Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Child's Play Saga: What Can We Expect from Curse of Chucky?

By now, we've all seen the trailer for Don Mancini's upcoming sixth installment of the Child's Play franchise, Curse of Chucky. Out October 23rd on DVD and VOD, Curse of Chucky is being promoted as a return to the straight-up horror style of Child's Play 1-3, and a departure from the satirical, meta-horror approach taken by Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky. To stave off my own impatience for the new film's release, I decided to sit down and re-watch all five existing films in succession, and share some of my thoughts about the progression the franchise has taken thus far, and where it sounds like it's going.

Mancini has said that his initial idea for Child's Play was to comment on the influence that advertising has on children. In the first film, our young hero Andy begs and begs his hard-working single mother to get him a Good Guy doll just like the ones on TV, but the two get more than they bargained for when Andy's mother brings home the very doll that plays host to the soul of serial killer Charles Lee Ray, voiced by Brad Dourif. Despite a somewhat silly premise (Ray uses a voodoo incantation to move his soul into the doll when he is mortally wounded in a police firefight), this first film spawned a genuinely frightening and enduring villain, and what was originally intended as a stand-alone film grew into a blockbuster franchise. What makes Chucky the killer Good Guy doll such a spectacular horror antagonist? The first film achieves great effect by placing an innocent child in harm's way, a device used so well in classics like The Exorcist and The Shining. The viewer's care for the welfare of the character in danger leads to a deep emotional connection for viewers. The adults in the child's life write off the horrors he is experiencing as products of an active imagination, which is frustrating and upsetting to watch as the film goes on. This level of attachment to the character of Andy continues as the doll follows him to a foster home in Child's Play 2, and to military school in Child's Play 3. 

In bringing the character of Chucky to life, Mancini also had great success playing on the fan following of A Nightmare on Elm Street villain Freddy Krueger. Krueger's smart-assed one-liners and snide attitude toward his victims made him completely unique to the slasher genre, and coming just a few years on the heels of Elm Street's inception, Child's Play created a similar comedic killer. Brad Dourif delivers Chucky's lines with a trademark gravelly tenor, and his characteristic laughter as he commits horrific murders brings glee to his legions of morbid fans. Effects designers did a brilliant job of underscoring the change that Chucky undergoes when he switches from his Good Guy doll appearance into full Charles Lee Ray. His smiling doll features twist into a grotesque grin, and his voice drops from a sweet, high-pitched boy's to a deeper and much more sinister man's. The juxtaposition of a lovable child's toy with the personality of a ruthless serial killer converges into one of horror's most iconic slashers.

With 1998's Bride of Chucky, the franchise took a turn toward the ironic meta-horror style popularized by the Scream films, and followed up on its success with the 2004 Seed of Chucky. Both films gained another great comedic role with the addition of Jennifer Tilly as Chucky's bride, Tiffany, and then as herself, playing the role of Tiffany in a film-within-the-film. The classic slasher film elements of the first three films gave way to slapstick comedy, plenty of adult humor surrounding Tiffany and Chucky's relationship, and a self-referential tone designed to appeal specifically to die-hard horror fans who had already seen it all.

Watching the five Child's Play films again, I was struck by the consistency of the character of Chucky, and I think that Brad Dourif's continued involvement in the franchise is the glue holding it together. Despite changing directors for each successive film, the most memorable character has remained just as well-written and portrayed, and that makes for an enduring franchise. So what does Mancini have in store for Curse of Chucky? We can certainly expect darker plot elements, as the official synopsis includes the detail that the protagonist will be dealing with the recent suicide of her mother. While the link between the first Child's Play film and this one remains ambiguous, we've been told that Chucky intends to settle a score from more than 20 years ago, which suggests a full-circle reckoning to the original backstory of Charles Lee Ray. And as far as character design goes, the Chucky depicted in the official trailer has been returned to his original, brand-new Good Guy look, the stitches and scars of the last two films having been removed.

Don't let the straight-to-DVD release of this film turn you off from giving it a watch. For fans of the original Child's Play film, Curse of Chucky should prove to be a well-executed return to form, and bring Chucky back to life in a more terrifying form than ever before.

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