVD: “Voodoo Doll: The Chucky Legacy,” “Living Doll: Bringing Chucky to Life,” and a storyboard comparison. These join a commentary track with Mancini, Fiona Dourif, and puppeteer Tony Gardner, a gag reel, some deleted scenes, and a making-of featurette entitled “Playing with Dolls.” Obviously, hardcore Chucky fans need no recommendation, but they can rest assured that Chucky is back in a sequel that does him justice. Buy it!
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