I never cared much for Jason Voorhees… I used to find Michael Myers laughable… Freddy Krueger would only give me nightmares when I was a boy, but “Child’s Play” to this day can trigger some sort of a primal fear that would creep me out to no end. I remember (and these are not exactly fond recollections) how badly Chucky’s character could get under my skin – to the point of being physically afraid of my sister’s dolls… And I bet I’m not the only one with similar experiences. There was something peculiar about this baddie that spoke to my subconsciousness, and despite their progressively comedic character, all of the sequels shared that feature as well. I mean, I love those films and have rewatched them on multiple occasions, with the slight exception of “Seed of Chucky”, the now penultimate entry to the franchise, which I turned off halfway through – it was that boring. I have to admit I was somewhat excited when I first learned that Don Mancini (the writer of the entire series and the director of the last one) wanted to churn out another Chucky movie, but this time it was supposed to have more in common with the original, i.e. serious and scary. I couldn’t say ‘no’ to that…
Story wise, “Curse of Chucky” takes place some 25 years after the events of the original “Child’s Play”. A disabled girl Nica (Fiona Dourif) and her mother receive a mysterious package containing a Good Guy doll named Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif). The following night Nica finds her mom stabbed to death and no clues as to who might have done it. After her family comes over the next day for the funeral strange things start happening and Nica slowly learns that Chucky might not be just a doll. And he has an old score to settle…
I have to admit that “Curse of Chucky” started off very promising. Even though it looks and smells like a direct-to-DVD production, the film managed to build up an ominous atmosphere and work the doll into the equation very carefully. It is quite obvious that Mancini operates with genre clichés, but I can’t deny him the fact it works in creating the sense of dread. There’s everything you’d want to have from a film like that: a house on the hill, a lightning storm, constant plays with shadows, a lift (which is a direct throwback to the original), and a labyrinth of rooms for Chucky to hide in. Admittedly, it all together looks a bit cartoonish, but for a good chunk of the film, it all works rather well. That is, until the point where we get to see the fully animated Chucky running around with a knife.
Every single one of the Chucky films suffered from the same problem – the minute the doll stops being a mysterious possessed object and becomes an animatronic hairless ewok, the entire suspense, dread and horror are thrown out the window. In fact, it is the very reason the first “Child’s Play” was so successful, as we don’t get to see the doll very often, and when we do, it’s pretty damn surprising and scary. All the subsequent sequels managed to slowly drop the bar to the point where we are led into the film with the notion of seeing Chucky in his ‘final form’ for the entire running time. “Curse of Chucky” plays this game rather well, which provides some good scares and a reasonable build-up.
Additionally, the design of the doll seems to be slightly altered from what I remember the original looked like. In all fairness, the Chucky in this film looks more disturbing and really creepy, especially during those prolonged close-ups on his face, where you are simply waiting for him to move. In the end, though, the film provides an explanation for Chucky’s different look, but it is spoiler territory, so you’d have to see for yourself.
Sadly, all that effort in building up the suspense and setting up the scares is swiftly squandered, as the story develops. And it’s nothing subtle…. The film takes a dive head first into an empty swimming pool the second people start dropping like flies. Now that I look at it, “Curse of Chucky” can be divided into three parts: the build-up phase which covers the bulk of the film and where nothing really happens, the pay-off phase with Chucky murdering people, and a slightly tiresome, lengthy, cheesy and – let’s face it – a really dim epilogue, which nobody even asked for, where the final reveal can also be found.
Mancini seems to have had a good idea to set up the scene and kickstart the story, because it really presents itself quite respectably and with the use of just long shots and cheesy production design, he managed to pull off a few nice scares and generate a good deal of dread (it’s not really suspense, because you know what’s going to happen – you really are only waiting for it to finally happen, which gets you to sit on the edge of your seat for a while). But, however I’d like to look at it, “Curse of Chucky” as a whole is laughably bad. The writing is borderline retarded and the entire dialogue looks like it was written on a napkin. It’s a horror film and I don’t expect it to be “The Usual Suspects”, but I’d like the characters – stencilled as they may be – to have some life in them, so that I could care when they finally die.
In the end, “Curse of Chucky” abandons the dark and ominous atmosphere and brings back the comedy, which I didn’t really appreciate. What I wanted this film to be, is a return to the good old days, but with every running minute, this jumpy slasher ventures more and more into the ridiculous and ends up only inches away from that ridiculous scene from “Bride of Chucky” with ‘the doll boner’… I guess, Mancini couldn’t really control himself, and given he is more or less solely responsible for the end result, I think he should put that entire franchise to bed – indefinitely.
Maybe – just maybe – going back to the roots of the story shouldn’t really be confined to tying the threads very clumsily in the last act. Initially, I thought Mancini knew what he was doing with direct throwbacks and general restraint, but “Curse of Chucky” turned out to be completely brain-dead underneath the blanket of first impressions.