In a world where classic horror films of the 80s are being remade, reimagined, and rebooted every few months, Writer/Director Don Mancini brings back his creation, Chucky, in a no-holds-barred return to his straight-horror roots and does a damned fine job in the process with Curse of Chucky.
This is the second feature film Mancini has directed, the first being the hilariously demented Seed of Chucky, but it's the sixth Child's Play movie he's written. Yes, the sixth. As in, he's written every single Child's Play film since 1988. It's pretty rare for one hand to be behind every installment of a franchise that runs for more than three films (Paul W. S. Anderson's Resident Evil franchise and Don Coscarelli's Phantasm series are the only other ones I can think of off the top of my head), and it lends credibility to this straight-to-video film.
Yeah. I said straight-to-video. It seems Universal doesn't quite trust in Mancini and Chucky as much as the rest of us do.
Curse of Chucky is the first film in the franchise to be shot digitally instead of on film, the first to not get a theatrical release, and has the lowest budget in the history of the franchise (5 million). Universal has essentially washed their hands of Chucky, but aren't ready to let go of its money-making capabilities. Luckily, even with these limited resources and the lack of confidence from the studio, Don Mancini isn't ready to leave Chucky to the wolves.
In order to make the most of the limited budget, Mancini has opted to satisfy fans who thought the last two Chucky films had veered too far into comedy and return the homicidal doll to his roots, while keeping the action almost entirely contained in a single setting, an old creepy house. By keeping the focus of the story in the house, production designer Craig Sandells was able to spend a healthy chunk of the budget on the multi-level soundstage house set. Another chunk of change went to special-effects mastermind Tony Gardner and a small crew of puppeteers who, with the help of CG masking, were able to really get up-close and in the action for the first time ever.
As for the film itself, Curse of Chucky not only rolls back to the more direct horror of the original trilogy, it also takes a look back at the origin of Chucky and Brad Dourif gets to do more than just voice the titular character this time around. In a move that should also get a lot of support from the fanbase, Dourif's daughter Fiona Dourif is cast as the paraplegic lead, Nica. There's a lot less wise-cracking than we've seen from Chucky in a while as he puts Nica, her sister Barb (Danielle Bisutti), Barb's husband Ian (Brennan Elliott), daughter Alice (Summer H. Howell), and nanny Jill (Maitland McConnell) through the wringer after killing Nica and Barb's mother Sarah (Chantal Quesnelle).
Oh, and 80s/90s heart-throb A Martinez plays the doomed Father Frank.
Mancini's script is still clever when it counts and inventive when it comes to the killings, so on just a rudimentary level, Curse of Chucky is successful as a slasher-horror film. