SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ It's that time of year again: THE RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL in London! On now.. See you there!

Friday, 23 August 2013

'Curse of Chucky' (2013) ~ A stunning return to form for the famous horror franchise about a sadistic killer doll with the best wisecracks and grooviest hairstyle of any movie monster around!

~ There may be some spoilers lurking in the toy cupboard ahead - watch before reading! ~

The return of the killer doll that has a penchant for terrorising cute kids is introduced nicely in the latest instalment; Curse of Chucky, with a line from one character that the Good Guy Dolls (of which Chucky is one) were all the rage back in the 80s, and everyone's big sister or brother had one - other characters then share similar reminisces. With some wit, there's a brief glimpse of the real life horror that was the Cabbage Patch Dolls too, stuck in a toy box, later on. I'd rather have Chucky at the end of my bed that a Cabbage Patch Doll, any night of the week!

Playground chat, when it comes to horror movies, have always centred around Chucky - it did when I was a boy, it does today. For some reason, children really are still frightened by this movie monster they've heard about through hushed word of mouth, even if they've never seen the movie itself - because nothing comes closer as a threat to a child that their cuddly toy coming to life and wanting them dead. It doesn't happen often, but the idea has become almost a playground urban legend thanks to the original movie - Child's Play, and various sequels of reasonably enthusiastic plotlines and inspiration since; from the cruel and accusingly corrupting to the downright dirty-minded and camp.

Interestingly, as shown in the latest movie, even when the beloved doll comes to life, spouts obscenities and threatens all kinds of horrific things, the child remains in awe and a lone protector of the doll - 'friends to the end', really meaning something. It's worth considering whether this idea plays with thoughts of, say, a violent father being forgiven after a beating just because he's 'my dad' - it shouldn't be that way of course, but is the Chucky doll forgiven too just because he's cute and cuddly and a 'safe' thing to have around? Much like in 1982's Poltergeist, where the young girl - Carol Anne, spoke without fear to a spirit who spouted increasingly bad things and accepted this otherworldly chatter without judgement; as a game; as fact, and still holds out some kind of affection for the person hiding in the channel-less, white noise of the TV screen or at the end of a disconnected phone line, despite the adults around her being scared to death.

The young girl in Curse of Chucky - Alice, who clutches the Good Guy Doll wherever she goes with absolute trust and tucks him into bed at night, scolds the doll for his bad language, but takes the obscenities in her stride. In one delicious scene, Alice is told to say her prayers and mention all her family, including Chucky, in them. She counters back with: "Chucky says he doesn't believe in God. Chucky says life's a bitch and then you die."

Director and writer Dan Mancini has written every Chucky movie, from 1988's Child's Play right up to (before the latest instalment brought things back up to date) Seed of Chucky, way back in 2004. There were even a few shorts in-between movies featuring the famous killer doll. Mancini also directed Seed and Curse and introduces his latest instalment in the franchise at the 2013 London Frightfest premiere screening by telling us that fans told him they wanted another scary Chucky movie - so he wanted to give us what we wanted.

The humour is still present and correct here, for sure, but this new Chucky movie is a darker, and yes - far scarier movie, than other sequels (though the demonic, disgusting toyshop meltdown finale - an ultimate battle between boy, teen girl and toy - of 1990's excellent Child's Play 2, remains a pinnacle of show-stopping cruelty in the series that may never be bettered).


Also back for Curse of Chucky as the voice of the doll (as he has been for every instalment so far) is Brad Dourif who also appears in a crowd-pleasing flashback sequence as voodoo-loving serial killer Charles Lee Ray, a man who (in the original movie, in his dying breath) transfers his soul into something within easy reach within the toy factory he has been wounded at, fatally, by the cops who track him down. The first thing he grabs is a Good Guy Doll. Subsequent films have seen the doll, powered with the spirit of Charles Lee Ray - aka 'Chucky' - try to perform voodoo rites and transfer his body into something less 'Made in China'; usually a little boy (or even a grown up boy in Child's Play 3's military academy-set entry) or, for Curse of Chucky - a little girl.

Fiona Dourif and Chucky take a break on the set of Curse of Chucky

Don Mancini appears after the Curse of Chucky screening to talk about all things cute and made of rubber alongside the undisputed human star of the movie - Fiona Dourif, who plays thirty something stay-at-homer Nica (and who, rather fruitily, steals the entire movie from the start). Nica is confined to a wheelchair with a weakened heart that could give out anytime upon excess stress (oh boy - wrong house to be living in). She also has no feeling at all in her legs, suffers from completion anxiety (that she wonderfully transfers later to Chucky himself) and - if that wasn't enough - has lots of other reasons to be angry with just about everyone thanks to the film's brilliant, unexpected, fabulous finale and final flashback where we get to find out a whole lot more about Nica's unhealthy past in a suitably jaw-dropping spot of critical plot development stoked up with a head-bending load of cruel twists of fate.

