Call it fate. Call it luck. Call it karma. I believe everything happens for a reason. Why else would you spend an entire evening watching each and every Chucky movie back-to-back with nothing but a Netflix account and a packet of Tesco Onion Rings for company?
Actually, the choice was pretty simple. As soon I tweeted into being the world class mega-pun “Up All Night To Get Chucky” – in honour of the Curse of Chucky screening taking place at this year’s Film 4 Frightfest – there was only one thing for it.
I’d never actually seen a Chucky film before. And with the entire Child’s Play series available on VOD via one platform or another, there’s never been a better time to experience the sheer ginger terror of everyone’s favourite Demonic Hell Child on the small screen.
So here it is. The whole bloody affair. For what it’s worth, I am terribly sorry. My nascent and puerile imagination is to blame. That’s what happens when you stay up all night to get Chucky.
7pm: Child’s Play, 1988 (dir. Tom Holland)
The night starts strong with Child’s Play, a sleazily enjoyable treat and no mistake.
Essentially, it’s rocking this Eighties cop movie vibe, with Fright Night’s Chris Sarandon chasing down nasty bastard Brad Dourif (when is Brad Dourif not a nasty bastard?) and cornering him in the surprisingly gothic bowels of a Chicago toy store.
The film soon turns all voodoo crazy, however, when Dourif (bleeding all over the joint like its going out of blood fashion or something) starts chanting exotically and transfers his everlasting soul into the plastic edifice of a “Good Guy” doll. Proper primal.
Tom Holland is an Actual Film Director, and it shows. He made the original Fright Night, and clearly had a blast with this one too. Under Holland’s steer, Child’s Play is a remarkably lean beast, hitting all the right creepy notes, some of them in the right creepy order. It’s a B-movie, but it’s a B-movie with the dial tuned to “histrionic.” You know, like Maniac Cop, or Wolfen, or something equally devious and deranged.
Mercifully, Holland only shows off Chucky when he needs to, cranking up the suspense to daft levels as and when it suits him. The guy has skills. (Holland also directed Fatal Beauty starring Whoopi Goldberg, an underrated, pulpy delight from a time when massive stars would regularly pop up in 18 certificate scuzz-fests and get away with it.)
Anyway, Chucky gets camper than a tent mallet later in the series, so it’s a bit of a shock hearing him go full psycho in the first instalment. Dourif’s clearly having the most fun out-of-body experience ever. This first incarnation of Chucky is more raw force of nature than smoked ham, and while there’s a smattering of Z-grade quippage, he’s basically just a parasite in search of a host.
Chucky’s attacks turn increasingly savage as the film progresses. There’s this insane explosion in a derelict town-house on the wrong side of the tracks as Chucky takes down a rival from his shady serial killer past. Production value, yo! Later on, Holland indulges himself with a world-class, slow-motion car flip as Chucky assaults Sarandon from the back seat of the vehicle, forcing the thing off the road, and trapping his prey inside.
1. Try as I might, I find it almost impossible to watch anything with Chris Sarandon and not think of his smarmy, iconic turn as the hapless Prince Humperdinck in The Princess Bride. Poor Chris Sarandon. He could play the Pope, or Gandhi, or Tony Stark, and it wouldn’t make a difference. All I’d be thinking is: “Please consider me as an alternative to suicide.” Oddly, not bad advice for someone watching the Chucky films back-to-back on a Saturday evening.
2. Chucky sounds exactly like Daniel Plainview by the end of the film.
3. His slow, agonising death kinda makes you feel sorry him, am I right?
4. Re: Tom Holland, iMDB rates Fright Night a couple of notches below The Fly II in the “Greatest Horror Movies of the 80s”, ahem, stakes – don’t believe them, they’re crazy. Fright Night rocks hard.
8.30pm: Child’s Play 2, 1990 (dir. John Lafia)
So far, so good. The first movie was an unexpected hoot. Even better, I’m pretty sure I’m not insane. At least, not yet. Heavens be praised!
Child’s Play 2 is next up and, my goodness, it’s a nasty little thing. If Child’s Play 1 has its cake and eats it, then Child’s Play 2 serves up the cake with a razor blade topping and an arsenic aperitif. It’s cold, heartless, masochistic fare – ruthlessly efficient and, it has to be said, guiltily enjoyable.
