Horror movies have worn multiple guises over the generations. However, I’m willing to bet that if you’re a genre fan then your mind immediately goes to one of two places; you either picture the black and white glory of the classic Universal Monsters (whose iconography is undeniable and their films are considered classic for good reason) or, more than likely, you think of the modern horror icons of the 80s and 90s.
In the 1980s, the screen was ruled by the slasher subgenre. Slasher films were as popular in their time as comic book movies are today. Possibly even more popular, considering that for a good half of the decade, slashers were released on a nearly weekly basis. Among these blood-thirsty killers of the silver screen, a few, such as Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees, Leatherface, Freddy Kruger, and Pinhead, became icons. Within the list mentioned above, you’ll see a bullpen ranging from silent slayers to charismatic killers. Everyone has their favorite horror villain. For many, their choice villain doesn’t come around annually. Nor does he reside on Elm Street or hang out at a summer camp all year long. Instead, he comes into your home, and his name is Chucky, the killer doll.
Introduced to us in 1988’s Child’s Play, Chucky was a unique creation. The film told the tale of Charles Lee Lee Ray, A.K.A., Chucky (played and voiced respectively by Brad Dourif. ) Chucky was a serial killer, dubbed, “The Lakeshore Strangler,” and one night he is chased down by police and shot. Before perishing, however, he has time to perform a Voodoo ritual. Shortly thereafter, his soul ended up in a doll, the doll in which he would cause mayhem and commit murder throughout the franchise.
Sure, the killer doll concept had been done a couple of times over; but never with a doll as a full-fledged character like Chucky. He had a personality, a sense of humor, and a genuine bloodlust that could carry the film. Up to that point, that had never been done with a killer doll. To the contrary, they were usually just creepy objects. In addition to that, from a practical standpoint, the design and animatronics of the Chucky doll were cutting edge in a way that hadn’t been seen; nor has it been bested since.
Child’s Play proved to be an immediate hit, thus making its diabolical doll immediately popular with adults and kids alike. Despite the profitability of the film, the studio who owned it, MGM/United Artists sold the rights to the character due to financial troubles and some bad press. Universal wasted no time in buying up those rights and almost instantly producing two sequels, Child’s Play 2 (1990) and Child’s Play 3 (1991). These installments proved to be fun, but ultimately are repetitive and a little slow in each case. Plus these follow-ups made the character of Chucky become a bit more of a cut-throat comedian, whereas he was mostly mum in his original outing. (Much like Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.)
The sequels made decent money, but by the early 90s, the horror genre was suffering from burnout. This burnout made the genre go into a coma, with nothing more than the occasional terrible sequel in other franchises from the past decade. Not much was going on in horror until Scream resurrected the genre in 1996. After the release of that film, horror was back and so were slashers, but with a new element. In an effort to follow Scream’s lead, horror movies of the mid-late 90s became more self-aware and/or comedic. Chucky would prove to be no exception with his return to theaters in Bride of Chucky (1998). This fourth installment proved to be my favorite as I found it to mix horror and comedy, utilizing Chucky correctly. Not to mention, Bride added Jennifer Tilley to the franchise, whom I’ve always loved.
Following that was 2004s, Seed of Chucky, which went into full camp comedy territory. Fans of the franchise, including myself, were not very receptive to this shift in tone. Such an overall reaction made series creator and screenwriter of all the films, Don Mancini, take note. Nine years later, Mancini rectified what he had done with Seed and brought us Curse of Chucky (2013), which took the series back to its darker roots. Curse had a little bit of humor but was otherwise a straight-up horror flick that is arguably the best sequel in the franchise. The film would also introduce Chucky’s new primary target and series protagonist, Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif).
The recent release of Cult of Chucky marks the seventh film in the franchise. Cult picks up after the events of the last movie, finding the wheelchair-bound Nica in a mental institution. Sadly, the series’ heroine is committed after blaming the slayings in the previous installment on Chucky and being diagnosed with Schizophrenia. Seemingly, Nica has bought into her diagnoses and sentencing. She wonders if perhaps she imagined Chucky and questions her own mental stability. Just as she is finding her place among her fellow patients, bodies start falling. Nica discovers that not only has Chucky found her, but he’s also found other victims. Some to kill, and some to recruit and/or possess as his loyal followers. Meanwhile, now an adult, Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) struggles with the PTSD caused by the events of the first three movies in the franchise.
As with the previous installment, writer/director Don Mancini keeps Cult mostly in one, centralized location; the mental institution. Doing so gives the film an interesting look, but one that I found somewhat grating after a while. Undoubtedly due to how bright and sterile the environment was. If Curse was a haunted house movie, then Cult is essentially a paranoid horror thriller featuring Chucky. Keeping in that vein, the film also focuses more on suspense than it does gore. In doing so, the film cherry-picks from both Hitchcock and De Palma nicely. For the majority of its running time, I remained intrigued by the mystery that was unfolding. It helped that this narrative made perfect use of both Chucky and Nica. Not to mention, plenty of new characters to keep us guessing; all of whom were portrayed with decent performances.
However, this new film does have a couple of issues. Firstly, there is the pacing of it all. As I said, the film keeps you intrigued the majority of the time, so for the most part, the slower pacing works in the movie’s favor. However, as a viewer, when the pace lagged, I found it very noticeable. The film’s biggest issue comes in the concept of the cult and how it functions. Obviously, I don’t want to spoil that here; but I must say that it’s not the cleanest working concept.
In fact, much of what is explained about the cult is done so in a somewhat sloppy manner. Thus, this new idea ultimately raises more questions than it provides answers. While I’m sure doing such a thing was intentional, it was a bit frustrating. Rest assured though; I’m sure those questions will be answered in the probable sequel. Despite such frustration, the cult concept does mostly work.
All-in-all, I found Cult of Chucky to be a decent horror film/paranoid thriller as well as a nice addition to the franchise. While I didn’t find it nearly as strong as the previous installment, I still enjoyed it. I do not doubt that if you’re a fan of this franchise, you will as well. Part of your enjoyment will most likely be derived from the fact that this sequel is continuity-heavy. Since this series is one of the only horror juggernauts not to have been remade or rebooted, it pulls from all its films. Thus, it will reward any fans of the series.
Thankfully though, it doesn’t require you to revisit all its predecessors before watching it. By the way, watching this film will be very easy to do. Cult of Chucky is available on Blu-Ray and DVD. It can also be streamed on Netflix or any other preferred service. Also, the film is also in current rotation on AMC. With all those options, finding an excuse NOT to watch it should be pretty tricky!