In horror, a genre that often has no problem cranking out endless sequels and hiring endless go-getters to do so, writer-director Don Mancini is something of a rarity: a filmmaker who has willingly and enthusiastically maintained some control over the monster he has created. That monster is Chucky, the killer doll that just celebrated 25years in the schlock business. Mancini shared screenplay credit on Child’s Play (1988), but is referred to as the creator of Chucky and wrote four subsequent films himself, finally stepping up to direct the fifth, Seed of Chucky.
Despite Mancini’s dedication, the series, for a time, found itself stuck in typical horror doldrums: Child’s Play 2 and Child’s Play 3 are basically retreads of the original in the ’80s sequel mode, while Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky finally move the series forward, into the realm of dark comedy. At first, the non-theatrical follow-up Curse of Chucky, now on Blu-ray and DVD, seems like a step backward: it drops the comedy angle and picks up with a new unsuspecting family ready to be menaced by the Good Guy doll animated by the soul of a serial killer, always on the hunt for a child’s body to possess. By now, Chucky’s desire for corporeality seems counterproductive: there’s no way a human body could have survived the various and deserved tortures inflicted upon his rubberiness.
Maybe he wants out because that rubber body is creepier than ever: Chucky’s hair looks longer while his face and body look rounder, which has the effect of making him resemble an extremely disreputable baby. In any event, his target child is Alice (Summer Howell), whose paraplegic aunt Nica (Fiona Dourif, son of Chucky’s voice actor Brad Dourif) lives with her own mother Sarah (Chantal Quesnelle) in a remote, gothic-looking house.
That location is key to Curse of Chucky‘s limitations as well as its hidden strengths. The movie is indeed something of a back-to-basics reset of the series, with a dominant house set that Mancini admits is a result of a low budget and quick shooting schedule. But keeping Chucky in a mansion — during a thunderstorm, naturally — allows Mancini to play in a different corner of the horror genre. Curse of Chucky is basically a gothic drawing-room haunted house movie, complete with a buried family secret and endless shadows – only with a foulmouthed killer doll instead of classier ghosts.
Mancini navigates the house using slow, deliberate camera movements with occasional crazy flourishes (like a dolly up from a mangled body that Mancini rightly calls attention to on the commentary track); in current horror terms, it’s like the James Wan version of a Chucky movie. After two movies where the character served as a dark-comic cartoon, the killer doll stays silent for the first 45 minutes of this one, recalling the relative restraint of the very first Child’s Play.
Of course, that restraint means less in movie six. Curse of Chucky is more technically accomplished than you might expect this far into a horror series, especially for one heading directly to video. But Curse of Chucky largely isn’t, it should be noted, particularly scary. It has a few decent jumps and some inventively squirmy gore, but it feels more like an exercise in low-budget style than a truly involving horror movie.
Apart from Fiona Dourif, who makes a strong Last Girl, much of the acting is amateurish, and lines like “It’s a doll. What’s the worst that could happen?” — dialogue that would be close to non-sequitur territory out of a horror-sequel context — sound like they belong in a campier, more self-conscious entry. Curse of Chucky turns out to be different than any Child’s Play that came before, but while that makes it superior to the second and third movies, it’s not as much fun as the bonkers fourth and fifth.
Still, it’s proof that Mancini is, after two and a half decades, weirdly and endearingly excited to be making Chucky movies (as a director, this is only his second feature; he’s just getting started, I assume). On the commentary track, he sounds enthused about everything: between him and the younger Dourif, a lot of the movie gets described as cool or awesome. For a while, this spirit is infectious, but the commentary runs out of gas and eventually turns into one of those tracks where the filmmakers talk about what is happening on screen, not why or how it happened.
It’s too bad, because the semi-jumbled question marks that make up the movie’s semi-satisfying ending could have used a little more explanation from the series experts. “Voodoo Doll”, one of the disc’s special features, reviews the series so far without sorting out its continuity; certain turns in the final minutes of Curse of Chucky raise questions about when the present-day action of the movie takes place and how it reconciles with the last few movies. Then again, maybe Mancini is leaving some questions open for the 50th anniversary Chucky movie to answer — in 2038.