Curse of Chucky
It’s tough to believe that it’s been 9 years since Seed of Chucky hit theaters. It doesn’t seem that long to me, but to most fans it’s probably a time they wanted to block from their memory. Series creator Don Mancini’s first directorial effort was wildly polarizing with its unabashed foray into parody and self-satire. A franchise that started out as a story of a doll terrorizing people had now become an inquisition into gender confusion and Hollywood politics. While I found the take refreshing and Mancini’s craft behind the camera admirable, I too can’t deny that he pretty much took the series off the rails and to the point of no return. In the 9 years since, though, the remake wave has allowed us horror fans to revisit and re-appreciate the franchises we love with new reimaginings of familiar characters. It never seemed possible in 2004, but today I think we’re finally able to take Chucky seriously again – well, as seriously as you can take a send-up of the Cabbage Patch Kids, anyway. At least it looks like Don Mancini is able to take Chucky seriously again if the marketing for Curse of Chucky is true. Charles Lee Ray is without scars tormenting a new family, the tone looks dark, and Tiffany and her gender-confused son Glen don’t seem to be anywhere in sight. As we should know with the series and anyone who receives the smiling doll as a gift…appearances aren’t what they first seem.
Nica (Fiona Dourif, daughter so someone with a little history with this series) lives in a glorious, old, gothic mansion in the middle of nowhere outside
Inside the box is a Good Guys doll. “They were popular in the 80s”, a character in the film notes. “Like Smurfs”. But what is it doing there? Neither Nica nor Sarah have much time to consider the doll before nightfall, and by daybreak one will be dead. Nica rises to find Sarah dead in a puddle of blood. Was it a bad fall? Nica’s sister, Barb (Danielle Bisutti, Insidious 2), comes to the house to console her, along with her husband Ian (Brennan Elliott), nanny Jill (Maitland McConnell) and little daughter Alice (Summer H. Howell), who naturally takes an immediate liking to the little Chucky (voiced as always by legend Brad Dourif) doll. Things aren’t quite what they seem, though – Barb wants to sell the old house, Jill is more than just a nanny, Ian’s planted a hidden camera and that Good Guy doll isn’t so good. When the local priest, Father Frank (A Martinez, A guy with a very short first name), dies horribly after a dinner at the old manor, it appears Sarah’s death might have been more than just an accident.
It’s a dark and stormy night, but it’s more than just the power that’s being cut. Chucky is turning up in weird places and Alice is repeating some nasty things that she allegedly heard from the doll. This time, though, Chucky isn’t out to swap souls. Alice is last on his hit list – he wants revenge. As some old super8 footage reveals, Charles Lee Ray was a family friend of Sarah back in their time in Chicago, but something seems to have wound the little doll the wrong way. Chucky said it best, “I’m your friend to the end”, and for most in the house, that end will be tonight. And for Nica, she’ll realize she has more in common with Chucky than just the Dourif name.
After all the Hollywood hijinx of Seed, this small, intimate Curse couldn’t be more of a change. We move instead to a single location in cool, rural Canada and do so in a much more serious fashion. As series caretaker Don Mancini notes in the extras, he’s made an “old dark house” movie, adding iron bars, dark shadows and gothic flourish to a series that had crossed the line to camp years prior. If the location has an old fashion flourish, so too does Mancini’s direction, with confident, telegraphed camera work that eschews the trend to shaky cam histrionics and instead brings us back to a time when films were storyboarded and camera moves served a purpose. There is some dazzling crane work here, connecting characters and heightening anxiety with a God-like omniscient-ness. This may be Chucky’s first Direct-to-Video foray, but Manitoba’s #1 Director of Photography, Michael Marshall (Ginger Snaps: The Beginning, Wrong Turn 4, Guy Maddin’s Twilight of the Ice Nymphs) makes it look anything but. All told, this might be the most cinematic film in the series.
We find out early in the film that we’re in good hands when Don Mancini expertly stages the first big Chucky attack. It involves the doll poisoning the tomato soup with rat poison, but he only has time to pour it into one. What follows would make Sir Alfred proud, as the camera roves and spins around the dishes on the table, turning dinner into what Mancini calls a “roulette wheel” of possible outcomes. Mancini teases us with each character. Would he kill the child? A priest? A girl in a wheelchair? Nothing is off-limits, and it’s just a gas to watch it all transpire with such assured direction. Mancini’s always showed himself to be a strong writer in stretching the seams on a killer doll franchise that’s gone in a number of topical directions over its six films, but he proves just as capable as a director, lacing his film with a style that recalls the classics, from DePalma to Raimi to even John Schlesinger.
If a case can be made for Don Mancini as an auteur after only two Chucky films to his directorial credit, one would likely cite his penchant for gender politics. He again writes female characters that overcome their appearance to become alpha. Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) was certainly much stronger than her squeaky voice and buxom cleavage would first have you believe, and here the wheelchair-bound Nica ends up being the strongest of all. Gender is more than just political to Don Mancini, it’s also very much sexual, and building on the gender confusion of Glen/da from Seed of Chucky, Mancini does an even better job here playing on our heterosexual Hollywood expectations with the way the Barb-Ian-Jill love triangle transpires. Kudos to the way he handles his female actors, too, with Bisutti relishing her yuppie scum role and Lady Dourif proving that she got the movie not because of her father but because she was the best person for the job. Fiona really, uh, runs with her role here and carries the film as an empathetic core. With all the female drama, you get a sense that it’s the gay Mancini talking when Chucky quips later in the film “Women, can’t live with them…period!”
I’ve been praising Mancini’s handling of the material, but I think the biggest accomplishment here is the material itself. Many considered Child’s Play a ruined property after all the self-satirization of Seed of Chucky, but Mancini did what many thought he couldn’t and effectively hit the reset button. In fact, Mancini did a whole lot more than that. The big pleasure of this film is seeing just how Mancini handles a film that was conceived during our remake-happy horror era. He gives us a film that looks and acts like its separate from the existing canon – a fresh, new doll at a new location with new characters, but the deeper we peel, quite literally, the more we start to see this tied in quite cleverly with the rest of the mythology. Mancini manages to do what few screenwriters have done in Hollywood – he’s made a film that’s an effective refresh for new audiences and a film that’s also building on and faithful to the lore the fans have loved for decades. The longer this film runs (and make sure you watch it all the way to the end of the disc, people) the more there is for the fans and the better this movie gets. I refuse to spoil anything because it was so fun for me as a viewer to see all the places Mancini took us with his use of old footage and familiar characters. Someone give this guy a crack at the Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street franchises – they need this guy’s historic sensitivity and storytelling wit.
Of course, wit and style and sensitivity and all that means little in a horror movie if you don’t have the kills, but thankfully Curse of Chucky mostly delivers on that front, too. Mancini employs a number of messy practical effects that really get their due in the unrated cut. There’s a car accident that’s particularly ghastly, as well as some nasty knifework from Chucky and the Manitoba effects team of Michael Hamilton (Wrong Turn 4) and Doug Morrow (Silent Night, Mother’s Day, Wishmaster 3 & 4). The effects that don’t quite work are of the CG variety, but thankfully there isn’t too much of that in this film. Most of the time Chucky is puppeted or played by a smaller actor, but there are a few computer generated shots of him walking down the stairs or doing more complicated stunts that don’t quite sell. There’s an electrocution scene that fares a little better, but still just doesn’t impress the same way that good old fashioned practical effects do. Luckily, Don Mancini is a pretty old fashioned director, so the film is mostly practical, and all the better for it.
“The 80s were awesome.” Ian says this midway through the film, but it could have just as easily have been any of us, horror fans from arguably the golden age of the genre. I have to believe Don Mancini is one of us as well. Like us, he’s seen lackluster reboots of eighties classics like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Prom Night and The Stepfather, and like us he understands the heartache that comes with seeing a beloved series or character desecrated for callous capitalism. Chucky may be far past his heyday in the eighties (probably more like early nineties, but whatever), but Don Mancini still treats him like his own Frankenstein, and as a result Curse of Chucky might end up going down as one of the best reboots of its generation, one of the strongest entries in the series, and one of the last glimmers of hope that perhaps those eighties sensibilities that informed so many iconic horror films still remains. That this was relegated to video illustrates the fallacy of the current theatrical market that has become so oversaturated with big budget comic book adaptions or destruction pictures that even franchise favorites can’t even compete. It’s a Curse, isn’t it?
