Horror Film Retrospective: Child’s Play ‘Chucky’ Series

By Vikrum Mathur.

In a few weeks, October 31 will be upon us and Halloween will rear its (severed) head in the world yet another year! What makes Halloween special besides the candy, costumes and parties are the plethora of great horror movies out there that one can watch to get in the mood and so, for the next few weeks, I will do a series on what I believe to be some of the best horror movies to watch during this “horrific” season. I start this series of columns with my all-time favorite horror movie franchise the “Child’s Play” series, which is best known for its iconic horror protagonist Chucky, the killer doll. Also, the series has a new installment on the way, Cult of Chucky, and I wanted to spread the word about it because this franchise is too fun to miss.

Credit: YouTube.

One of the first horror movies I remember watching in my life is Child’s Play 2 at the age of 3. At that time, I was entertained by the movie, but did not know what a horror movie was versus any other kind of movie and so did not feel any fear. However, as I grew older, something about the movie stuck in my mind and I began to realize the circumstances that the characters faced in the movie were not normal. In fact, they were outright terrifying. I began to think, imagine being chased around by something that can hide in a cupboard, under the bed, in the shower, or pretty much anywhere in a house without even being suspected of doing anything harmful. I eventually became so scared of the movies in this series, that if it even played on TV, I would run out of the room. This continued at least till I was in the 6th or 7th grade (literally).

I remembered growing up that I had seen Child’s Play 1 and 2 but not 3. One day, I noticed that Child’s Play 3 would be coming on TV and I debated whether I should conquer my fear and watch it. I decided to and watched the whole thing start to finish without batting an eyelid. I was taken aback by how entertaining it was. It was still scary, but the Chucky character was so funny and interesting, that day itself I officially became a fan of the series. In fact, I have become such a big fan of the series, that I own the whole thing on DVD and, because I am also an actor, it is a bucket list item for me to feature in any role in a Chucky movie (someday!)

By way of background, the Child’s Play series had its first installment come out in 1988, and since then, it has spawned 6 more sequels, with the 7th installment, Cult of Chucky, releasing on DVD and Netflix next Tuesday, October 3. It also is a popular part of various fan conventions every year, spans a huge merchandise machinery, and has even been an influence on cinema worldwide (there is a Bollywood remake called Paapi Gudiya meaning “evil doll” which came out in the 90s, more on this later).

Compared to other horror franchises, this one is unique for a few reasons. One, it is the only classic franchise that has not been remade, and thus, has continued the story that began in the first film. Second, its brilliant creator Don Mancini has been involved with each and every film, writing and now directing the last few films, and thus this gives the franchise consistency where other franchises change directors and writers. Third, each film in the franchise brings something new to the table as far as genre is concerned. Whereas the first three films are standard horror, the 4th is a dark horror comedy, the 5th is a family horror comedy, 6th is a gothic thriller and the newest installment is a suspense thriller taking place in an asylum. This has helped keep the franchise fresh and has also given it many new possibilities as far as plot is concerned. Many are surprised that the franchise is still being made, but its originality and unpredictability continues to give it steam. Now, here’s my take on each film in the franchise:

In 1988, Child’s Play hit the marquee in theaters around the world. The film, directed by Tom Holland (Fright Night) and written by Don Mancini, John Lafia and Holland, told the tale of a killer who is shot dead in a toy store by a cop on his trail. As he dies, the killer, named Charles Lee Ray, transfers his soul via a voodoo incantation to the object closest to him – an innocent looking Good Guy doll. The next day, a young 6 year old boy named Andy Barclay, sees a commercial on TV advertising the Good Guy doll and asks his mother for one for his birthday. When the mother buys one on the cheap from a peddler on the street and brings it home, Andy is overjoyed. This sets forth a chain of horrific events, which puts innocent Andy in grave danger.

I have to say that the original is definitely my favorite in the whole franchise. The simple reason for this is that the suspense is done wonderfully. Despite the film’s eventual mainstay being the special effects (which still hold up pretty well), the filmmakers and writers spend a good amount of time building up to that shocking moment when we see Chucky come alive, and the anticipation toward that is phenomenal. The film is fast paced and outright creepy. In fact, some of the things not shown but implied only add to the terror as one’s imagination goes into horror overload. I have no major criticism for this one. Also, the film has some hilarious moments of dark humor, characters that you care deeply about and root for and unpredictable situations. This is simply a must see and one of the most famous horror movies of all time.

