If I’d been asked to look at a line-up of all the iconic slasher movie monsters and guess which one would somehow still be thriving almost three decades later, the ginger killer doll Chucky would likely have been at the bottom of my list. Yet here we are, 29 years after the original Child’s Play and there’s a new Chucky movie hitting shelves that’s actually quite damn good—while Jason and Freddy have been remade, rebooted, and lost. The reason for this comes down to one person: Don Mancini. While most horror franchises tend to get passed from one group of disinterested writers-for-hire to the next until all the good will is sucked from the series, Mancini has stuck by Chuck. He’s written every single Chucky outing, even doubling down to direct the last three. Somehow Mancini keeps Chucky alive and fresh and maintains continuity without too much convolution. It shouldn’t be possible, but this little bastard of a doll has lasted through seven movies and the latest shows no signs of Mancini slowing down.
A big reason for the endurance of the Chucky franchise is the way in which Mancini cleverly reinvents each sequel to fall into a different subgenre of horror. The first movie was a mysterious evil doll picture, the second was a splatstick slasher, the third wove in war movie tropes, the fourth was a self-aware serial killer couple comedy, the fifth was a Hollywood pisstake, and the sixth was a surprisingly minimalist work of psychological horror. As for the Mancini’s latest Cult of Chucky? Well, this one is a mind-bending nightmare that makes viewers question reality through a variety of surreal diversions. It’s set in an asylum and manages to keep viewers off balance and unhinged despite the fact that they’ve already seen over a dozen hours of Chucky horrors before now.
Mancini done good.
Once again Fiona Douriff stars as Nica, the wheelchair-bound victim of Chucky. After her entire family was bumped off by the doll last time, she’s been put into an asylum following an insanity plea where she is to be treated until she accepts that killer doll stuff was nonsense. That means electric shock therapy, a collection of creepy inmates, and a sleazy therapist who buys a Good Guy doll as a therapeutic tool. Believe it or not, that’s a bad idea, with Chucky (Brad Douriff) back in action killing up a storm in the hospital. Or is he? Whether it’s all part of Chucky’s plot or Nica’s delusion, it’s tough to tell what’s really happening. On top of all that things are complicated by a subplot in which Andy (Alex Vincent, reviving his childhood role from the first two Child’s Play romps) has the severed head of Chucky on a spike in his home, regularly torturing the remnants of the evil doll out of revenge. So is that Chucky? Is Andy delusional? Is Nica? Oh and why is Jennifer Tilly back, possibly playing herself?
Obviously, with this being a Chucky flick, the answers are pretty simple, if not necessarily predictable. Still, Don Mancini does a wonderful job of keeping audiences guessing and building up a sumptuously psychotic atmosphere. Always a clever writer, Mancini has also slowly grown into an impressive visual storyteller over the course of directing the last few films. Curse of Chucky let him flex his Hitchcockian suspense and atmosphere muscles, while Cult of Chucky lets Mancini cut loose with Brian DePalma level cinematic excess with surrealist digressions into almost Dario Argento level horror psychedelics. Spit screens, acid-trip nightmares, labyrinthine white sets designed to pop with red blood, no technique is too off-kilter or inappropriate for this oddball sequel. Mancini and his team are clearly having a ball and it all works. Despite a few wonky digital shots, the flick is so stylishly mounted that it’s hard to imagine this was a low budget direct-to-DVD feature. This thing easily could have played theatrically.
Still, at least by going straight to streaming and discs, The Cult of Chucky plays primarily to the fans of the series who will enjoy it the most. Mancini fills the script with in-jokes and nods to the franchise that won’t work for outsiders. The unrated release also allows him to cut loose with wild graphic gore and disembowelments that likely would have irritated the MPAA. The mixture of horror and sly humour never dips too far into irreverence like previous sequels. The movie is ultimately rather chilling and enjoyably trippy. The cast is wonderful with both Douriffs delivering the goods in roles central to the series, Tilly vamping it up as usual, and Alex Vincent proving to be surprisingly strong for a grown child actor. It’s all quite well made and is a sly and subtly subversive horror romp.
But of course, this is ultimately a Chucky delivery system and fans shouldn’t be disappointed. The puppet effects are fantastic with only minimal CGI. The character is just the right mixture of sadistically frightening and sardonically funny. There’s a reason the character endures. He’s an endearingly creepy movie monster that taps into the inexplicable fear of dolls and obsession with serial killers that oh so many horror fans share. Cult of Chucky “really nails the character’s appeal, finds a new world worth shoving Chucky into, and somehow lands on an ending both satisfying for this entry as well as setting up a potential sequel filled with delightfully fresh and perverse possibilities. Honestly, there’s really no reason why Chucky 7 should be this good but dammit, Don Mancini finds away. Well done you big, beautiful weirdo.
As for the Blu-ray of Cult of Chucky? Well, the movie looks and sounds beautiful in HD, enough so that you can’t help but wish it had played in theatres at least once (if only to hear a large group of people respond to the big gore gags). Oh well, at least the disc has some good special features to please fans. Three deleted scenes are tossed in that essentially amounts to a cute little subplot that wasn’t necessary. There’s a seven-minute “making of” featurette that’s better than most brief EPK features since everyone involved is clearly so happy and pleased to be making such a crazy Chucky movie. A five-minute doc on the puppets comes next which gets into surprising detail about the impressive artistry behind bringing those plastic props to life. Finally, there’s a very sweet and far too brief doc by Kyra Gardner (daughter of lead Chucky puppeteer and makeup artist Tony Gardner) about the families of children who have grown up around the production of the Chucky movies. It really should be longer, but it also appears to be a student film. Oh well.
Best of all is an audio commentary from Don Mancini and Tony Gardner so filled with playful jokes and details about the production and inspiration behind Cult of Chucky that it’s almost as much fun as the wonderfully twisted sevenquel itself (and more than makes up for all the docs being so pitifully short). Overall, the disc is a damn fine Halloween treat for those who love the world’s most famous killer doll. It’s truly amazing that Don Mancini keeps finding ways to make Chucky movies just unpredictable enough to justify milking the franchise further. How much longer he’ll be able to do it is a reasonable question. Hopefully at some point he gives the series a proper ending before things get stale. For now, it’s amazing that the series is still going, picking up new generations of killer doll fans along the way. God bless Chucky and Don Mancini. May they haunt our Halloweens and subvert the joys of children’s toys for bad taste genre romps for years to come.
Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Pill’s take on Kingsmen: The Golden Circle, American Made, and It! He also had a chance to sit down with Guillermo Del Toro. Check out his interview here!
Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!
CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!