The latest Chucky movie, Cult of Chucky, has been released to the horror delight of the killer doll’s many, many fans. It’s been a long road to get to seven movies. While it’s natural for any long running film series to experiment and change tones from one chapter to another, it’s hard to think another that has evolved as much as Child’s Play.
So, how successful has the Child’s Play/Chucky series been through the decades in adapting itself to the times and garnering fans across generations? To find out, let’s rank and analyze the series from the original trilogy; Bride of Chucky, Seed of Chucky, and Curse of Chucky, and expand outward as we look from the Best of Chucky to his very worst…
6) Seed of Chucky (2004)
It’s time for a lesson in the unintended consequence of unprotected doll sex. More than that though, Seed of Chucky is a lesson about how you can sometimes take the joke too far. Seemingly drunk with success following Bride, writer/director Don Mancini leaned hard into the changes he made to the series: more jokes and more winks to the audience to make sure they were in on those jokes.
So where did it go so horribly wrong? Like a lot of entries in long-running series, Chucky seemed to forget what it was all about, and tried to be about everything. Suddenly, this series was a Hollywood satire as the “I.R.L.” Jennifer Tilly is starring in some kind of film based on the in-movie murder spree/urban legend of the Chucky and Tiffany dolls. It’s also a family sitcom about Chucky and Tiffany reuniting with their child, Glen, and trying to be a “normal” non-murderous family with hilarious, counter-productive results.
Glen is possibly the best part of the film. A kind-hearted Pinocchio figure with the voice of Billy Boyd, Glen is tortured and enslaved as a ventriloquist dummy named “Shithead” until he sees his parents on TV and makes a break for it. Glen doesn’t want to kill, he can’t even swat a fly, but Glenda, you see, can. Yes, in a painful homage to Edward D. Wood Jr., Glen has split-personality as the female Glenda, who is every inch the homicidal maniac her parents are.
The new family dynamic might have given the Chucky series some new bite. Instead, we get cheap pot shots at Britney Spears, which now, given her practical disappearance from the pop culture landscape, seems tired and petty. At least Chucky didn’t end up the same way.
5) Child’s Play 3 (1991)
First of all, Justin Whalin does not look like an older version of Alex Vincent. This must be said right away. While, Vincent had a quiet innocence, which, admittedly, was helped by his young age, Whalin looks like one of those early 90s surfer dudes who’s well-tanned, well-coiffed, and too dim to be convincing as a kid that’s seen too many horrors to count. Even Chucky’s bored with Andy in this one.
If the script and story suffer, it’s because Don Mancini was put to work writing part 3 almost immediate after part 2. The studio, evidently feeling that they struck horror gold with the second outing, wanted to strike while the iron was hot. Picking up several years after part 2, Andy’s status as a problem child sends him to a military academy where he encounters the usual suspects: sociopathic upper classmen, his cowardly roommate, the saucy hot chick, and Tyler, a kind-hearted boy who Chucky plans on body-napping. Or, as the doll himself puts it, “Chucky’s gonna be a bro!”
If that casual racism isn’t a turn-off, then you will likely make it to the end of the movie which takes place at, of all places, a carnival funhouse, one of the most over-used horror movie settings for a climactic final battle against the killer. On top of that, Andrew Robinson is here after bouts with both Pumpkinseed and Pinhead. He plays the maniacal barber that walks though the cafeteria measuring the boys’ cuts to make sure they’re regulation. Don’t worry, he’s only slightly pervy.
There are occasional moments of inspiration, particularly Chucky’s first kill of the movie, which is the teasing tortuous murder of the CEO of Play Pal Toys. Otherwise though, this Child’s Play felt, well, played out. Something pretty drastic would have to be done if the series was to progress further, which, obviously it did.
4) Child’s Play (1988)
Submitted for your approval: a killer on the run from the cops who hides in a toy store. Shot twice and on the verge of death, he uses voodoo and a powerful amulet to transfer his soul into the only, remotely human thing available: a Good Guy doll. Charles Lee Ray passes from infamy into legend when he awakens as Chucky, a living doll that becomes a pox on the life of 6-year-old Andy Barclay after a birthday the kid will never forget.
Now “killer doll” is a pretty serviceable concept, even if the effects work of the time seems to generally let down the film, but what really drags on the original Child’s Play is the police investigation. The humourless cop played by Chris Sarandon does exactly what he needs to do, dig into the exposition and get to the bottom of Ray’s dalliances with the mystic arts. This isn’t Criminal Minds though, and we don’t need to get into the mechanics of how Chucky does what he does. It’s also fairly certain that Mancini’s research into voodoo practices, if any was done, was specious at best.
And the movie is far too straight given the concept. Is it a police drama? Is it a slasher movie? Is it a Twilight Zone episode? Even Chucky holds back having apparently not yet achieved at this point his masters in punning, although he does tell Andy at one point that, “This is the end, friend,” a spin on the Good Guy catchphrase. This original Child’s Play shows some signs of inventiveness, but it’s really not sure what tone it wants to take. Many times it feels like the movie is stopping to ask the audience: “Are you guys sure you’re buying this?”