The film was such a big success that good old Bollywood picked up on it. In the early 90s, Paapi Gudiya, directed by Lawrence D’Souza, released and was pretty much a scene by scene remake with some tweaks to suit an Indian audience. For one thing, Chucky was now named “Channi” and he was not a killer per se but a man who believes in worshipping spirits and ghosts (a pretty creepy character). Indian movies did not have good special effects those days so the doll does not speak or emote, it only moves its head side to side and arms. Yes, it is a Bollywood film so there are songs. The Indian counterpart to Andy does not have a mother, but instead lives with his older sister. The cop character in this movie is the Bollywood hero in this movie and love interest of the sister. As an Indian-American who is a hardcore Bollywood fan, I can safely say that this movie is simply atrocious by any standard. I am sure if made today, Bollywood could do a much better job. I would love to know Don Mancini’s thoughts on it, if he has not seen it.

Like any good minded business, a sequel was ordered up right after the success of this film by the studio. Don Mancini wrote the sequel, Child’s Play 2 2, and John Lafia, one of the writers from the original, came on board to direct. Released in 1990, Child’s Play 2 was a resounding success. Picking up sometime after the original, in this we find that the toy factory that produced the original Good Guy dolls want to get back to business, and so they decide to investigate what sort of “tampering” happened with one of their dolls that resulted in the whole Andy Barclay controversy. How do they plan to investigate? They rebuild a test doll using the remains of the decimated Chucky doll from the first film, but what this does is bring back the soul of Charles Lee Ray in the doll, who is thirsty to catch Andy Barclay and finish what he started in the first film. Will he catch Andy? Will Andy be able to defeat Chucky? This forms the crux of the movie.

For me, this installment is definitely the scariest. For one, the Chucky effects are improved so he looks even more terrifying (I maintain that of all the films, he looks the scariest in this one). He is more desperate and angry, and that makes him more formidable. Also, this film takes place in a regular suburban house. Because I live in one, that thought also sticks. The movie has more humor than the first and more of Chucky, which amps up the entertainment factor. What really is the highpoint, which every fan talks about, is the very ambitious climax in the toy factory. It is very exciting and unpredictable and takes the movie to a whole different level. In the whole franchise this is my 4th favorite film.

With the success of this film, Universal Studios asked for another and Child’s Play 3 came out 1 year after Child’s Play 2, directed by Jack Bender and once again written by Don Mancini. This time, we see Andy Barclay as a 16-year-old on his way to joining a military academy. He befriends a young boy named Tyler at the school. When Chucky again comes alive, he traces Andy to the school but instead decides that he wants to target Tyler instead. Will Andy be able to save Tyler before it is too late?

This is not my most favorite in the series, I would put it at #6. It is definitely entertaining and not boring at all, but it just does not do much for the series. Only the setting is new, as well as the actors, but the plot is the same as the previous two films. It has some good one-liners, some good set pieces with an interesting climax, but still an average entry. I hope in a future installment, Mr. Mancini can incorporate something about this movie into the great Chucky films being made now. This can help boost CP3’s credibility in the franchise if it serves as a major plot point in the continuing series. This is a hardcore fans only film.

Between 1991 and 1998, there was a gap of 7 years before the 4th installment of the series would hit screens. This installment would be a special one because not only would it be a huge success but would alter the tone and format of the series forever (whether it worked or not is still debated by fans, but for me, it worked). In 1998, Bride of Chucky released and broke the mould as far as horror films were concerned. It maintained some of the horror the franchise was known for, but also brought with it a dash of dark comedy which, surprisingly, fit very well with the Chucky character.

The film tells the story of Tiffany (played by the wonderful Jennifer Tilly), the girlfriend of Charles Lee Ray. When Tiffany resurrects Chucky, she finds that Chucky never intended to marry her and in a fit of rage, imprisons the diminutive devil in a cage. Chucky escapes, kills Tiffany and transfers her soul into a female doll. Both lovebirds then hitchhike on a road trip with two young star-crossed lovers with murderous mayhem on the way.