As is so often these days with new releases, this is another near-flawless transfer. Incredible sharpness, a light, natural grain, vivid colors, bold blacks…it’s a checklist of to-dos when making a transfer that’s on display here. Michael Marshall and Don Mancini employed a bold color palette throughout, with some scenes tinged with orange candle glow, others by blue parkade flourescenes and still more by green moonlight. Those colors come through very effectively on Blu-ray, along with all the minute details like the texture of Chucky’s plastic head with the bitrate often hovering nice and high around 30 Mbps. The film is beautiful to look at, and the transfer is too.
The audio isn’t as stunning, but the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio certainly is no slouch. While not an overly directional track, there’s a hearty use of the LFE thanks to all the thunder that comes with setting your film on a dark and stormy night. Joseph LoDuca, who gave us the music to The Evil Dead series, is responsible for another solid score that plays off children tunes with off-key notes to keep the film off-kilter. This track actively mixes his tunes with the effects and dialogue for a very full-sounding mix.
With this film only going to video and rental stores all but dead, one has to wonder why Curse of Chucky would even come out in a rated version these days, but nevertheless there are both Unrated and Rated versions included on this Blu-ray. Looking at the times, the Rated clocks in at 1:34:43, while the Unrated runs just under two minutes longer at 1:36:41. After comparing both, though, the bulk of that runtime is in a post-credit sequence on the Unrated version (and one that has no gore), but it’s definitely one you’ll want to check out. The rest of the extra footage is mainly an extra few seconds on each of the more graphic deaths. The priest’s death has an extra shot of a headless torso gushing blood, the eyeball death has an extra bit where we see the knife going into the eye (in the rated cut the reveal doesn’t come until the eye is rolling down the stairs), the electrocution has an extra shot that shows the face burning a little longer, that sort of thing. All told, it’s about 15 extra seconds of gore and 1:45 of an extended ending, and there’s no question that when it comes to Unrated vs. Rated, Unrated is the way to go.
Moving on, there are three extras that are exclusive to Blu-ray. The first is Living Doll: Bringing Chucky to Life. This 8-minute extra provides a captivating look into the elaborate process a number of technicians must take to bring our favorite killer doll to life. There’s a great number of behind the scenes shots, showing how many of the scenes in the film were constructed. It’s quite the sight to see four or five guys lying just out of frame controlling the doll while all the actors carry on with the scene. We also get some interviews with the techs involved and footage in the lab of the animatronics, clothing, molding and construction of the doll. There are even a few bits with the little person actress who performed Chucky in a few select scenes. What’s clear here is just how much work it takes to make a doll look natural on the screen. That’s a lot more captivating both on the screen and behind the scenes, than some guys on a computer making some renderings.
The next Blu-ray exclusive extra is a puffy but still fun look at the entire Child’s Play series, the 7-minute Voodoo Doll: The Chucky Legacy. Here we get interviews with most of the cast of the picture talking about their favorite Chucky moments, which naturally only include films 2 through 5 since Universal does not own the rights to the first film. Still we get Brad Dourif, Jennifer Tilly and others laughing and recalling the classics, and there’s nice HD footage of all the sequels included too to help promote the day and date release of the Chucky boxset. It’s promo, but it’s fun.
The last extra exclusive to the blue disc is Storyboard Comparisons, which features four sequences that cover 25 minutes in total. Each sequence, from the Electrocution to The Attic, features an introduction from Don Mancini. If you’ve seen these kinds of extras before you know what to expect, so I don’t imagine anyone but the bored will stay with this the entire time. This extra is probably most valuable for just showing the kind of work that Mancini put into his picture, telegraphing each sequence and shot rather than just shooting for coverage like so many productions do these days.
