The October Diaries: Curse of Chucky

curse-of-chucky-2013-childs-play-6-poster-b Illustration by Max Brown
Blurbs by Sean & Christof

October 19th, 2014:
Curse of Chucky

Year: 2013
Director: Don Mancini
Format: Blu-Ray
From IMDB: After her mother’s mysterious death, Nica begins to suspect that the talking, red-haired doll her visiting niece has been playing with may be the key to recent bloodshed and chaos.

Christof’s Take:

For lack of a better analogy, Curse of Chucky is the Skyfall of the Child’s Play franchise.

This is a sequel, but one that acts like a reboot. It pays respect to its roots while elevating the overall quality you’ve come to expect from a Chucky movie, and ultimately contributes a more well-rounded sense of origin.

This movie both takes itself and its roots seriously, while acknowledging its silly history. At one point, a character says, “Yeah, the 80’s were awesome.” It’s pointing us back to the hey-day of original horror, back to thee original Child’s Play, the only one to come out in the 80’s. It’s almost as if the film is saying it is backwards compatible with older horror-nerd-mindsets.

Don Mancini, who wrote the entire series – included the first – takes us back to the fearful innocence of the original premise, where it was just the notion of an evil doll creeping around a house, when it was less about hearing Brad Dourif’s voice say nasty words that come out of Chucky’s doll-mouth. (Not that there isn’t some of that in the original.)

Mancini lets the audience marinate here in the polished simplicity for a while. And it has a surprising degree of tact for a Chucky movie. I’d argue that its scope widens as it narrows, keeping the plot contained mostly to a large spooky mansion with a new set of sympathetic and semi-sympathetic characters elevates the tension, or brings it back period. (For example, Bride of Chucky seemed far more concerned with sight-gags like a doll smoking a joint than getting your pulse up. Although, it should be noted that I haven’t seen Seed of Chucky [bad movie-goer, I know] so I can’t say how tense that one gets.)

Curse of Chucky has one of the most tense dinner scenes that I’ve ever been lucky enough to witness. Chucky has put poison in one of six bowls of chili. He has to scurry away before moving onto the second bowl when he hears someone coming into the kitchen. The bowls are brought out and we have no idea who has been given the poison chili – a paraplegic protagonist, her sister, her brother-in-law, a priest, a nanny, or a sweet an innocent child.

We don’t find out who got Chucky’s special ingredient for some time, while listening to a sinister score reminiscent of both the beating of a pulse and the ticking of a clock. Brilliant movie-making alert: there is an over head shot of the circular table. The shot rotates evenly. The motion of the frame combined with what’s inside of it creates a perfect moment where a dinner table looks like the barrel of a gun – each of the six bowls a chamber, and only one chamber loaded, evoking a game of Russian Roulette – a game only Chucky and the audience know is being played.

Show me a more unnerving and emotionally rattling scene of people eating chili, and I’ll make you a T-shirt that says, “Chili Cinema Afficianodo #1″, but until that day, I’m giving the gold medal for chili-horror to Curse of Chucky.

I won’t say anymore about this scene, except to say it is followed by one of the very best death scenes of the month.

When we are still being introduced to our characters, we find out that Nica, our lead, never completed her thesis… on completion anxiety. Apart from the character-based wit present in such a detail, one could argue it also extends to the franchise as a whole. The Chucky franchise has gone on for some time, and even if this particular movie starts out with that reboot vibe, it definitely ends as a pure sequel that turns into continuity porn. But it also reveals new information surrounding the first movie and the back story of Charles Lee Ray that really works, and doesn’t feel like a cheap reach. It strives to elevate franchise’s ceiling and thereby raises the roof. (So sorry.)

Following up on this completion anxiety idea, the movie seemed to not want to end. It ends several times. To get the most bang for your buck, stay for the post-credits ending. Child’s Play fans likely won’t be disappointed.

Curse of Chucky (Child's Play 6)

Sean’s Take:

A short script to set the stage for my thoughts…

FADE IN:

SOME PERSON: Hey Sean, what are some of your favorite movies?

SEAN: Tough question, PT Anderson and Wes are great, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is a bible of a movie and I loved Holy Motors from a couple years ago. And then, of course, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a the kind of achievement that lords over the rest of cinema from on high.

SOME PERSON I’M MORE HONEST WITH: Hey Sean, what are some of your favorite movies?

SEAN: I don’t know, there’s a bunch. Child’s Play for sure.

FADE OUT.

So, yeah. I’m a fan of this franchise. I have come to admire its commitment to continuity and, after watching Curse of Chucky, my admiration has reached new heights. I was initially hesitant with this entry because I had the impression that it was going to be a reboot type deal and I don’t appreciate the rebooting of certain properties (looking at you Robocop). Thankfully, it subverted these expectations to glorious effect by rope-a-doping me into thinking I was looking at a fresh take, then surprising me by being a sequel. Already, right there, I give it credit. I’ve never had the twist of a movie be that I was, in fact, watching a sequel instead of a remake.

And this isn’t just “it exists in the same world” continuity, this movie expands the franchise mythology without doing harm to what had already been established. It even manages to bring elements from the first film full circle. In short, it was incredibly respectful to each of the five other films that compose this series. Very few franchises outside of The Fast and the Furious are this committed to the extended, ridiculous, worlds they’ve built for themselves.

Much of this credit has to be given to series mastermind Don Mancini, who wrote every film (and directed the last two). He took this franchise to some very unconventional places, striking satirical and ludicrous atmospheres along the way. At one point Chucky even marries actress Jennifer Tilly and starts a family. These more off-the-rails sequels weren’t my favorites, but I didn’t begrudge Mancini’s willingness to experiment with genre conventions.

It’s also just nice to see a filmmaker hunker down and make a home for himself within a franchise — one he’s lived in now for over two and a half decades. Most directors would have made a name for himself with the goofy killer doll movie and then go on to launch themselves into new successful filmic arenas.  Mancini had the smarts to know how much good work can be done with something as simple (and bankable) as a killer doll.

Brad Dourif returns to voice Chucky, as well as appearing in flashbacks as serial killer Charles Lee Ray. In a film that features layers of mythology and a thematic through-line that pokes fun at itself (completion anxiety is a running joke — and a funny one considering it’s being uttered in the most recent movie in a twenty-six year-old franchise), they manage to add one more layer by having our wheelchair bound heroine be played by Fiona Dourif, Brad’s daughter in real life. So, what we have is a film where a killer doll voiced by the same man since 1988 tries to kill a character played by that voice’s daughter in real life — a woman who must’ve effectively grown up with the franchise, listening to her father torment and kill people during her formative years.

One more final post-credit scene even brings back a character from the first film for a token appearance, and this is where I got initially protective. This character is, largely, why I love the franchise and I couldn’t stand the idea of them inserting him (being played by the same actor, now all grown up) just so they could kill him in a goofy throwaway moment. I should’ve trusted Mancini though. He handles the scene just right and I’m pretty sure that’s because Mancini loves his characters just as much as I do, probably even more.

Sign me up for the next six installments.

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