Directed by Ronny Yu (who also made Freddy vs Jason) and written by Don Mancini, Bride is my 3rd favorite in the series. I think it is absolutely hilarious and clever, and brings novelty back into the franchise. It is also a huge fan favorite and remains as one of the most popular entries in the series till date. Plus, Chucky has a scary new look which a whole new generation of viewers recognize, more so than his original clean look. This is an iconic film for sure.

After the success of BRIDE, Don Mancini decided to test the comedic potential of the characters a step further – a controversial step amongst fans which some argue took the comedy too far. Seed of Chucky, the 5th installment, released in 2004 with Don Mancini taking both writing and directorial duties this time. Upon release, the film made money but heavily divided fans.

The film takes a mostly comedic route and tells the story of Chucky, Tiffany and their child Glen/Glenda (I won’t ruin the reason why there are 2 names). It is a meta, self-parodying film about the production of a Chucky movie within the movie, with Jennifer Tilly playing herself and Tiffany the doll. Rapper Redman also plays a key role, with director John Waters playing a scene-stealing role of a paparazzi.

Seed of Chucky is a very unique film, both in its treatment and tone. It is quite ambitious actually, and even oddly touching at times. Mancini is able to bring a lot of social issues and questions to the fore within the bizarre circumstances in the movie. When I watched it recently for the first time, I was surprised how much I liked it because it was unlike any other movie in the franchise. Although the comedy did not work for me in this film, the characters and unpredictable story did. It is my least favorite in the series, but nevertheless a very fascinating entry. The disappointing response to Seed prompted another fresh approach to the franchise and this re-envisioning would turn out to be one of the best entries in the series.

2013 saw the release of Curse of Chucky, my 2nd favorite, once again written and directed by Don Mancini. Listening to the cries of fans to bring the series back to its horror roots, Mancini crafted a gothic thriller, a one location film involving a family and a spooky house. Plot wise, the film is the story of wheelchair bound Nica, her mother, sister, brother-in-law and niece. When Nica receives Chucky in a package, all hell breaks loose as each member of the family is targeted one by one by the evil doll. Why is Chucky here? Who sent him? Is there more than what meets the eye? The film answers these questions with some surprising twists and turns.

It is the twists in the film that make it the best, and my 2nd favorite. It links the whole franchise together, and the fact that the movie takes place in one location also makes it interesting because that means that more has to be done with the characters, whom are given their own flavors. The fact that the film balances the Chucky track with the domestic squabbles of the family make the film an entertaining watch. Fiona Dourif, whom is both beautiful and talented (yes, crush alert), does a fabulous job in the role of Nica. Her character, after this film, has become one of the most loved characters for fans of the series.

This is why, in the newest installment releasing on DVD next week, Cult of Chucky, Fiona is back as Nica, along with Jennifer Tilly as Tiffany, and in a really exciting plot turn, actor Alex Vincent, who played Andy Barclay in the first two films, is back in the character as well. The 7th film is once again written and directed by Don Mancini and takes place in an asylum, picking up from where the 6th film ended. Fans, such as myself, are waiting with bated breath for the film, and are keen to know where the story of our favorite doll goes from here.

All in all, this is one of the best horror franchises of all time. It is fun, interesting, scary and fresh with each film. It never gets boring like slasher films and allows for character growth in each film. Major credit for this has to go to no one else but Don Mancini, who has shown both his creative genius as well as a passion for what fans want with each film. Hope he continues to make more movies in the series and never cedes control.

I really cannot conclude this article without recognizing the immense contribution of the star of the series – Brad Dourif. Brad is a well-acclaimed, Oscar nominated actor who has done many memorable roles, but his role as Chucky will go down as his most popular. He has stuck with the franchise since the beginning and there is no one else that can bring the terror, anger and comedic vibes that he brings to the doll. Special effects are fine, but his voice acting truly makes the character. I hope that he remains in this role forever, because he is the anchor of the franchise.

This Halloween, grab a bowl of popcorn, turn off the lights and buy all 7 movies in this series. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. After all Chucky is just a doll who wants to play and be your friend till the end. How can that go wrong?





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