Film Review: “Cult of Chucky”

A promotional image from “Cult of Chucky.” The film was released to DVD and Netflix the same day, but the Netflix version is one minute shorter. (Photo: Universal Home Entertainment)

I don’t know who “Annabelle” is, but I do know she’s a creepy doll somehow tied into the “Conjuring” films (or the “Insidious” series — these things sometimes run together for me) and both of her movies have been released to thousands of screens across the country. Meanwhile, our favorite plastic maniac Chucky has been banished to the direct-to-video market. Is he an ‘80s relic that only loyal fans care about, or does Universal Studios see the character as merely a way to keep selling box sets every few years?

 

The truth is that 1988’s “Child’s Play” spawned two sequels that died out quietly in the early ‘90s around the same time as the “Nightmare On Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th” franchises did. But unlike many of his peers that went the remake route in the new century, Chucky re-invented himself in a pair of ultra campy and highly self-aware films — 1998’s “Bride of Chucky” and 2004’s “Seed of Chucky” — that managed to have more staying power than the brief slasher revival brought about by “Scream” and its imitators. Their go-for-broke plot structure resulted in an unpredictable quality that transcended the usual trappings of the horror re-treads.

“Cult of Chucky,” the latest installment, is an improvement over the “back to basics” approach series creator Don Mancini employed with 2013’s “Curse of Chucky.” Displaying a clear understanding of what made “Bride” and “Seed” work so well, Mancini mixes in the dark and startling qualities that keep the movie from being more funny than scary, but doesn’t lose the bizarre edge that keeps things unique and interesting.

Picking up where “Curse” left off, “Cult” finds the wheelchair-bound Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif) institutionalized, convinced by her therapist that she was the one responsible for the murders committed by Chucky. As part of the treatment, Dr. Foley (Michael Therriault) brings in a seemingly harmless Good Guy doll identical to the one believed to be possessed by serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), and Tiffany Valentine (Jennifer Tilly) visits the hospital soon after with another one in tow. As one might guess, things go south pretty quickly, and Chucky returns with enough power to inhabit his duplicates, creatively mutilating characters left and right while making his signature wisecracks.

Like “Curse,” budgetary limitations confine most of the action in “Cult” to one location (“Bride” and “Seed” are epics by comparison), but the real life family dynamic of the Dourifs keeps things interesting as both performers are extremely engaging, and putting daughter Fiona in a setting that recalls the one from her dad’s first screen role in 1975’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is a treat for movie nerds. The presence of old school puppeteering and practical gore FX is a refreshing break from the computer-generated scares that are commonplace in modern horror filmmaking, and there are some truly twisted moments (that I’d rather not describe in print) that have little to do with special effects. My only complaint is that Tilly, the most special of them all, is given little to do, and is reduced to what is essentially glorified cameo status.

If the murderous clown from “It” (also from the ‘80s, I might add) can rake in the box office bucks, it stands to reason that the “Chucky” franchise — still inventive and fun enough to play on the big screen — should be given the opportunity to stand alongside it. If Mancini can manage a balance of nostalgia and story with the same dynamic quality he gives to laughs and shocks, Chucky might reach a new generation of fans and truly achieve the immortality he has always desired.

“Cult of Chucky” is now available on DVD and streaming rental (and on Netflix in an edited version).

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Wed, 2017-10-18 11:44am

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