Blu-ray Review: Curse of Chucky
Don Mancini's Curse of Chucky, the sixth film in the notorious Child's Play series (also the first to go straight to video), now on Blu-ray, is the first Chucky movie since 2004's bonkers Seed of Chucky. To offer a brief recap of the series so far: The first movie (directed by Tom Holland) was controversial and scary, following the exploits of a hot Christmas toy that became possessed by the soul of a dangerous serial killer named Charles Lee “Chucky” Ray. The second film (also very good) continued the story and upped the body count. The third film had Chucky stalking his now teenaged owner at a military academy. Child's Play 3 is easily the worst in the series.
The fourth film, 1998's Bride of Chucky, was made in the post-Scream era, and shifted the series toward a more comedic and self-aware tone, featuring Jennifer Tilly as Chucky's babe-turned-doll bride, and a lot of snarky jokes and references to other horror movies. The fifth film, Seed of Chucky, pushed the comedy and self-awareness to a near absurdist level as Chucky and his bride Tiffany began to stalk the real-life Jennifer Tilly (?!) and impregnate her with the soul of their androgynous child Glen/da (Billy Boyd).
While Bride of Chucky is hugely enjoyable and funny, I think most audiences kind of winced at the broad Hollywood satire on display in Seed of Chucky, lamenting that a once-scary conceit had devolved into a parody of a parody of itself. There are things to admire about Seed of Chucky, but one thing can be said for sure: It's not scary.
Curse of Chucky, however, made 13 years since the last film, shifts back to the original intent of the series: actual horror. It's scary to think that a living doll may be stalking around your house trying to kill you, and Don Mancini tries to reclaim the fright mantle with a small amount of success. Perhaps largely through financial necessity, Curse of Chucky takes place almost entirely in one location – a spooky remote house – where the doll Chucky arrives inexplicably by mail one day. His face and outfit are not the stitched-up mess that they had been in the last two movies, so this is either a prequel, or Chucky somehow got plastic surgery in the interim. That question is answered over the course of the film, but I won't tell you exactly what it is, as not to spoil a good plot reveal.
The main character of the film is Nica (Fiona Dourif, Brad's daughter) a wheelchair-bound agoraphobe who has just lost her mother. Her money-minded and opportunistic older sister (Danielle Bisutti) wants to sell the house, and has a few dark secrets of her own. Also on site are the brother-in-law (Brennan Elliott) a kindly priest (A Martinez), a young niece (Summer Howell), and a sexy nanny (Maitland McConnell). Over the course of the film many of these people will be stalked and/or killed by Chucky. Eventually, it will be revealed why Chucky was sent to this particular house, and what his ultimate plan is in killing the inhabitants. There are several flashbacks as well, incorporating footage of Brad Dourif (traditionally Chucky's voice), who hasn't been seen on screen in this series since 1988.
The film is somewhat hampered by its low budget. The seams do show, so to speak, in several scenes, and throughout you can tell that the filmmakers may be stalling for time. In an early scene, for instance, wherein the family sits down for a (gross looking) chilli dinner, we linger on their mouths waiting to see which one may have been recently poisoned, and the scene just stretches on and on, beyond fright and into dullness. There is also a character who vanishes from the plot partway through, and is never found again. One suspects this would have to be due to some sort of last-minute re-write.
Despite the occasional shabbiness, though, it at least tries to be edgy and scary and at least somewhat slick. The practical effects on the Chucky doll are still a delight to watch, and seeing his little doll hands wiggle around knives, and seeing his creepy doll face moving to the voice of Brad Dourif is still unnerving. There are also a few creative kills beyond the usual stabbings and slashings. One involves a small camera that is hidden on Chucky's body, perhaps a first in the horror movie world. Mancini is clearly trying to make the best film he can, attempting in the process to claim the Chucky legacy back into the horror fold.
In terms of horror myth, Curse of Chucky feels more important than even some of its more well-moneyed big-screen brethren (like I said, Child's Play 3 is pretty bad). Indeed, the multiple endings tie Curse of Chucky back into the series in an unexpected way, involving a cameo you may or may not expect. In terms of actual scares, some of them are actually effective. In terms of its overall impact, though, the low budget does make it feel much smaller and more trifling than perhaps it ought to.
Be sure to watch through the credits, however, and be sure to watch the Blu-ray's “director's cut,” otherwise you'll miss the biggest post-credits stinger in years, and also another cameo by someone even more unexpected than the last. Mancini is good about paying attention to where his series has been, careful not to ignore its history, which is more than I can say for something like, say, Friday the 13th.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his weekly articles Trolling, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.