Mancini, at the Q&A, and prompted by Dourif (whose dad of course is the voice of Chucky) talks about the original script for the first Child's Play movie being without a serial killer character, but focusing instead on a more subtle manifestation of the boy's inner demons as his own id gets shunted into the body of Chucky. The original Good Guy dolls in the first draft could bleed under flesh and the boy cuts his own hand and blends his own blood with that of the doll - true blood brothers; flesh and plastic. The doll then strikes back against all who do the kid wrong: strict nannies; cross mums; bullying children - talk about wish fulfilment!

Also mentioned at the Q&A is a hilarious consideration of future sequels featuring similarly iconic horror characters from Jason (Friday the 13th) to Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street) or (as the person who asked the question hoped for originally - Leprechaun from the 1993 movie of the same name). Mancini decides Jason is too quiet for a chatterbox like Chucky, far better to have him compare equally evil notes with Freddie Krueger on Elm Street, as meeting Leprechaun could just be a bit too camp for comfort. Although he tells us that the Chucky sequel that took comedy to new (or low, depending on point of view) heights in Seed of Chucky is adored by the likes of director John (Pink Flamingos) Waters who discussed with Mancini the possibility of both Bride and Seed of Chucky being ideal for a musical. Especially Bride, that Mancini thinks would also be perfect for a stage production.

But Curse of Chucky more closely resembles the first three Child's Play movies in their serious intent and Fiona Dourif tells the packed audience at the Empire Leicester Square just how excited she is to see the movie on the big screen, not just straight to Blu-ray. She also tells us how freaked out she was by having to be chased around by a killer doll spouting threats in the voice of her Dad, although she does admit it's a special kind of voice - the Chucky one he does. Still, she reveals that she did ask director Mancini whether they could get rid of the voice of Chucky, his reply being to "just deal with it"!

Poor Brad Dourif. Not only could his character have been not present in the original script of Child's Play but his own daughter now wants to see the back of him too! Of course, this banter is all in jest - without Dourif's wisecracking, cackling voice of Chucky, the Child's Play series would never, probably, have been as successful as it has been. Even so, it would be fun one day to see a reboot of the Chucky character along the lines suggested by the original, rejected script idea of little kid Andy's id taking full possession of the doll.

Enough of this chat, that was then, this is now, and all that matters today is the news that Chucky really is, finally, almost unbelievably - back! What every loyal Good Guy fan needs to know is - can the Chucky doll, after a nearly twenty year long wait, still kill with some real snap (neck), cackle and (head removing) pop as he did back in the day - or will he stay in some kind of straight-to-video movie limbo hell as a saggy old unloved doll in its original tatty box that didn't quite get to crawl back out?

No need to worry - this latest Chucky movie does for cute plastic dolls what Hitchcock  once did for showers and Spielberg did for midnight swims: you'll never look at a toy shop shelf in the same way again!

The script is a witty and endearing one from the start, stuffed with surprisingly poignant and sharp one-liners and painfully (in that pain is usually involved in some way) morbid wit.

Nica (Fiona Dourif) lives at home, confined to a wheelchair and a life of cosy over-protection and seclusion with her mother, Sarah (Chantal Quesnelle - pure furrow-browed MILF). There's a nice opening scene where the delivery boy with the parcel from Hell, flirts with Nica. She goes back to her mother with the large parcel she's been given, and asks her whether she thinks the boy really could have been flirting with her; whether she should ask him on a date, only to be rebuffed by a cruel dismissal of such a ridiculous idea - after all, who would want to date a girl confined to a wheelchair like she is? There are shades of Carrie here (and many other classic horror movies are referenced throughout the movie) in this stifling mother/ daughter relationship within dark, gothic mansion walls.

Inside the box is a Good Guy Doll - and the moment Chucky appears to camera, lying on his back on a bed of polystyrene, the whole cinema at the London Frightfest screening erupts with wild applause and mass cheering; I must admit, I'm with them!

The mother throws Chucky in the trash can in a nice link to the original films of the franchise but that same night, has a nasty accident that is blamed by the rest of the family on her depression and of not taking her meds. We, of course, know different.

Nica's sassy, bitchy older sister Barb (Danielle Bisutti in a nicely cruel and quietly sexy performance) moves in to keep little sis company before their mother's funeral, bringing with her a rather dull husband (a perfectly serviceable Brennan Elliott as Ian), local priest (grizzled A. Martinez as Father Frank), perfectly formed nanny with a penchant for red lacy underwear (an especially raunchy and devious Maitland McConnell as Jill) and an obligatory cute little girl (wow, you can good almost hear Chucky cackling at this point) - Alice (played by outstanding newcomer Summer H. Howell who oozes enough exceptional screen presence to guarantee a long-lasting, possibly brilliant career in genre cinema - I thought her character was a match for Alex Vincent's equally memorable kid-in-peril, Andy Barclay in the original movies).

Summer H. Howell - a future Hollywood star?

Maitland McConnell who plays the seductive Jill

Before long, the whole house is up to something that can only end in tears: Alice takes Chucky everywhere she goes; the nanny flirts and has it away with easily the most unexpected member of the household; the priest looks close to death and is, on several occasions - and Nica gets stuck in the old-fashioned lift that runs through the heart of the gothic mansion they are all unknowingly now trapped within, at least twice. Oh, and there's a fine flashback for Brad Dourif's Charles Lee Ray character that will have fans convulsing with glee in their seats.

