Curse Of Chucky, although the beginning of a fascinating chapter in the legacy, feels almost a bit in stasis, or rather kind of still trapped in the cloud of exhaust left behind by the rip roaring double feature of Bride and Seed, which are pretty hard to top. The cool thing about this one is that Brad Dourif not only gets to voice Chucky but also play Charles Lee Ray once again in some stylish flashbacks to the 80’s, where we see him involved in the lives of a Chicago family whose young daughter grows up to be our protagonist, a wheelchair bound, traumatized girl named Nica, played by Dourif’s own daughter Fiona who has amassed a cult filmography and rogues gallery of villains these days that is almost as prolific and impressive as her dad’s. Nica lives in a freaky old house with her ailing mother (Chantel Quesnelle) until a family tragedy heralds the arrival of both her domineering, sleazy sister (Danielle Bisutti) and Chucky himself, disguised in his formerly benign looking self and playing the waiting game until he can spring to action. This is a fun entry, but it doesn’t quite have the same deranged wind in its sails as the previous two and sometimes feels a bit… stuck in airy passages where not much happens. When it gets going though it’s damn good, there’s some great use of movement in the stalking/kills and it’s a treat to watch an apparently unblemished, fresh faced Chucky doll slowly lose the fake face revealing that torn up, scarred rubber nightmare of a face beneath. Plus Fiona Dourif is a huge asset to the franchise, she’s got the same high-wire intensity and demonic charisma as her dad, talent definitely runs in that family and I love her character here. Fun stuff.
In Don Mancini’s Seed Of Chucky, Brad Dourif and Jennifer Tilly’s demon doll couple unleash their spawn on the world, although the resulting progeny isn’t as… ill adjusted as it’s messed up parents, at least initially anyways. This is the most demented, hilarious film in the canon and although it’s not quite as coherent or witty as Bride before it, still holds second place for me, if on nothing but sheer shock value and WTF pedigree alone. The film blasts off the screen and into the real world, giving Tilly a chance to send up her own slutty image and play herself for a good portion, as she stars in a Chucky iteration and vies desperately for a role as the Virgin Mary in a biblical character study directed, of all people, by hip hop artist Redman, also playing himself. Over in the UK (don’t ask me how it got there) Chucky’s androgynous child (voiced wistfully by Pippin from Lord Of The Rings) has never met his parents until he sees the fake versions on TMZ, journeys to the states and resurrects them for real, so these characters exist for real and fake in the world and it all makes your brain melt a bit. This is a deranged vision, I appreciated Tilly’s willingness to go full bugnuts and make fun of herself very, very savagely. Chucky and Tiffany fight over both the gender and murderous ambitions of their kid, who isn’t sure whether he or she is a he or she and whether he or she wants to be a benign, gentle spirit or a prolific, Fisher-Price mass murderer like mommy and daddy. Got all that? It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re willing to go along for the ride and have some fun, which the films offers in spades, and I haven’t even mentioned John Waters as a sleazebag paparazzi photographer who catches Chucky in, shall we say, a *very* private moment. The franchise has come a far cry from the simple, effective notion of a possessed doll hunting a kid and killing anyone who stands in his way, but the snowball trajectory from that to this mad world, meta, loopy universe chapter of the legacy is something to behold, and of each new interlude, the creative energy, madcap vibes and brazen storytelling of Bride and Seed are my favourite so far. Join me next time when we look at the next two, which couldn’t be more different.
