Anyone who reads my QRE articles (all two of you) are aware that my taste in movies is a tad, well, let’s say adorably quirky. Because it sounds nicer than ‘weird’ or ‘effed up’. If Zooey Deschanel can get away with adorable quirkiness, so can I. I mean, I look like her, in the right light.
What was I going to say? Oh, right, I watch a lot of crappy movies.
Well, even so, I do have some standards. Some movies are great, some are good, some are so bad they’re good, but some movies are just lousy and awful. ‘Devil Dog: The Hound From Hell’ comes immediately to mind – that movie is only watchable in the way that people slow down to look at car accidents.
But just because a movie or a franchise is in the B movie territory (or D or even Z movie) doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad. There is a reason that some stories endure. Maybe it’s the characters or the plot or the visuals. Some folks really hate the Star Wars prequels, but they must have been watched by SOMEONE, since the story has gone on in cartoons and such since (and now they’re making even MORE of the movies). And that kind of legacy, that sense of instant recognizability, is a hallmark of many 80′s horror franchises.
See, the late 70′s brought us the slasher film, but eventually, that concept had been done to death (Ha!) and horror went back to the supernatural. Freddy Krueger, of course, is a prime example, but even Jason got zombified and Michael Myers turned out to be the pawn of a satanic cult (Halloween 6, anyone? Anyone? Curse of Michael Myers? No? Moving on), so when Chucky came along, he was a perfect blend of slasher and supernatural, with a twist.
Most of my readers are too young to recall the “My Buddy” doll, but trust me when I tell you that once you’ve seen that commercial, the jingle is stuck in your head FOREVER, taking up valuable brain cells that could and should be used for higher things. When senility and dementia have reduced you to a filthy, drooling lump of flesh unable to remember who or even what you are, you’ll still be able to recite (I am writing this from memory):
My Buddy, My Buddy,
Wherever I go, he goes!
My Buddy, My Buddy,
I teach him everything that I know!
My Buddy and me like to climb up a tree,
My Buddy and me, we’re the best friends that could be!
My Buddy (My Buddy), My Buddy (My Buddy),
My BUDDY and MEEEEEEEE!!!!!!
That is the hell I carry within me. And people wonder why I’m so grouchy.
(Ed. note: Jake found this and decided that he just had to share. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be in the corner shivering.)
Ha HA! I’m kidding! Men didn’t buy these things for their sons! Not any men I knew. I met one boy who had one of these and, even at that young age, I instinctively knew that there was just something off with a boy having a doll. Stuffed animals? Sure! Action figures? You bet! Dolls? That’s heresy, that is. Might as well give the kid an Easy Bake Oven and a training bra.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
All this, of course, was because toy companies were always looking for the Next Big Thing. It’s hard to believe what a big deal Cabbage Patch Dolls were, but everyone wanted a piece of that action. So there were Care Bears, Monchichis, Teddy Ruxpin and, well, My Buddy.
My Buddy, somehow, was doing well enough for a girl version, Kid Sister. I dunno, but I imagine these sold better. I mean, you know, it’s a girl doll for girls. That’s as mainstream as it gets.
Anyhoo, apparently Don Mancini saw the My Buddy commercial and decided this would be a great horror movie idea. Probably as revenge for having that theme song seared into his mind.
And you know what? He was right! I mean, almost nobody remembers My Buddy, but EVERYBODY knows Chucky!
There are Chucky dolls, Chucky masks and costumes, Chucky comic books, the whole schmeer. How? How did a killer doll (hardly a new or original premise) get to be such a star?
The first movie, ‘Child’s Play’ (1988), set the template for a franchise that is still going. And I would argue that a large part of why Chucky works is the casting. Robert Englund IS Freddy. Stallone IS Rambo (and Rocky and Cobra and Tango – wait, or is it Cash? I’m kidding, of course; he was Ray Tango. I own that movie. Every real man does), and Brad Dourif IS Charles Lee Ray, AKA, Chucky, the Good Guy doll possessed by Ray’s spirit.
Because that is the basic concept. Charles Lee Ray is a serial killer who knows a magic spell that allows him to transfer his soul into whatever. When he’s gunned down, he manages to do this and ends up in the doll.
Seriously. That is what happens.
Well, the first flick not only has Brad Dourif and nifty special effects, but also – and this is why I watched it – CHRIS SARANDON! Yeah, the original Jerry Dandridge! Well, you younger folks might think of him as the voice of Jack Skellington in ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’, but ‘Fright Night’ is my all time favorite vampire movie and Sarandon is my hero because of that. He was also Prince Humperdink in ‘The Princess Bride’. He doesn’t do as much nowadays, but the man is 71 years old, so, you know, makes sense.
Okay, so there is an interesting division of the Child’s Play series. The first three are focused on Andy Barclay, a little boy who gets the doll as a gift. From then on, Chucky’s trying to possess Andy. If he stays in the doll too long, see, it’ll become human and he’ll be trapped in there. It’s like Pinocchio if that was just really messed up.