The pace of the thing is remarkable. It starts off Robocop-style, with Chucky’s charred remains reclaimed and reassembled by the toy factory from whence he came. (Well, his physical form, anyway. It’s fair to say his soul remains a commodity of Hell itself, and as we all know, there are no returns in Hell.)
Once reborn and unleashed, Chucky attempts to track down Andy, now living in a foster home with Jenny Agutter. Yes, the actual Jenny Agutter. From The Railway Children! What next? Bernard Cribbins as the front-end of a Human Centipede? Anyhow, also in residence: a truant riot girl called Kyle who wears enormous white socks and looks for all intents and purposes like she’s just walked straight off the set of Adventures in Babysitting. This is excellent news – a female character who: (a) can take care of herself, and (b) resolutely refuses to put up with your crap? Cool as a cucumber, too. Hardly your average scream queen, and therefore approved.
The director is John Lafia, a TV guy with only one or two other big screen credits to his name. Anyone remember The Blue Iguana starring Dylan McDermott? Well, it stinks. Amazingly, despite his less than impressive credentials, the high-end production values of the first film remain intact on Lafia’s watch. Child’s Play 2 looks great, very cinematic from the outset. There’s even a car chase to rival the one from CP1.
Perhaps inevitably (we’re balls deep in Franchiseland, after all) there are way more one-liners on this occasion. Chucky’s a right regular Michael McIntyre. Best of the bunch? The bit when he says, “How’s it hanging, Phil?” after tripping up Andy’s foster dad and literally hanging him from the basement stairwell. That’s a deep cut, right there.
The finale is a cavalcade of horror references, narrow escapes and general unpleasantness. There are nods and winks to better films all over the shop e.g. The Fly, The Thing, The Shining (all the “The” films, basically.) And the massive, synthesised, almost Elfman-ish score hangs over everything like a heavy Gothic drape.
1. Much like the first film, Child’s Play 2 features TERRIBLE parenting. Take heed, child wranglers!
2. At one point, Chucky calls someone “a stupid slut”, which is definitely Not Cool.
3. The film features a shot of Andy tied up with a sock in his mouth, which apparently is a “recurring motif” of the Child’s Play series. So there you go.
4. Andy’s teacher = Beth Grant aka Kitty “Sparkle Motion” Farmer from Donnie Darko. We can only assume Richard Kelly’s a fan. (For the record, she gets attacked by a basketball pump, then spanked to death with a ruler.)
5. Chucky’s excruciating demise once again elicits sympathy for the character. Furthermore, Andy and Kyle seem to fetishistically enjoy taking him out, which is just weird.
10pm: Child’s Play 3, 1991 (dir. Jack Bender)
You know how each season of The Wire had a different theme bubbling away in the background? Well, ditto the Child’s Play movies. Child’s Play 1 has social welfare. Child’s Play 2 has education system. Child’s Play 3? Military interventionism
So, Number 3. The Dark Chucky Rises. Or, to be more precise, Full Metal Chucky. This one follows Andy as he gets shipped off to military academy, and sadly it’s the first outright dud of the evening. The film kicks off with a gruesome and admirably stylish credit sequence showing Chucky’s latest reconstruction, but things go rapidly downhill from there. The plotting is pedestrian and the actors, well, they just look bored. No one likes bored actors in horror films. What do they think this is? Scream 4?
Browsing through the IMDb, I note that one of the posters for CP3 features the immortal/not-at-all-clunky slogan: “There comes a time to put away childhood things. But some things just won’t stay put!” I wish they would.
Directed by TV vet Jack Bender (Lost, The Sopranos, Under the Dome) it’s a turgid old slog of a film that fails to sustain the gleefully chaotic momentum of CP1 and 2. Distressingly, there’s nowhere near as much Chucky action in this one, as the film instead focuses on Andy and his new army base surroundings. Big mistake. We’re meant to believe that he’s psychologically volatile following his earlier encounters with his infernal plastic nemesis. But the problem with teenage Andy is that he’s just so bloody dull. About as damaged as a dishcloth, in fact.
The film’s dearth of exciting set-pieces is painfully hammered home by the insertion of a ramshackle sequence in which Chuck accidentally scares someone into having a heart attack. He literally has to do nothing. That’s not just lazy, that’s crazy lazy.
