Retro Review: CURSE OF CHUCKY (2013){0}

Well, here’s a nice switch. After a pair of sequels in which raunchy comedy and silly splatter were much more important than anything resembling a legitimate scare or creepy idea, everyone’s favorite killer doll is back with Curse of Chucky, a sixth chapter that clearly wants to be taken a bit more seriously. Or at least as seriously as one can take a movie in which a doll possessed by the soul of a serial killer stomps around a creepy old mansion and hacks people to bits.

Needless to say the Chucky films have always been tongue-in-cheek horror films. The first three entries — Child’s Play (1988), Child’s Play 2 (1990), Child’s Play 3 (1991) — were sometimes suspenseful, occasionally scary, and frequently sprinkled with generous portions of gory bits. By the time we got to Bride of Chucky (1998) and Seed of Chucky (2004), the character had degenerated into a completely self-aware and self-mocking parody. Both of those flicks have their tacky charms, but they’re barely horror films, if we’re being honest.

So now we’re up to Part 6, and it sure seems like writer/director Don Mancini realizes that the best way to keep a horror franchise afloat is to pay attention to the … horror. With that in mind, Curse of Chucky feels a lot like the original Child’s Play as combined with Mancini’s memories of films like Sorry Wrong Number, Wait Until Dark, or virtually anything suspenseful that takes place inside of a foreboding mansion in the middle of the night during a horrible thunderstorm.

Given that it’s a relatively low-budget production — not to mention a Part 6 made directly for the video market — one can anticipate a few of the problems Curse of Chucky has: it takes a bit too long to get started; it wants to be a kick-start to the franchise but it’s also beholden to five other films and packed with a few too many in-jokes; a small portion of the special effects are simply weak or unconvincing… typical gripes, really.

But on the plus side, Curse of Chucky has the plucky and pretty Fiona Dourif as a wheelchair-bound heroine worth rooting for; a simple but effective mansion location that comes complete with a flimsy elevator and several eerie hallways; a bitchy sister (Danielle Bisutti); a dopey brother-in-law (Brennan Elliott); a gorgeous young nanny (Maitland McConnell); a terrified little girl (Summer Howell); and — of course — a raving madman who resides in the body of a goofy little doll.

It’s basically a throwback Chucky sequel, which means that even if you don’t like Part 6, one can at least respect the intent. Not only does Mancini and his team want to bring Chucky back to his horror roots; they want to go all the way back to the “old dark house” set-up. Call it an inexpensive way to produce a horror sequel, but after seeing Chucky’s progressively more puerile exploits in his previous two movies, it’s rather novel to see him stalking around one dark mansion and doling out punishment to various devious characters who have various ulterior motives.

As a director, Mr. Mancini has clearly done some homework. While he wrote every film in the franchise, Seed of Chucky is the only one he’d directed up until Curse — and while virtually everything of interest in Curse of Chucky is borrowed from or inspired by other films, there’s still a good deal of creativity and legitimate homage being offered here.

Fans will be pleased to learn that Brad Dourif does return as both the voice of Chucky and as the infamously invincible Charles Lee Ray (in a few back-story scenes) —  yes, leading lady Fiona is of course Brad’s daughter — and while purists may scoff at the use of (gasp!) CG animation where Chucky is concerned, there’s still a good deal of quality effects work that was done with good ol’ latex, puppets, and actual (fake) blood. 

Given what most video sequels (or any part sixes) normally look like, Curse of Chucky has to be considered a small victory for horror fans. It’s by no means an award-worthy piece of horror cinema, but it’s fun, creepy, surprisingly well-cut, and consistently amusing without ever resorting to the overt silliness of Bride or Seed. I guess there’s something to be said for going back to old-school scares once the self-mocking silliness dries up.