Extras that can be found on both DVD and Blu-ray releases are as follows:
The main cross-platform extra is an audio commentary with Don Mancini, Puppeteer Tony Gardner and Actress Fiona Dourif. There’s not much about the puppeting work, but the three have a lot of fun watching the picture and pointing out some of the behind-the-scenes secrets that went into making the finished picture. Mancini predictably leads the commentary with flair, and the best thing about it is the passion Mancini shows for the genre. He talks about shamelessly stealing inspiration from the likes of The Fury, Panic Room, Ginger Snaps 2 and The Believers, among others. Dourif has fun as well, and her stories about how she got the role and her relationship with her father are interesting. Overall, a fun listen with just enough trivia to make it worthwhile start to end.
There’s a 14-minute making-of that’s part puff piece with the actors congratulating themselves and saying studio by-lines like “this is the scariest Chucky yet!” and part behind-the-scenes with revealing looks at the make-up and special effects process for several scenes. You get to see how a lot of the practical (aww yeah!) effects were done on set and hear from the make-up artist, stunt coordinator and effects crew. Hearing from all the actors, it seems Danielle Bisutti is the fun one of the bunch, although the best bit from all of them is seeing Brad Dourif revel in the fact that it was his first day ever on set with Chucky despite this being his sixth film.
There’s a short 1-minute gag reel, and that’s still too long. It’s mostly Jennifer Tilly messing around for her scene at the post office, but the only laughs here are on the set.
Next up are 6 deleted scenes spanning 6 minutes all told. Some of the scenes flesh out existing scenes and most of them were designed to help connect sequences better throughout the film. Most of the transitions in the finished film that I found jarring are smoothed out with these extra scenes (like how the father died in the flashback portion), but it’s understandable why they were cut for pacing reasons, since the film already feels a little beefy in the midsection as is. The first deleted scene, of Nica’s routine in the morning, would have been a nice one to leave in however, to give us a better understanding of her life as a parapalegic.
Lastly, we get a bunch of forced trailers at the start and some BD-Live promo junk to round off an altogether nice little package for Curse of Chucky.
The way reboots have gone these days, you’d think all the old franchises are cursed. Not so for Chucky, who under the continual guidance by creator Don Mancini has always stayed interesting, and in this latest entry, it goes back to being scary. Curse of Chucky works miraculously as both a film for new audiences as well as one that still keeps series continuity. With some fun cameos, traditional puppetry and gore, and a stylish, Hitchcockian control over the camera, Mancini & Co. make what might just be the closest a series refresh has come to pleasing everybody. This Blu-ray set should please too, with a new flawless picture, full sound and a nice slate of fun and informative extras. Many (I’m not one of them) lost faith in Mancini after Seed of Chucky, but with this doll of a picture, he should win back all the old fans. He’s one of the Good Guys.
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Hot tamale! So glad to see this film receiving positive reviews here. Well done, rhett--made me want to see it even more.
This movie was awesome.
Freddy Krueger is so envious these days!
Great review. I guess this post could contain spoilers for some, so be warned; but apart from a few unanswered questions like how long after Seed this takes place, how Chucky is back from Seeds end, why he has less scars (almost looking more healed), and why he doesn't bleed; I found this highly entertaining and a blast to watch. It definitely gave me high hopes for Chucky's future.
Total side note...but I can't look at Chucky on the cover without thinking of Chris Hemsworth on the poster for RUSH:
Hahaha! Totally! /\
I too am glad to see this one getting praise. Hopefully those Friday the 13th dudes are listening.
Great review and I'm glad to hear this is not only worth a watch, but actually pretty damn good! I want really want to see it, but I'm holding out until I can afford to grab the box set.
When I heard this was straight to video I didnt hold much hope it would be very good - but been seeing a lot of positive reviews like this one so I need to check it out soon!
I wasn't expecting much at all - I've never been a big fan of the series, and I thought Seed of Chucky was absolutely dire - but "Curse" is anything but. Just goes to show how far a little love for the material and respect for its fans can go.
As usual, Rhett hit the nail on the head with his review. Great job!
You haven't seen the whole thing until you watch AFTER the end credits. Let's just say it all goes full circle. HILARIOUS!
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