1. Andy starts the movie with a haircut that looks exactly like Chucky’s ginger wig. Paging Doctor Freud!
2. Other poster tag lines for Child’s Play 3 include “Look who’s stalking!” and “Chucky goes ballistic.”
3. Best quip? “Don’t fuck with the Chuck!”
4. The narrative fabric of the franchise is torn apart when Chucky realises he doesn’t need Andy’s body specifically in order to live again. Literally anyone will do, thus negating the entire point of the first two films. Amazing.
11.30pm: Bride of Chucky, 1998 (dir. Ronny Yu)
“You know what the French call an orgasm? Le petit mort. The little death. C’mon Tiffany, let’s die a little!” What a line! It’s not even Chucky’s. That’s one of the great things about Bride of Chucky – everyone quips. Even better, the film is a bit of a banger.
An unusual and witty movie that ditches many of the stalk ‘n’ slash tropes of the original trilogy, BoC dives head-first into bone fide black comedy territory. There’s more humour and invention in the first 10 minutes than in the whole of CP3. Sass levels are off the scale. And it works. Martial arts director Ronny Yu lends the film a steady hand, and the film looks big and glossy as a result, coated in a late-Nineties sheen.
The big result here is no Andy. Phew! That guy was getting whiny. Elsewhere, Jennifer Tilly is a charisma explosion as the titular Bride aka Tiffany, playing Elsa Lanchester to Dourif’s Boris Karloff. Her casting is the single best thing that could have happened to this franchise. She’s unhinged and marvellous.
Tonally, the film feels like the “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” of Chucky movies, and this is no bad thing. It’s self-referential but never annoying, and brimming with outstanding gags e.g. the moment when Tiffany figures out her fate by reading “Voodoo for Dummies” is gold. This outrageousness infects the entire movie. Take, for instance, the following exchange:
Chucky: “What would Martha Stewart say?”
Tiffany: “Fuck Martha Stewart!”
See? It’s like a Chucky movie directed by John Waters, with Tilly channelling her inner Divine. Delightful.
1. For all the LOLs, Bride of Chucky also showcases some of the franchise’s best set-pieces including, but not limited to: stabby-death by mirrored ceiling, electro-death by TV/bathtub, explodey-death by fuel tank. Also, John Ritter (the actual John Ritter) gets nailed in the face. Twice.
2. Yes that is Katherine Heigl.
3. Best poster tagline yet, for obvious reasons: “Chucky Gets Lucky”
4. Speaking of which, the controversial doll sex sequence (Chucky and Tiffany get it on, reasonably explicitly) pre-dates Team America’s synthetic erotica by a good six years.
5. Oh, before I forget – Tiffany gives birth at the end. That’s important for the next one.
1am: Seed of Chucky, 2004 (dir. Dan Mancini)
All roads lead to this. Seed of Chucky is the first film in the series to be directed by Chucky’s creator, Don Mancini. He wrote the screenplays for each and every one of the other films, so it seems a natural progression for him to step up to the gory plate and have a bash himself. He’s also the guy behind the forthcoming Curse of Chucky and very much keeper of the Child’s Play flame.
Perhaps fittingly, then, SoC is by far the most oddball film in the franchise. Cheap, crass and at times just downright peculiar, the film strives for the invigorating, post-modern ingenuity of New Nightmare, but feels more like a bad dream. To make matters worse, the whole shebang looks like it was shot on an iPhone.
It starts ever so confidently, with a bravura, single-take introduction to the titular spawn. Unnerving, twitchy and gratifyingly nasty, it’s probably the series’ most straight-up horror moment since CP1.
Thereafter the film descends into ill-judged comedy and trashy referencing. To wit, and clearly inspired by the filthy shenanigans of the previous movie, Mancini casts John Waters as a prying paparazzo on the look-out for a hot Tilly-based scoop (she plays herself in the movie.)
Nice idea, but the film lacks the vulgar charm of BoC, or the killer instinct of the original film. A disappointing end to a very strange night.
1. Hannah from S Club 7 plays Jennifer Tilly’s PA. Don’t stop movin’, Hannah!
2. Less distressingly, there’s a scene in which hip-hop superstar Redman gets disembowelled during dinner. Better out than in?
3. SoC features more deaths than any other Chucky movie. The best one? John Waters. In the face. With acid.
4. “Sock in mouth” motif present and correct.
5. I’m going to bed now. ‘Night all.
Curse of Chucky premieres in the UK at FrightFest tonight – there are still tickets available here. It is released on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD on Monday 21st October. Pre-order it on Amazon.