Ronny Yu’s Bride Of Chucky is the point where the franchise deliberately goes off the rails and reinvents itself into something demented, meta, and completely inspired. Chucky gets a new look here, I mean you can’t really kill the little bastard but his visceral encounter with the wind fan in part 3 has left him quite a sight, all metal stitches, stark patches of sewn on hair and jagged scars adorning his plastic visage. He’s brought back to life by trailer park dwelling mega-psycho ditzy maven Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly), an aggressive groupie and former girlfriend of Charles Lee Ray’s, resurrecting him with more voodoo and, once it’s apparent that these two had a more troubling, dysfunctional relationship than Harley Quinn and The Joker, eventually trapped in a female bride doll of her own, bonded to Chucky in kinky rubber wedlock complete with a hilariously sincere sex scene. They hit the road looking to find a secret amulet in Ray’s grave that can give them both human bodies, piggybacking in the van of a teenage runaway couple (Katherine Heigl & Nick Stabile) escaping the girl’s nasty army colonel daddy (the late John Ritter). The plot is framework for one hell of a bunch of kills, jokes, bickering, heavy metal soundtrack choices and dark humour, this is by and far the best film in the canon for me, and Tilly is a big part of why it works so well, she’s the wild card element that turns a well established slasher formula into something that transcends its own blueprint and becomes just… wild. Director Ronny Yu also helmed the awesome Freddy Vs. Jason, another slasher reworking for two legendary franchises that has the same loopy, infectiously fun meta energy, metal music and inventive, vivid flesh and blood opening credit graphic design. The kills are unbelievable and one cheekily references another beloved slasher icon, the gore is cartoonish yet still ruthless and the overall vibe is one of utter devilish revelry. Such a fun time and the harbinger of a new, crazier, bloodier era in the series.
Child’s Play 3 is the last of the films that focuses primarily on Chucky’s relentless pursuit of Andy’s soul, before the franchise reinvents itself and goes completely cuckoo bananas in the best way possible, but I’m getting ahead of myself. This is a solid entry, taking place a few odd years after the second film, with a teenage Andy (Justin Whalen, with heavy young Eddie Furlong vibes) yanked out of the foster care system and shipped off to military school. Chucky is still somehow back from the dead once again, resurrected in a slick opening credit sequence that features “plastic anatomy regrowth” effects that look like they inspired Brandon Cronenberg for some of the gooier stuff he put into his film Possessor. Now, military school is never a fun place to be in movies and I imagine it wouldn’t be very great in real life either, Andy has it tough because this particular venture is run by a power mad wannabe hairdresser sergeant played by Andy Robinson, who is great at being an absolutely unhinged loony, as we know from his turn as the zodiac killer in Dirty Harry. The rest of his fellow boot campers aren’t so nice either, apart from one girl (Perrey Reeves from Entourage, lovely here) who takes a shine to him until inevitable romantic sparks fly for a winning couple dynamic. Chucky arrives on scene after brutally butchering the amoral CEO of the toy company (Peter Haskell) that made his perennial rubber avatar and promptly but stealthily murders a garbage truck driver, arousing Andy’s suspicions that he’s finally tracked him down once again. The kills here and general arc at the military camp are fun enough, with the eventual villain’s confrontation between him and Robinson’s certifiable big boss a delirious, diabolically suspenseful set piece involving the world’s most disastrous botched straight razor shave. The film kicks into spectacular gear for the finale though, set in a giant abandoned amusement park in the nearby area, a hectic, hallucinatory howl of a showdown complete with underground roller coasters, tons of multicoloured lighting and acres of billowing dry ice, it’s a huge stylistic exhale after the drab visual palette of the military academy and lets Chucky and those trying to end him truly go nuts and play around with space, lighting and effects. It also has a ruthless send-off for this demon dolly involving some sort of giant industrial fan with big sharp blades, it’s a satisfyingly gory final death (of many this little fucker has bounced back from) for him and a nice cap off the last of the “Chucky vs. Andy” films in the canon, before new territories are charted. Great stuff.