For a film that last set its little booted plastic feet in cinemas a couple of decades ago and for a franchise which (many fans couldn't help wondering) may have descended a toddler's first step too far into outright (even if perhaps inspired) parody and silliness, Curse of Chucky is a film that is shot through with unashamed enthusiasm and a clear mission to reboot the killer doll as an effectively nasty piece of work (like it once was) in time for a brand new century (if just a few years late). The film bravely takes a slightly old-fashioned wild ride into old dark house mystery territory and plays with the conventions of that genre with a fresh sense of joy - the nanny is no longer traditionally after just the one man (and oh boy does this part liberating/ part 'old man leery' revelation get a protracted round of applause) and the young star of the movie is locked in a cupboard for nearly the entire second half of the movie in a seemingly random move that comes across as almost genuinely cruel.

The cast are dispatched of one by one in a way that the great Dame of crime fiction herself - Agatha Christie, would have been proud of. I was often reminded of the plots from her books And Then There Were None or Thirteen at Dinner throughout the movie. Of course, we know 'whodunnit' - but the cast don't, and the film still has the feel of a traditional murder mystery. I bet even Agatha would never have thought of a plot in which 'the doll did it' though.

There are numerous excellent setpieces throughout the film, especially the dining table Russian roulette sequence with five plates of stew and just the one with a sprinkling of rat poison in (Chucky's little hand shaking the packet on the food from under the table being an especially hilarious shot). The dining table death lottery reminds a little of Python's atmospheric Grim Reaper sequence from their movie The Meaning of Life (1983). The guessing game as trickles of sweat wind their way down the foreheads of potential victims, is a sequence worth standing up and cheering for shortly after it all ends with an incredibly gory payoff.

The Meaning Of Life

In other nods to classic horror cinema (and Python did horror better than anyone when they felt in the mood to) the film is directed with a visual flair reminiscent of giallo cinema and especially the work of Dario Argento (and Hitchcock too, who inspired the work of Argento): the cast member in peril whether blind (like in Cat o' Nine Tails) or like here - stuck in a wheelchair, but trying to get away with all the odds against doing so; the flashing of a sharp blade reflecting a victim's (or a killer's) face and some dizzying overhead shots of tumbling down stairs and crashing through bannisters to rest on cold floor tiles especially reminding of death scenes in Hitchcock's Psycho and Argento's Deep Red. Bravo Don Mancini! There's even a 'Halloween/ Michael Myers moment' in the final reel that is simply - for horror fans - scrumptious.

Chucky himself is an absolutely terrifying thing of evil. With a trendy new hairstyle and wide, overly-excited eyes - he's friggin' frightening throughout the movie; the mask excellent in conveying real childlike excitement (in this case to do some really bad things). This Chucky is full to the very top of his ginger hair with his usual one-liners and sadistic wisecracking.

Some sequences - especially one involving the little girl trapped with the doll in a bathroom and (later) under the bedcovers or the cast member slowly peeling away parts of the doll's face to reveal something increasingly disgusting underneath, involve big fat jump cuts that take the breath away.

You may require therapy from some of these frights as scares are piled on with real bloody relish, as if Mancini (or Chucky) has saved up some especially nasty ideas over all those years of waiting in the dark for a comeback.

Curse of Chucky was screened at the London Frightfest with a World Premiere of the Uncut Version and it didn't disappoint the hardened horror fans in attendance. A car crash gave the crowd a quite astounding bloody delight and subsequent nasty electrocutions, eye stabbings (worthy of Italian gore master Lucio Fulci) and a pregnant woman in peril upped the ante in shock value, placing the franchise right back at the top of unapologetic and bloodthirsty retro horror cinema.

The film ends on a series of interconnected fan-pleasing cameos and long-awaited flashbacks that explain more about the life of Brad Dourif's unsettling Charles Lee Ray character, neatly seaming together the series and declaring exactly what stage we are currently at in the franchise timeline. Stay until after the end credits too for perhaps the most important few minutes (certainly most crowd-pleasing) in the movie if you are a loyal fan of the adventures of Chucky and friends so far - you can't not watch the post-credit surprise of a lifetime and live!

Curse of Chucky was a deeply malicious, wry and wildly imaginative trip into space dust-popping, ginger-haired horror mayhem and a real credit to the franchise; even a contender for best sequel yet. The film deserves a quicker follow-up than the twenty year gap it had to endure the last time around. 
2013 FRIGHTFEST: with Don Mancini, Fiona Dourif & Chucky

Curse of Chucky really should have had - and deserves - a full theatrical release and not just be shown at selected film festivals (though I thank the Frightfest organisers that they did take a chance and select this film for their opening night) but I still advise you seek this film out in whatever way you get the chance - it's certainly worth purchasing the disc when it reaches the stores.

The movie played to a full house at its festival screening. We were all given Chucky masks to pose with for the camera - a whole cinema full of Chucky dolls; a seriously disturbing sight. The atmosphere was of a party on the night - a celebration of a movie franchise that strikes fear by name alone. Had it played countrywide, it would have been a hoot!

Words: Mark Gordon Palmer


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