Cult of Chucky 2017
Confined to an asylum for the criminally insane for the past four years, Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif) is erroneously convinced that she, not Chucky, murdered her entire family. But when her psychiatrist introduces a new therapeutic “tool” to facilitate his patients’ group sessions — an all-too-familiar “Good Guy” doll with an innocently smiling face — a string of grisly deaths begins to plague the asylum, and Nica starts to wonder if maybe she isn’t crazy after all. Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent), Chucky’s now-grown-up nemesis from the original Child’s Play, races to Nica’s aid. But to save her he’ll have to get past Tiffany (Oscar-nominee Jennifer Tilly), Chucky’s long-ago bride, who will do anything, no matter how deadly or depraved, to help her beloved devil doll.
October 3, 2017
Allison Dawn Doiron, Alex Vincent, and Brad Dourif
Cult of Chucky, available on Netflix, VOD, & Blu-ray/DVD beginning today, is one of the most hotly anticipated horror offerings of 2017, with excitement propelled by the true Cult behind the enduring Child’s Play franchise: The fans who made Chucky both an icon and an institution. Original Child’s Play scribe Don Mancini has been in the driver’s seat of the series since taking on writer/director duties on 2004’s Seed of Chucky, also churning out 2013’s Cult of Chucky before this latest installment (the 7th Child’s Play film). And just as Curse of Chucky was worlds different from Seed, Cult is in a class by itself, a unique entry in an unusually varied franchise. But while Curse of Chucky turned out to be a near perfect reboot, reframing Chucky as a premier 21st Century Horror Heavyweight, Cult is a hot mess; an unfocused, psychedelic onslaught of nostalgia and madcap irreverence that plays out on multiple planes of consciousness—with multiple manifestations of the infamous Charles Lee Ray.
Official Synopsis: “Confined to an asylum for the criminally insane for the past four years, Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif) is erroneously convinced that she, not Chucky, murdered her entire family. But when her psychiatrist introduces a new therapeutic “tool” to facilitate his patients’ group sessions — an all-too-familiar “Good Guy” doll with an innocently smiling face — a string of grisly deaths begins to plague the asylum, and Nica starts to wonder if maybe she isn’t crazy after all. Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent), Chucky’s now-grown-up nemesis from the original Child’s Play, races to Nica’s aid. But to save her he’ll have to get past Tiffany (Oscar-nominee Jennifer Tilly), Chucky’s long-ago bride, who will do anything, no matter how deadly or depraved, to help her beloved devil doll.”
How much you enjoy Cult of Chucky will depend on two things: How much you love the Child’s Play franchise as a whole, and which film in the franchise you like best. The first three Child’s Play films followed the deadly serious tone set by Tom Holland in 1988. In a landscape and during an era when putting children in danger was an extreme taboo, Chucky’s pursuit of arch-nemesis Andy Barclay (played by Alex Vincent) was as shocking as it was relentless; Roger Ebert famously opined that Child’s Play 2 made him feel “unclean”. But all that changed with 1998’s Bride of Chucky (written by Mancini, but directed by Ronny Yu); the series took a bold turn into horror comedy, bringing in Jennifer Tilly to play Chucky’s main squeeze, Tiffany Valentine. While the shift displeased some fans of the first 3 Child’s Play films, the innovation was surprisingly embraced by most, thanks in no small part to Tilly’s infectious performance. Bride of Chucky even succeeds as a standalone, a top-notch horror comedy that’s as close to “feel good” as horror films should be allowed.
Of course, even those who embraced the fantastic nature of Bride balked at Seed; though it stuck with horror comedy, the meta-approach and direct skewing of Hollywood culture made it feel like a parody of itself, something along the lines of Scary Movie and the ilk. The fabulous disaster seemed to spell the end for Child’s Play, despite the fact that Seed of Chucky has amassed a sizable cult following in the decade + since its release. And though it ranks towards the bottom of the series, Seed was the last of the Child’s Play film to get a theatrical release.
Which is part of what made the success of Curse of Chucky nothing short of phenomenal. Being dumped directly onto DVD seemed like an insult, proof that the studio didn’t have a shred of faith in Mancini’s latest innovations—but fans devoured it. The film is absolutely my favorite in the series, as Mancini managed to bring Child’s Play back to its terrifying roots while creating something truly unique—with a shocking twist to boot! Not afraid to change course yet again, Mancini delivered a Gothic horror of rare intensity, a film that built slowly to a terrifying conclusion—and left my jaw on the floor. Scenes were masterfully framed for maximum suspense, and Mancini waited a full hour before revealed the full-on evil Chucky. The bulk of the action takes place on a single night, giving Curse of Chucky intense urgency of a survival horror or a vampire flick where one prays for sunlight. The concussion was smart and effective, and the “stingers” added a dash of black comedy without undermining the darker, macabre tone of the film. But if Curse of Chucky represents 10 steps forward for the franchise, Cult is 5 steps backwards—or at least in a completely new direction (that being into madcap insanity).
Cult of Chucky feels like Mancini is trying to please the entire spectrum of Child’s Play fans, which is a noble intention. But, sometimes, when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. This isn’t exactly the case, but instead of being a straight-up horror or a straight-up comedy, Cult incorporates elements of Bride & Seed as well as Curse. Objectively, Cult has much more in common with those films than Curse of Chucky. And like I mentioned in the intro, this might not be a negative thing if the comedy is what you loved most about the series. Chucky gave up his wise-cracking and over-the-top dispatches on 2013, but the prankster/comedian is back with a vengeance. Cult maintains the R-Rated gore with glee, but the seriousness that made the original and Curse of Chucky such a success is gone again in favor of inside jokes and snarky one-liners. If Curse of Chucky were a real haunted house, Cult of Chucky would be a funhouse, something created for amusement and a simulacrum of true paranormal terror. Curse hammered home the uncanny terror of a doll committing murder, but Cult jumps the shark, perhaps due to unrealistic ambitions.
Don Mancini told us to expect Inception level mind-fucks and drug-addled psychedelia, which means we’re allowed to question everything, and nothing is off the table in terms of a sequel. In a film where characters receive electro-shock therapy, forced medication, and suffer legitimate mental illnesses, Chucky 8 could easily pull one of those “it was all a dream” maneuvers—something I personally wouldn’t mind if it meant a return to the serious, fucked-up Chuck.
Still, I have no doubt that Mancini set out to make a film for the fans and, for the most part, he succeeds. I was entertained throughout, as spending time with Chucky is like getting together with a childhood chum—and we get plenty of him. I worry, though, that Mancini has become too enamored with the world he’s created to deliver anything truly innovative; Cult if Chucky succeeds at recapturing some of the franchises’ greatest aspects, but doesn’t break a shred of new ground. And this established framework will likely to continue as the norm unless Mancini passes the torch to some fresh talent. He’s made it clear that his vision of a Chucky-verse isn’t complete without Tiffany. And while I love her to death, she stands in the way of what made Child’s Play so evocative in the first place: The horror. My advice: Don’t let Chucky become a dynasty.
Bottom Line: Fans of the more whimsical entries in the Child’s Play franchise (Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky specifically) will enjoy Cult of Chucky most. While it’s not a straight-up comedy, it’s got way more humor that 2013’s Curse of Chucky, which was surprisingly dark, serious, and macabre. But at the end of the day, it’s clear writer/director Don Mancini made this movie for the fans, and we thank him for it.