Child’s Play 2 picks up not long after the first left off for a sequel that’s similar yet stronger in quite a few ways. Young Andy has been tossed into the foster care system after his mom can’t deal with the memories of their initial encounter with Chucky aka Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), and she has been remanded to a psychiatric facility. His social worker (always nice to see Grace Zabriskie) places him in a well meaning but not properly equipped suburban family with a foster mom (Jenny Agutter) who cares about him and a dad (Gerrit Graham) who is sceptical about his past affecting his mental state living with them. It’s not long before Chucky, resurrected with new spare doll parts in a neat assembly line opening credit sequence, comes looking for him once again, and all hell breaks loose. I felt sad for poor Andy, not only continuously tormented by that little ginger haired fucker, but also as a result now left without his birth mother and forced into the notoriously turbulent US foster care system. The film’s strongest aspect is a sweet, life affirming relationship he has with the family’s other adopted kid Kyle (Christine Elise) who takes him under her wing in a big sister capacity and looks out for him. It’s a believable, compassionate arc for both and they get an absolutely ferocious final battle with Chucky in the toy factory he came from, complete with all kinds of mangling machinery, buckets of oozing practical gore and melted plastic effects and a surge of climactic energy. This is an improvement on the already spectacular first film, especially so for me due to the affecting dynamic between Andy and Kyle, some rip snortin set pieces (I laughed hard when Chucky gets launched through a windshield at top speed) and more of the same manic, diabolically mischievous energy that only Brad Dourif as this character can bring us. Good times.
So I’ve been marathoning the Chucky movies for the first time lately and oh my god what a balls out franchise. I’ll start with the first, Tom Holland’s Child’s Play from 1988, because this series starts out slowly, modestly and gradually builds to such a fever pitch extravaganza of meta goofiness and deranged, Joe Dante level lunacy it has me giddy. Everyone knows the story of the first by now: Chicago serial killer Charles Lee Ray (the inimitable, legendary Brad Dourif) is gunned down by a ferocious police detective (Chris Sarandon, always awesome) in a toy factory, but not before using dark voodoo to transfer his soul into a Good Guy doll, which runs about the city on a murderous rampage, eventually finding his way to the home of young Andy (Alex Vincent, adorable), where he proceeds to make life hell for him and his mom (Catherine Hicks). Dourif is key to what makes this character work so well that we’ve gotten as many sequels as we have, I’ve rarely seen an actor do more with his voice, give more dimension, dark humour and genuine malice from behind a recording booth, but this is Dourif we’re talking about after all, this man can pretty much do anything. The first film is a great introduction into the franchise, a series that if anything gets better and better with each sequel, which is really rare in horror but sometimes does happen. The film benefits from Sarandon who is always a rugged, charismatic presence, switching up his evil vampire character in director Tom Holland’s other seminal horror classic Fright Night for a good guy role here, albeit one that’s very rough around the edges, and better for it. It’s fun watching him square off against Chucky and there is one hell of a fiery climax complete with ooey-gooey melting/burning plastic effects and a tirade of madness from the doll and Dourif that is genuinely scary, as far as killer dolls go. Stay tuned for my thoughts on each and every film in this franchise, because they are all gems, and you don’t often get that level of consistency and improvement on quality in slasher franchises.
You know in slasher flicks where the vacationing teens arrive in some godforsaken bumpkin-ville headed inevitably to slaughter and jokingly refer to the rural folk as ‘inbred’? Well most of the time they’re just mocking them but in the case of Just Before Dawn the pair of demented killers are legitimately inbred drooling simpletons, big lumbering… I’ll get in trouble if I use the ‘R word’ lol but… yeah. This is a creaky old horror flick from way back when that is surprisingly effective in creating atmosphere, suspense and some well placed gore. The story couldn’t be simpler: a bunch of teens on summer break drive their Winnebago a bit too far into a dense, remote Oregon mountain range mostly cut off from civilization and run afoul of two twin killers who hunt them down, with hilariously stealthy and tactical methods I might add, given their rotund stature and, uh, sunny dispositions. George Kennedy is fun as a salty old park ranger with a few quirks (he keeps bonsai trees) who saddles up his horse and goes looking for the teens once they don’t come back. The always awesome Gregg Henry gives a good early career turn as the ringleader of the group, so the cast has some pedigree to it. The film is shot on location in Silver Falls State Park, Oregon, so the lush, gorgeous, sprawling and overgrown PNW scenery is the strongest quality. Mighty rivers, thundering waterfalls, shadowy forests, deep ravines and treacherous mountain crests are the environment both the teens and the killers tread through here and it’s a terrifically rugged, high stakes setting for a slasher to take place in. I joke about the inbred thing because it’s funny, but I do feel like the film could have had another angle than just that, there’s not much imagination in the concept, but other than that this is a solid effort. Some thick, dreamy wildernesses atmosphere complete with eerie sound design that samples odd warps, warbles and spooky bird calls adds a lot too, with considerable suspense thanks to the elemental nature of the setting. Streaming now on Shudder.
