You can't keep a Good Guy down. Writer/creator Don Mancini is back in the director's chair for only the second time, after his debut on 2004's horror comedy crossover, Seed of Chucky. The first outing for everybody's favourite demonic doll is still the best of the franchise, even if 1998's third sequel, Bride of Chucky, runs it a close second. After the disappointment of 2004's lacklustre entry in the series, Curse of Chucky finds us back in traditional horror territory, with Don taking his first stab at the slasher sub-genre.
Brad Dourif reprises his role as both the voice of Chucky and Charles Lee Ray, in a film that promises to shed more light on the characters we've grown to love over the years. Brad's real life daughter takes centre stage, and fans of the Child's Play series can expect a few surprises thrown in for good measure. Online rumours suggested that the sixth instalment would take place after the events of part three, but this proved to be nothing more than a smokescreen. Curse of Chucky takes place after the events of Seed, furthering the adventures of our vertically challenged friend to the end. "It's a doll. What's the worst that can happen?"
Nica (Fiona Dourif) is grieving over the apparent suicide of her mother when her older sister, Barb (Danielle Bisutti), arrives with her family in tow to settle their mother's affairs. As the sisters butt heads over Nica's plans for the future, Barb's young daughter comforts herself with a grinning, red-haired talking doll named Chucky. The doll arrived in the mail a few days earlier, and as a string of brutal murders begins to terrorize the house, Nica suspects he may hold the key to the bloodshed. What she doesn't know is that Chucky has a personal score to settle. He's determined to finish a job he started more than 20 years ago, and this time he's going to see it through to the bloody end.
Mancini's budget for Curse of Chucky was a lot lower than previous instalments, which seems to have worked in the film's favour, because with Curse he has been forced to streamline the filmmaking process. Curse of Chucky drops the cross-country adventures of Tiffany and Glenda in favour of a single location. Fortunately, it's a really creepy one. Nica's family home is both gothic and eerie, possessing more personality than the entire human contingent of 2004's muddled misfire. There are only a handful of characters in Curse, but they're given plenty of room to breathe, and Mancini weaves a dark and delirious tale of deception around them.
Writing has always been Mancini's strong point, and for all of Seed's failings, it did remain consistently funny. I still regard Bride of Chucky as one of the freshest and funniest films I have ever seen. The problem with the Child's Play series - a common concern in the world of mainstream horror - is that somewhere down the line it lost its own identity. Fresh from the unexpected success of Bride of Chucky, the cast and crew forgot that they were trying to scare people. As with the majority of 80s horror icons, Chucky had become a victim of his own success. He was fast becoming a household name, a celebrity figure if you will, and it soon became clear that only a return to traditional horror would prevent him from becoming the next Freddy Krueger.
The opening act does take a little while to find its feet, with Chucky sidelined for the first half of the movie. His presence is always felt though; lurking in the shadows as he bides his time in the corner of the frame. Mancini clearly wants to keep his killer contained, and to do so he places a lot of emphasis on turbulent family dynamics. Chucky orchestrates the madness from the shadows, setting up a string of - undercooked - set pieces that fail to engage in the way that they should. We should applaud Mancini for trying to build a sense of dread, but chances are you'll be wishing the real Chucky had come to light a little sooner. That said, Chucky's arrival is well worth the wait. Mixing token CGI with traditional puppetry, this fresh and fiendish take on Chucky is certainly more devilish by design.
Just as important to the Child's Play series, Chucky retains his twisted sense of humour, but it takes a good fifty minutes for his personality to shine through. Mancini lays the darkness on thick in Curse of Chucky. Thunderstorms loom overhead, lightning strikes and rain lashes down. Chucky's revival embraces the conformities of horror cliché, but it does so with a knowing glance and a spring in its step. Mancini teases us for the first hour, much like he did with the original entry in the series. Maybe we have the budgetary restraints to thank for that, or perhaps we should give Mancini a little credit this time out. Either way, Curse of Chucky takes its time to set up the characters, convolution and carnage. It's a welcome return to form for all things Chucky, and the final act delivers on its promise of death and destruction.
There are some neat twists along the way, welcome touches that leave little doubt as to Curse of Chucky's position in the Child's Play timeline. A double ending is likely to frustrate casual viewers, and the first of two cameos might feel like an act of desperation to some. This unexpected appearance actually makes perfect sense if you're up to date with your Chucky lineage, and those that stick around will be rewarded by a welcome footnote that caters for long-term fans of the franchise. Rumours suggest that the next instalment will cure our completion anxiety, but only time will tell if it comes to light. One thing's for sure, we haven't seen the last of Chucky.
"Hi, I'm Chucky. Wanna play?" The original Child's Play is still the best of the bunch, but Curse of Chucky more than makes up for the mistakes made on Seed. It would seem that Chucky has found a home in horror again, but for those that remain unconvinced, we'll let Chucky have the last line. "Go ahead and shoot! I'll be back! I always come back... but dying is such a bitch!" AW