Now, for whatever reason, after ‘Child’s Play 3′ in 1991, there is a bit of a hiatus in the franchise. The horror bubble had burst. Plus, these movies aren’t cheap or easy to make: when your main character is essentially a puppet, it takes a lot of work to make that look real.
An interesting thing about this series is that Don Mancini has written all of the movies. That’s almost unheard of in a horror franchise. He also directed the last two. This may explain the strong sense of continuity that runs through all of these films. Well, except the last one, which leaves out a couple of characters, but I digress.
Like Freddy, Chucky tends to have a sense of humor. He’s a foulmouthed, obnoxious little monster, which is half the fun. He did, of course, eventually ‘become’ the doll, although the way they deal with that is a tad uneven and doesn’t entirely make sense to me, so whatever. I mean, it’s a killer doll; how much reality are you looking for here, am I right?
One nice touch in these flicks is that Chucky tends to get away pretty openly. I mean, people don’t believe in killer dolls, so usually one of his surviving victims gets blamed for the murders. Makes sense.
Despite the years of no sequels, home video kept Chucky alive. A lot of kids probably never saw the original films in a movie theater, but on a rented VHS tape. Anyway, the fan base grew. And eventually, Chucky returned to the silver screen. But this time, things were, well, a little bit different…
The fourth film wasn’t even called ‘Child’s Play’, but rather, ‘Bride of Chucky’. This jokey title fits the movie perfectly, because Bride is more a comedy than anything. A slasher comedy, yes, a dark comedy, to be sure, but definitely a comedy.
Fans are divided on this. I think it works. I imagine most people would agree with me, at least as far as this particular film is concerned – more on that later.
This film introduces Tiffany, who was Charles Lee Ray’s lady-love. Tiffany is also a homicidal maniac, but more importantly, she is portrayed by living goddess Jennifer Tilly. With her exotic looks, breathy little-girl voice and heroic curves, Tilly is just a wonderful, wonderful creature. It doesn’t hurt that she is a great actress, but really, it’s not the first thing you notice about her. Or the second. Seriously, Tilly is 55 now and she’s still a total babe!
Ahem. Anyway, Chucky kills Tiffany and puts her spirit into a female doll. Now, there are TWO of them! Tilly is, as I’ve mentioned, a great actress, so she plays off Dourif beautifully. Tiffany is just as scary as her boyfriend ever was, so you’ve got double the trouble, a death-dealing doll duo. And a lot of weird relationship issues, as you can imagine.
Now, Andy is no longer the target in this film. In fact, he is no longer part of the series at all in any major way. Chucky is the star, after all – it doesn’t matter WHO he’s after, just that he’s killing SOMEBODY.
Now, one thing that happens in Bride of Chucky is that our happy couple make a doll-baby. This leads to the film that many fans of the series feel was too much: 2004′s ‘Seed of Chucky’.
Again, there’s a few years between sequels here. And again, the Chucky legacy lives on in home video. Bride became a cult classic and so obviously, the thing to do was more of the same, right?
Okay, I actually LIKE Seed of Chucky, but it is my least favorite entry in the series, just below part 3. We are introduced to Glen, the offspring of Chucky and Tiffany. Glen is a sensitive soul who is appalled by his parents’ murderous shenanigans. See, Glen has a split personality, because he has both a male and female soul. Glenda, the female soul, is just as twisted and evil as her folks, perhaps even more so. And Jennifer Tilly plays the voice of Tiffany AND herself in this one. And the dolls use magic to make Tilly pregnant and give birth to twins (Glen and Glenda), then Tiffany possesses Tilly and Glen kills Chucky. Got all that?
So this one was, well, not generally considered a good idea. But, you know, five movies in, you can’t expect them all to work.
Yet again, it took a few years before a new installment was made. Mancini decided to return the series to its roots, so ‘Curse of Chucky’, which just came out, is a full on horror film. Brad Dourif is back, of course, this time facing off against Fiona Dourif, his real-life daughter, as Nica, the paralytic heroine of the film. This movie works as a sequel on every level, not only to the original film but to all the others. It is VERY good, a wonderful return to the roots of the character and the concept. and there are some great and unexpected cameos – make sure you watch for a nice bonus scene after the end credits!
So, now what? Chucky has been slashing for 25 years, in six movies, bringing in about 200 million bucks so far. Don Mancini has taken the series into strange new directions, then brought the whole thing full circle. If there was never another one, I’d have to say they went out on a high note. But I doubt we’ve seen the last of Charles Lee Ray, or Tiffany, for that matter. The concept is still as goofy and fun as it was in ’88 and I think that little doll has a few more people to kill before he goes off to the Island of Misfit Toys or wherever. Only time will tell!
Ed. note – There is an internet rumor that Michael Bay is working on a remake of the original Child’s Play – more to come on that as we have more info! ~ WC