Child's Play (1988) launched one of horror's great film franchises. The most brilliant component, I've always felt, was getting Brad Dourif to play Charles Lee Ray.
The mortally wounded serial killer, to save his own life, uses his voodoo knowledge to transfer his mind & soul into the Chucky doll in the toy store where a police officer has run him to ground.
There are not many actors who could continue so wholeheartedly to be in a film after their physical body is removed from it, & the rest must be done with just the voice.
The doll as prop was clearly well designed & marvelous in its look of mischief, sweetness, & evil. Yet in the first film Chucky's not very much articulated, so it really was Dourif's voice & not that limited range of motion that made Chucky seem real.
Dourif sustained exactly the right level of smart-ass humorousness & creepy-doll dangerousness, as Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) bonds with the Chucky doll -- a best friend that has the ultimate intent of regaining human form by taking over Andy's body. And in the meantime, killing a few people for sport.
In terms of scariness, to me the only really edgy moment was when storms gathered over the doll factory during the soul switch-over.
And interestingly enough, the original theatrical release poster, as yet unaware of how iconic Chucky was to become, used the stormy sky over vintage architecture (the landmark Brewster Apartments in Chicago) as promotional image, as if assuming the most terrifying moment of the film, rather than the doll, would be what got to people.
That, or not wanting to give away the fact that young Andy wasn't the killer, the poster intentionally did not want to regveal Chucky too soon.
The rest was too campy to involve shivers, & in 1988 such films just weren't apt to really endanger a child character, so of suspense there is little. But fun? You bet your cherry on top!
And was I ever glad when two years later out came Child's Play 2 (1990), occasionally subtitled Chucky's Back.
The doll was more articulated this time, the range of motion more convincing, but the first installment was nevertheless more effective, with Chucky's origins having made it a more complete story.
As with the first film it was Brad' Dourif's voice that gave Chucky so much demented character, the psychopathic doll we love to hate.
Alex Vincent reprises the role of Andy, now in a foster home, while the dimwit tycoons at the toy factory decide that the best way to combat the "urban legend" of one of their toys having come to life to murder people was to reconstruct the doll until it's good as new & then show people it's just a doll.
Well, Chucky ain't just a doll, & soon Chucky is on the warpath again, seeking out Andy to complete the soul-transference.
Chucky's return is simultaneously more gruesome & more comedic, & with each entry into the series, the humor quotient will increase.
Since the second film was little more than a repeat of the first story & doesn't take us "further" in the Chucky mythos, we had to wait until Child's Play 3 (1991) for a slightly bigger variation in a sequel.
Though the third film was only one year behind part two, we're informed eight years have passed. Andy Barclay, a teenager in military school, is now played by Justin Whalin.
Play Pals Toy Company thinks enough time has passed that no one will remember murderous Chucky, so they decide to resurrect the Good Guys toy line. They recycle thyeir old doll parts & before you know it, Charles Lee Ray's restless spirit is back in Action as the menacing, scowling, evil Chucky.
As before, Chucky sets out to find Andy, but Andy's too grown up to be easy pickings for a soul swap, so he's going to try for a younger boy, Ronald (Jeremy Sylvers). Andy alone understands what Chucky is up to, & takes a stand to defeat the nasty little shit.
Rather than go straight for the soul exchange before military students catch on & fight back, Chucky's psychotic nature can't help but think of the school as a happy killing ground for self-fulfillment.
He begins doing people in left & right, pulling "practical jokes" like replacing the paintball amunition with live bullets (as if that were even possible, but hey, it's just a joke).
Series screenwriter Don Mancini has called this his least favorite of the series, because he worked under a burdensomely short deadline without much in the way of a new idea. Horror fans have all too often agreed with him.
But I think Mancini is oversensitive on the topic, as the third installment has even more of the deliciously sick humor of the first two, plus some good & varied kills. And it's wonderful to see Andy growing up such a heroic young man.
Although the third film in the series did less box office & got blasted by a lot of critics, his status as a pop culture icon continued to grow. As time clicked on we'd have Chucky comic books, Chucky wall calendars, Chucky dolls complete with axe, gun, & butcher knife,
The initial "trilogy" was dependent on ideas in place from the beginning, & surely to make more films about trying to get some kid's soul & killing everybody in the way would now get redundant.
But series writer Don Mancini was given plenty of time to think up new stuff when it came down to Bride of Chucky (1998).
Brad's still doing the voice, & with Chucky a bit cut up & scarred from the damage done in the third installment, he's now like a Frankenstein doll. So why not, like Frankenstein, get a bride?
Jennifer Tilly plays witchy-goth Tiffany, a psycho killer in her own right. She acquires the infamous Chucky doll, for which she has a wide-on, & does her witchery upon it, with every intention of marrying the resurged Chucky.
Chucky doesn't want to get married. He has by now been a doll for so many years he'd really rather do a creature like himself.
So he offs Tiffany & transfers her soul into a doll, a pudgy beauty of a goth chick who looks a lot like Jennifer Tilley.
And once again casting is brilliant. She's a wonderful physical comedienne while in the story body & all, then when she becomes the Tiffany doll, there can't be but two or three actresses in all Hollywood who have voices that really could belong to a doll.
Chucky & his little goth bride go on a mutual killing spree along Route 66, non-stop gory laughs, smart-ass one liners & events. The dolls never cease to seem like living entities, the brilliant vocal work together with the puppetry resulting in a perfect illusion. And that Tiffany doll is such a crazy sleezy little pastic lady, I loved her.
It's rare that a horror franchise has a true guiding hand throughout. Each film had a different director, but it had the same writer throughout, & for the sixth installment the screenwriter even took over as director.
There was progeny from Tiffany & Chucky's bloody & ill-fated liason, & he's the Seed of Chucky (2004). Glen Ray (Billy Boyd) is a sweet-natured orphan doll born at the point of death for the Tiffany doll, living a miserable Oliver Twist of a life as a carnival sideshow attraction.
For love of family, he manages to resurrect his momma & pappy, bringing them into the bodies of new versions of themselves that were created for a horror comedy being made about their "real life" exploits in the previous installment. The film stars, who else, Jennifer Tilly, who happens to be Tiff's favorite actress on earth!
Tiff wants to be human again so is up with the plan to transfer her soul into her favorite actress's body. Chucky figures he might as well take over the body & life of Def Squad rapper "Redman" (played by himself). The only thing they're waiting for is for Jennifer Tilly to get pregnant, so they'll also have a body for their son Glen Ray.
Tiff & Chucky are again voiced by Jennifer Tilly & Brad Dourif to superb effect.
Glen is a terrible disappointment to his father, as the big-eyed sweet dove of a transgendered youth just doesn't want to kill anybody (despite that when he was born at the very end of Bride of Chucky,he was shown at once to be a toothy menace).
How Glen copes with having psychopaths for a mom & dad is whimsically balanced with their comedy kililng spree. If there had ever been a time when the series intended to be scary or horrific, that's most certainly gone now, for the most over-the-top sicko humor, packed with inside-jokes for horror fandom.
And yet these doll characters have conviction, they're not slapstick props, but real characters. And Jennifer's willingness to undergo insult comedy made me love her as herself as much as I loved her as Tiffany. It's a beautifully designed film throughout, & my idea of a perfect comedy.
Continue to Tod Browning's:
The Devil-Doll (1936)
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