For those keeping track, Cult of Chucky is the seventh film in horror’s most resilient killer doll franchise, having dropped the Child’s Play title some twenty-seven years ago. Honestly, did anyone think that we’d still be talking about a new Chucky film in 2017, let alone a pretty good one? Actually, that’s not as far-fetched as you might think, especially following 2013’s surprisingly great Curse of Chucky, which helped reinvent our favorite serial killing Good Guy doll (as always, voiced by Brad Dourif) for a new generation of DTV/VOD fans.
As written and directed by series’s creator Don Mancini (who’s helmed every Chucky film since 2004’s Seed of Chucky and written them all) demonstrates, a little creativity and humor goes a long, long way in this business, especially when your franchise history includes splatter kills and procreating rubber dolls.
Things kick off with a banal discussion over the 2nd Amendment and quick recap of previous films as original Child’s Play star/victim Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) attempts to quell his frightened date’s fears about his ‘disturbing past’. Andy, if you’ll recall the extended-cut ending of Curse of Chucky, returned to the franchise for the first time since Child’s Play 3 to accept a surprise package containing – surprise! – a knife-wielding Chucky. Thankfully, he was more than ready to ‘play’ – with loaded shotgun at the ready.
With Cult of Chucky, Andy fully joins that small group of horror heroes we’ve seen in Nightmare on Elm Street’s Nancy and the boys from Phantasm that are totally self-aware of their place in their respective franchises. Andy now keeps the mutilated head of Chucky, still alive and still a complete bastard, tucked away safely, only taking him out to ‘play’ on lonely, dateless Friday nights.
From here the story shifts over to last film’s star Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif, also real-life daughter of Chucky’s voice Brad Dourif). Having survived Chucky’s onslaught, the wheelchair-bound Nica has been confined to the type of plain-white mental institution that only seems to exist in low-budget horror films, forced to psychologically work out her ‘murder’ issues among other mentally unstable patients. What could possibly go wrong?
For some bizarre reason, Nica’s rehabilitation includes using actual Good Guy dolls as therapy, especially ones called…Chucky! When asked where the doc purchased the new doll? Hot Topic, of course. Series favorite Jennifer Tilly also returns as Tiffany-slash-Jennifer Tilly (totally playing up her dual meta-roll this time around) to introduce yet another Chucky doll to the poor patients, once again for therapy reasons.
There’s not much to the plot, except the institution locale give the filmmakers plenty of reasons to ape the genre’s best, including forced-injections and patient strapdowns. Things can get a little bit uncomfortable when sexual assault rears its ugly head, but consider the irony when a maniacal killer doll swoops in to ‘save’ the day. If any of this sounds crazy, it totally is, and it’s best to not sweat the details; that’s not the type of movie you’re watching.
While viewers have to sit through the film’s 90+ minute running time to see how the whole ‘cult’ thing plays out, it’s mostly worth the effort. No spoilers, but we do get multiple, murderous Chucky dolls on the loose, each sporting slightly different looks, including dismembered limbs or dorky hairstyles. I’m still not sure if the doll animatronics are actually good or not, but there’s no doubt seeing a physical robotic Chucky alongside human actors is hysterical; kudos to Mancini for keeping things old-school.
Some have compared the Chucky movies to The Fast and the Furious franchise, another franchise that was essentially DOA before being ‘rebooted’ into the glorious, action-packed ‘family’ epic that’s come to dominate the box-office. That’s a fair comparison, actually. Stylized horror franchises starring cartoonish killers like Chucky, Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers and other crazies have limited lifespans, at least in their original forms. The best evolve, play up their strengths and move with the times; they stick around if they’ve still got something to say.
Just take a look at box-office and home-video (and now VOD) returns; horror is big business, possibly the most profitable genre in all of Hollywood. We live in an age when a well-received IT reboot crushes every record in its wake, The Conjuring is now a cinematic universe and grosses billions, and everything that can be a yearly franchise is. The last time we saw the genre so openly celebrate its absurdist roots was the franchise mix-matching of 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason; such pairings are now practically de rigeur if you wanna make money. There’s certainly room for a few new, well-made Chucky movies, thank you very much.
These newer Chucky films have taken the mantle once occupied by the latter Nightmare films, the ones where Freddy was more comic relief than actually menacing, throwing in the creative death blows of the Final Destination films, another series that refused to grow. There’s several quality kills on display here – especially if you love powerdrills – though nothing you probably haven’t seen before. Still, there’s enough old-school gore and bloodletting to satisfy that certain itch, even though nothing is remotely scary and you’ll be laughing through them all.
One doesn’t have to have any of the previous Child’s Play/Chucky films to appreciate the easy laughs and bloody kills of Cult of Chucky, but it’ll help, especially with so much fan-service sprinkled throughout. I won’t spoil them here, but check the IMDB credits when you’re done watching for a few nice surprises, ones that guarantee to keep the Good Guy training rolling forward. These new Chucky films work best if you accept they’re effectively no longer a horror franchise but comedy/horror, with a few jump scares tossed in for you Netflix and chillers. It’s not quite as good as Curse of Chucky, but that it’s good at all is a minor miracle.