Monday, October 9, 2017

Good Guys Finish Them All Off: "Cult" takes Chucky series down an inventive avenue


Cult of Chucky (2017)
91 min., rated R.

“Child’s Play” series creator Don Mancini can’t seem to let go of the Chuckster, now on to his seventh film, “Cult of Chucky,” and why should he? Like Chucky’s bride Tiffany Valentine (Jennifer Tilly) once said, “a true classic never goes out of style." It is a surprise there hasn’t been a “Chucky in Space” yet, but Mancini (who has faithfully written all previous six films and directed 2004’s “Seed of Chucky” and 2013’s “Curse of Chucky”) brings surprising creative inspiration, stylish visual sense, and such an irresistible bug-nuttiness to this entry when it could have very easily fallen into desperate self-parody (and not the fun, meta kind like in “Seed”). Yes, one could not be more surprised that the seventh Chucky movie is actually as good as it is, but here we are, and "Cult of Chucky" leads to so much potential for more installments. 

The last survivor of Chucky’s killing rampage, paraplegic Nica (Fiona Dourif) was charged for the murders of her family and admitted to an institution for the criminally insane. She has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and has accepted the fact that Chucky was a mask for her own psychosis. When she is released from a psychiatric ward and transferred to an isolated, medium-security facility, Nica finds a little compassion in one of the nurses and a few of the patients, even if all of them have their own issues. During a patient session, Dr. Foley (Michael Therriault) pulls out a "Good Guy" doll also named Chucky—he purchased it from Hot Topic—as a way for Nica to confront her disease head-on. When a special guest delivers terrible news to Nica and brings along another Chucky doll to help Nica deal with her loss, things don’t go so well when that doll (voiced, as always, by Brad Dourif) perks to life and finds a scalpel. Will Nica’s fellow patients start dropping like flies? Um, does a bear shit in the woods? 

Whereas 1998’s “Bride of Chucky” launched a distinct tonal departure for the series with outrageously broad, self-aware humor and then “Curse of Chucky” returned to the dark, serious roots of 1988’s “Child’s Play,” “Cult of Chucky” melds both tones into a gleefully R-rated and ruthlessly entertaining blast for fans. It embraces Chucky’s demented sense of humor and goes down an inventive avenue, ensuring that writer-director Don Mancini is actually trying to up the ante and refuses to repeat himself. Since this is still part of the Chucky canon and must deliver its bread-and-butter kills, the red-headed, malevolently wisecracking terror is never done playing once he gets his hands on a drawer of “sharps.” The death scenes are memorably ghastly enough to add to the killer doll’s pantheon, many of them head-related and one in particular that calls back the honeymoon hotel mirror murder in “Bride” (still the best of the sequels). 

Fiona Dourif is very good with all she has to do as Nica, bound to a wheelchair again, and gets to go for it in a way that brings her closer to her father, Brad Dourif, who will forever be known as the voice of Chucky. The animatronic effects are as seamless as ever, and Chucky’s one-liners are on-point, almost always clever without being overly shoehorned-in, like a nod to Hannibal Lecter and NBC’s canceled-too-soon TV series “Hannibal” (which Mancini worked on as a writer for a couple of episodes). Also, back to the fold, Jennifer Tilly once again gets to cheekily play with her real-life image as Tiffany Valentine by way of Jennifer Tilly and retains her m.o. of slitting throats and licking the blood off of her nail-filing knife, and Andy Vincent returns as Andy Barclay, who’s still having trouble living a life of normalcy from the traumatic discovery of his 6th birthday present holding the soul of a serial killer.

What awaits Chucky's rabid fans in the third act will surely take even them for a spin. And, like the coda and post-credits stinger of “Curse” that brought back Tiffany doing her man's bidding and a gun-toting Andy as an adult, this one tacks on another fun cameo, post end credits. Writer-director Mancini's affection for the two-foot-sized killer still never tires and, while keeping with the continuity of the mythology of Charles Lee Ray (his friends call him "Chucky") that he has built for nearly three decades, he dares to put a fresh spin on what has come before. Unlike fellow horror slasher icons Michael, Freddy and Jason, Chucky has not yet been retooled (read: plasticized and bastardized), so in its own demented way, “Cult of Chucky” is the purest “Child’s Play” sequel to date and yet carves out a new direction for the series to endure.

Grade: B - 

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