It’s a solid beginning though, and it laid out a lot of ideas that the sequels were able to follow-up on. It also taught us a valuable lesson: no matter how desperate you are, it’s never okay to buy a doll off a bum in the alley behind your work.
3) Bride of Chucky (1998)
As proof of just how deeply Scream changed the horror game, look at Bride of Chucky. It took a solid, serviceable horror film series about a scary doll, and turned it into a self-referential Bonnie and Clyde story that was goofy as well as gory. The change seemed to suit the Chucky series, so did the evil doll’s new Frankenstein-like stitches, and Bride became the most successful of the Child’s Play films.
Jennifer Tilly, then best known for her role in the highly-acclaimed Bound and an Academy Award nomination in the same year for Bullets Over Broadway, plays Chucky’s long-lost girlfriend Tiffany. Through a series of hilarious and disturbing misunderstandings, she ends up in a doll too, which leads to an inexplicable road trip cross-country featuring a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Katherine Heigl and John Ritter as her none-too-subtly inappropriate uncle. As of this film, Andy Barclay gets to safely go about his life. For now…
It’s a tribute to Don Mancini’s creation that he’s able to contort it, make it bend over backwards, and turned it from something that took itself seriously with humour into a wisecracking romp with serious moments that gross you out. Hong Kong director Ronny Yu, with his second English-language film, manages to find the right balance of tone. If you can smoothly segue from the grisly death of a couple with mirror shards impaling them on a water bed to gratuitous doll sex then you clearly know what you’re doing with this material.
Of course, balance is tricky. And that’s probably why the sequel that followed went a little too overboard with the self-referential commentary.
2) Curse of Chucky (2013)
After a nine-year break, Chucky returned to the screen, and returned to his roots. Shirking the combination of yucks and over-the-top violence that drove the previous two entries, writer/director Don Mancini went back to straight horror: low budget with more emphasis on atmosphere and character. Missing, for the most part, is the over-the-top, joke-a-minute Chucky and his growing possessed doll family who are painfully aware they live in a horror movie world.
However, Curse did add another metatextual element, the casting of Fiona Dourif as Nica, the new final girl who just so happens to be the real-life daughter of Chucky portrayer Brad Dourif. In Curse, we learn the back story of serial killer Charles Lee Ray, and how he came to be on the run from the police at the beginning of the first Child’s Play. He kidnapped Nica’s pregnant mother after killing her father in an effort to create his own happy family. When the police arrived, Charles stabbed Nica in utero and created the disability that’s hobbled her since her birth. Incidentally, did Mancini write this script as family therapy?
In the franchise’s first direct-to-video effort, Mancini uses his limit monetary means to his advantage, setting the stage in an old home on a dark and stormy night for a classic gothic flavour while withholding Chucky’s full-blown living doll presence for nearly half the movie. POV shots, quick glimpses, and the sounds of small doll shoes scuttling across the floor are all that’s there to remind you that the doll is deadly, that is until Chucky finally reveals himself to Nica’s doubting sister, Barb (Danielle Bisutti).
And lest you think he completely re-conned the series, Mancini loads the film with a lot of Easter eggs and surprises, as well as a couple of welcome returns.
1) Child’s Play 2 (1990)
Like a TV series that finds its centre after a difficult pilot, Child’s Play 2 managed to expand on the original and more fully capture the spirit that the first film was going for. Alex Vincent returned as Andy Barclay, and Brad Dourif was again the man behind Chucky, but everything else here was new and improved as both the stakes and the action got bigger. In other words, Chucky found his voice.
Even though it was the 90s at this point, the 80s theme of cold, heartless capitalism hovers in the background of this movie. The evil Play Pal toy company wants the bad publicity to go away, so they rebuild the possessed Good Guy doll to test it for defects. They find none, so all’s well, right? Andy, meanwhile, is in care because his mom won’t shut up about the evil doll that tried to kill her and her son; the police got the memo though, and to them there’s no such thing as an evil doll. But just when Andy thinks he’s safe, said evil doll finds him again, and no one will believe him that this “Good Guy” has the soul of a depraved killer named Chucky within it.
Smartly, series writer Don Mancini refocuses the story to reflect your typical cat-and-mouse game of most slasher films, and casts off the voodoo hokum and police drama. Suspense is used more smartly since we don’t have to build up to the reveal of Chucky as a killer doll, and the story teases us with anticipation waiting for Chucky to spring to life and kill again. The film’s climax, which takes place in the Play Pal toy factory where the Good Guys are made, is almost Hitchcockian with an assembly line ready to kill in a number of horrible ways, and maze after maze of boxed Good Guy dolls for Andy and his foster sister Kyle (Christine Elise) to run through.
On top of that, Dourif really finds himself as Chucky. It’s as if between parts 1 and 2 the actor said, “Hey, I’m a killer doll! Let’s have fun with this!!,” and he does. Child’s Play 2 is where Chucky takes its place next to other iconic horror villains, and it’s rightfully earned by the time the credits roll.
But, where does the new film fit in all of this? That’s up to you! Read our review on Cult of Chucky and check it out now; the film is currently available to stream on Netflix.