Each month, our marathon man bonds with box sets on a molecular level. Child’s play, really
CHUCKY IS HORROR’S Duracell bunny: he keeps going and going. As his 30th anniversary approaches, the devil doll has spawned seven movies of erratic quality but what’s surprising is there are no standalone sequels: all the films are written by Don Mancini, and connect into a saga about a kid called Andy and his sentient doll.
A bit like Toy Story for psychopaths.
Unleashed in 1988, Tom Holland’s Child’s Play is, pardon the pun, ‘Chucky For Dummies’.
Gunned down by cops in a toy store, serial killer Charles Lee Ray voodoos his soul into a Good Guy doll, which is gifted to six-year-old Andy. Cue babysitter massacre and Andy’s mum suspecting her son’s to blame. Voiced by Brad Dourif, Chucky’s brought to cackling life via still-brill animatronics — much of the horror is psychological but what’s striking are the bleak, stark Chicago locations that make its ridiculous concept tangible.
Mum in the nuthouse, Child’s Play 2 (1990) finds Andy lodging with foster parents. Enter Chucky, rebuilt by toy company Play Pal. A stalk-and-slash replay of the original, it’s slicker and gorier, but with Chucky now cracking wise, he’s about as scary as a potato. Still, the finale in a toy factory is a novelty-death hoot: Chucky gets melted into soup, inflated like a Zeppelin then popped to smithereens. Glued back together, he hunts down a teenage Andy at a military school for Child’s Play 3 (1991) in a truly awful slasher remix of Full Metal Jacket. The acting’s so plastic the whole cast appear to have been Chuckified, but arming the doll to the teeth is a baffling clanger.
We’re only three films in, but already I can’t take Chucky seriously and, seemingly, neither can the franchise. Radically rebooting from studio slasher to horror-comedy, and dropping the Child’s Play stamp, Bride Of Chucky (1998) teams him with Jennifer Tilly as his rubbery dollfriend, Tiffany.
Face now a Scalextric of scars, the all-new Chucky looks more menacing; the tone, however, is trashy splatstick. It ends with Tilly giving splatty birth, and Seed Of Chucky (2004) opens with Chucky’s gormless son Glen (Billy Boyd), who looks like Ziggy Stardust on meth, visiting Hollywood to find his movie star dad. With the ‘real’ Tilly menaced by the ‘real’ Chucky, Seed is Don Mancini’s spin (now he’s graduated to director) on Wes Craven’s New Nightmare — a self-aware satire that flips the bird at its own legacy. Tilly’s a riot sending up her sexpot persona and the gags are crude (Chucky wanking off to Fangoria) but the film winks so hard it breaks an eyelid.
I can feel my brain congealing into rubber when, five sequels in, the best entry lands. It’s pretty obvious by now that Chucky’s remoulded every few years to fit the era’s horror trends. Confined to one night in a haunted house, 2013’s Curse Of Chucky feels like a James Wan movie: all slow-creep, sharp jumps and a bare-bones plot that sees Chucky terrorising a survivor from Lee’s serial-killing days. Okay, so it’s blatantly ‘Chuckabelle’, but, thanks to a nervy turn from Fiona ‘daughter of Brad’ Dourif, it actually makes the killer-doll concept scary again.
After Curse’s post-credits sting yanks an adult Andy (played by the original model, Alex Vincent) back into the saga, this year’s Cult Of Chucky doesn’t just come full circle: it swallows the entire Chuckyverse. Set in a clinical asylum with Ms Dourif’s Nica declared insane, Cult returns to the original’s mind-games, questioning whether Chucky is real or imaginary. Featuring Andy, Tiffany, three Chuckies and call-backs to every previous entry, if, like me, you’ve just binged the series, watching the saga link up is insanely satisfying. Newbies, however, will feel blitheringly confused. God knows where the demon ginger will end up next but here’s a thought: Chucky’s a Universal monster. Lob him into the studio’s Dark Universe and set him loose on Tom Cruise.
CULT OF CHUCKY IS OUT NOW ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND DOWNLOAD