The Child's Play Series
Child's Play (February 11/16)
The Child's Play series kicks off with this alternatingly silly and frightening installment that details Charles Lee Ray's (Brad Dourif) transformation into killer doll Chucky and his eventual efforts at possessing the body of a little boy (Alex Vincent's Andy), with the narrative also following grizzled cop Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) as he teams up with the boy's mother (Catherine Hicks' Karen) to put a stop to Chucky's reign of terror once and for all. There's little doubt that one of Child's Play's strongest attributes is director Tom Holland's slow-burn approach, as the filmmaker's decision to slowly parcel out Chucky's reveal paves the way for a first half that's far more suspenseful than one might've anticipated. (And when that reveal does come, at around the 45 minute mark, it makes one hell of a visceral impact.) From there, Child's Play segues into an entertainingly episodic midsection revolving around Chucky's murderous exploits (eg Chucky kills Karen's friend, Chucky seeks revenge against an old cohort, etc) - with the effectiveness of such sequences heightened by Dourif's gleefully over-the-top vocal performance. And although the movie does run out of steam in its paint-by-numbers final stretch, Child's Play nevertheless remains a creative, engaging little shocker that holds up impressively well all these years later.
Child's Play 2
Though the film does suffer from a few lulls here and there, Child's Play 2 is - on the whole - a surprisingly effective sequel that's sure to please fans of this ongoing series. The story picks up a few months following the events of the original, with Andy (Alex Vincent) now living in a foster home run by Joanne (Jenny Agutter) and Phil (Gerrit Graham). Chucky, meanwhile, is up to his old tricks after being rebuilt from the ground up, and it doesn't take long for him to come gunning for Andy once again. Child's Play 2's opening half hour admittedly doesn't hold a whole lot of promise, as screenwriter Don Mancini spends far too much time explaining the events of its predecessor - yet there reaches a point at which one can't help but be drawn into Chucky's predictably murderous shenanigans (with the demise of Andy's cruel teacher an obvious highlight). John Lafia's unusually stylish directorial choices - coupled with strong performances by Agutter and Christine Elise (cast as Andy's foster sister) - ensures that the film never quite comes off as the low-rent sequel one might've expected, while the action-packed conclusion (set within the Good Guy doll factory) certainly rivals anything within the original in terms of excitement or sheer brutality.
Child's Play 3
Despite the inclusion of a few memorable kill sequences and a typically entertaining vocal performance from Brad Dourif, Child's Play 3 generally comes off as a disjointed, increasingly tedious effort that has little to offer even the most ardent Chucky fan. Set eight years after the events of its predecessor, the movie follows a teenaged Andy Barclay (now played by Justin Whalin) as he attempts to put his tumultuous past behind him and settle in at a rigid military school. Meanwhile, Chucky has been rebuilt by the Play Pals Toy Company and - after dispatching a hapless executive - it's not long before the killer doll arrives on the scene to once more terrorize his former owner. Right from the get-go, there's little doubt that screenwriter (and series creator) Don Mancini spends far too much time emphasizing Andy's military-school hijinks - as such sequences possess a familiarity that's generally impossible to overlook (ie Andy's annoyingly antagonistic relationship with a superior officer). And while Andrew Robinson does turn in a flamboyant and undeniably entertaining performance as the school's barber - one who meets his untimely end after foolishly attempting to give Chucky a haircut - Child's Play 3 is mostly devoid of the over-the-top shenanigans that one has come to expect out of the series (with the desperate, entirely unimpressive finale only cementing the movie's status as a missed opportunity).
Bride of Chucky
While one can't blame screenwriter Don Mancini for wanting to take the Child's Play series in a new direction following the stale third installment, Bride of Chucky - saddled with Ronny Yu's nauseatingly broad directorial choices and a few too many self-referential moments - feels more like a parody of these movies than a natural extension of the world established in part one. The complete absence of Andy Barclay (or, at the very least, an explanation of what happened to him) certainly doesn't help matters, though it is clear fairly early on that Mancini isn't looking to maintain the continuity of the series here (ie what's up with that amulet?) The silly storyline - which follows two hapless teenagers (Nick Stabile's Jesse and Katherine Heigl's Jade) as they unwittingly find themselves caught up in Chucky's murderous hijinks - is undoubtedly exacerbated by the mere presence of Jennifer Tilly within the cast, as the actress delivers as irritating and one-note a performance as one might've anticipated. Brad Dourif's reliably effective turn as Chucky is the one bright spot in an otherwise tedious piece of work, and it's exceedingly difficult to believe that the script was penned by the same man who wrote the comparatively masterful original.
Seed of Chucky
Though saddled with as egregiously silly a feel as its immediate predecessor, Seed of Chucky nevertheless comes off as a somewhat superior sequel - as filmmaker Don Mancini eschews anything even resembling seriousness in favor of a relentlessly over-the-top sensibility. The meta storyline follows Chucky (Brad Dourif) and his demented brood - bride Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) and androgynous demon spawn Glen/Glenda (Billy Boyd) - as they wreak their special brand of havoc amongst several depraved Hollywood types (including Redman and Tilly herself). Mancini, making his directorial debut here, generally places the emphasis on the inherently absurd elements within his script, and there's consequently no denying that Seed of Chucky often resembles a run-of-the-mill parody flick more than it resembles a horror movie. That said, there are a number of genuinely funny bits of comedy sprinkled throughout the proceedings - with John Waters' small role as sleazy paparazzo Pete Peters clearly the highlight (eg after spotting Chucky and Tiffany having sex through a murky window, he exclaims, "oh, god bless the little people!") And while the end result is an effort that bears few similarities to the original Child's Play, Seed of Chucky remains surprisingly watchable through its appropriately brisk running time.
Curse of Chucky
It's clear immediately that Curse of Chucky marks an effort to return to the more-horrific-than-comedic atmosphere of the series' first installment, as the movie echoes Child's Play slow-burn vibe and emphasis on gory, suspense-oriented kill sequences. The narrative follows wheelchair-bound Nica (Fiona Dourif) as she attempts to cope with the death of her mother and subsequent arrival of several relatives, with the mysterious appearance of a seemingly harmless Good Guy doll setting off a chain reaction of murder and mayhem. Don Mancini does an effective job of immediately separating Curse of Chucky from its two most recent predecessors, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with a palpably atmospheric feel that's reflected in its various attributes - with the stylish visuals and creepy, gothic set design certainly perpetuating the movie's dark vibe. Mancini's back to basics approach generally proves effective at compensating for the film's few deficiencies, including what is an obviously low budget, and yet there's little doubt the writer/director occasionally pushes the movie's deliberateness a little too far (ie the whole thing drags somewhat, especially during the midsection). But such concerns become moot once the third act rolls around, as this portion of Curse of Chucky boasts a gleefully visceral feel that's heightened by a closing stretch clearly designed to please longtime fans of this erratic franchise - which ultimately does ensure that the wait for the next installment is going to be a very long one indeed.