Netflix and filmmaker Patrick Brice (the effective DIY Creep films) try their hand at a classic slasher frolic with 80’s influences for There’s Someone Inside Your House, a surprisingly grisly horror that works, for the most part, when the script isn’t trying to be too contemporary and ‘of the minute’ with tiresome buzzwords. It concerns a group of teens from one of those football, cornfield, jock jacket Midwest towns where the local high school has all the regular archetypes, here written through a prism of updated millennial banter that probably should have been dialed down. Someone is going around ruthlessly murdering people, each victim with a terrible, life changing secret that gets exposed alongside their killing, the murderer wearing a 3D printed mask of their prey each and every time. It’s a cool idea; a killer who uses secrets as lethally as blunt objects or blades, and when they come for you, you see an unsettlingly pristine prosthetic mirror image of yourself staring back at you. The film’s third act and Scream-esque revelations based on the killer’s identity reveal feel a bit anticlimactic, while the setup and ferocious midsection boast some truly inspired and gruesome kills, the opening murder involving severed Achilles’ tendons will be enough to make even the most seasoned gore hound wince. Much use is made of the cornfield setting, the locations have a desolate, wide open feel to them and of course they fucking shot it in Vancouver and Chilliwack and tried to pass it off as the States because they’ve got no imagination. It’s the sort of mid level, not classic but still pretty enjoyable slasher flick you’d see in the 80’s and 90’s, something like a tribute to Urban Legend or I Know What You Did Last Summer that isn’t destined for greatness or franchise notoriety, yet still does the trick. The woke stuff could have been toned down though, it takes you right out of the era they’re trying to place you in as it’s so obviously shoehorned in. Good kills and atmosphere though, and just check out that gorgeous poster.
When David Gordon Green’s 2018 Halloween dropped I didn’t quite believe that talk of an entire trilogy was true because we’ve heard that one before. As such, there were things that felt unwieldy, strange and open ended in the narrative that are explored further and deeper in Halloween Kills, a film that is getting some serious bad mojo out there in internet land. Well, it’s certainly not perfect, but I still enjoyed it for what it was: an expansion on the 1978 Halloween night and Myers lore with a whole circus tent of new characters, comic relief asides, callbacks, fresh themes and a surprising amount of actors from Carpenter’s original film returning once again. It’s hectic, it’s cluttered, at times it feels like far too much is going on but there’s also this feverish momentum to it as Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie and her whole band frantically run about trying to track down Michael and kill him. There’s her daughter Karen played by the always lovely Judy Greer and granddaughter Allyson played by Andi Matichak, a wonderful actress who creates a character you care about and is the emotional lynchpin of this new vision, I like the dynamic between the three of them that is given more room to develop here. Will Patton returns as Haddonfield’s toughest Sheriff’s Deputy, it’s always nice to see him and I’m not sure what’s spoiler territory or not in mentioning who shows up but none of it seems to really be a secret, they are kind of hit and miss across the board. Anthony Michael Hall is oddly stilted and stiff as grown up Tommy Doyle (where’s the 78 Doyle actor?) , while Kyle Richards is utterly sensational reprising her role as now adult Lindsay Wallace, she has become a terrific actress, a beautiful woman and the closest the film gets to a true retro Scream Queen, she rocks it in the single most suspenseful Michael sequence I’ve seen in these intense new visions. Equally effective is the wonderful Robert Longstreet as adult Lonnie Elam, exuding the same gritty humanity he brought to Mike Flanagan’s Haunting Of Hill House and Midnight Mass. This might be the most ambitious Halloween sequel we’ve seen yet and, naturally, not all of it works or clicks into place in a way that feels earned and organic, but look back at each instalment in the canon and you’ll find films that aren’t perfect, are rough around the edges but to a true diehard fan of this franchise (raises hand) all have some lovable quality or aspect that can be enjoyed and held dear. Except for for Resurrection, fuck that movie right up it’s Jack o’ lantern ass. But Kills is a sequel with a lot of inspiration and heart for the Myers mythos, the overarching Haddonfield saga and the slasher motif. There’s a sequence in the film where Haddonfield’s residents are whipped up into an angry, frenzied mob trying to hunt down Michael, but they become a maniacal, non thinking rabble with tunnel vision instead of carefully examining their situation and forming a tactical, realistic plan. I see a lot of that on the interwebs, where one bad review snowballs into a fervour of keyboard mashing until a big dumb mob forms to rip the film a new one. But did that first guy even see the thing, or form a focused, logical assessment of why the film is bad? Did you, dear critic, even read that before suiting up and joining the ranks? If you saw Halloween Kills and genuinely thought it was a bad film and can concisely articulate for us why it didn’t work for you, then carry on. But don’t just pitch your voice in tune with the din because that’s the way the fish are swimming, because that doesn’t make you cool, babe, it just makes you boring. I for one got a lot of enjoyment from the film, both in that special nostalgic spooky way the original two films made me feel and in a fascinating expansion of lore sensibility too. It’s not a perfect film and maybe not even a great one, but it sure works as an effective, formidable and entertaining chapter of the Michael Myers legacy for me.
Netflix has tried a somewhat innovative and unique experiment with their film adaptations of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books, filming an entire interconnected trilogy and then releasing them week by week like a running serial of feature length films. The effect is genius both in terms of marketing and the stories themselves and the only thing that would have made it better is if we got to see them week by week on the big screen, like a triple dip multiplex experience. The films are wonderful, three different slasher flicks set respectively in 1994, 1978 and 1666 with a neat double-back to the 90’s again as the last film wraps up the multigenerational, complicated tale of an evil curse placed on the hard-luck town of Shadyside, OH. As a group of teens in 94 scramble to figure out what’s causing some townspeople to go on murderous rampages, the second film takes us back to summer camp 78’ as the generation before them experiences the same killers who seem to be controlled by some kind of powerful force, and the third goes even farther back to the pilgrim settlers that first came to the region as we finally get to the root of what’s causing these century long killings spurred on by what seems like an evil witch, until we learn the real reason which is far more scary and sad. 94 presents to us a stunning opening sequence set inside an appropriately retro shopping centre complete with neon decorations and a masked killer inspired by Ghostface, while 78 offers a nice riff on stuff like Friday The 13th and Sleepaway Camp and 66 goes for a devilish spin on Salem-esque cultish witchiness. Despite all these stylistic influences and homages and an appropriately nostalgic soundtrack lineup full of crowd pleasing anthems of their day, this trilogy strives to be its own thing and not sink too deep into the waters of retro fan service without having an original voice of its own. The characters here are all terrifically developed and wonderfully acted by a massive cast full of familiar faces and relative newcomers alike and the whole thing is as fun as a gong show Halloween house party, as insanely gory (some of the kills are downright shocking) as we like our slashers to get, as down to earth as our favourite social commentary horrors and as deeply tragic and heartbreaking as horror should often be. Great stuff all round.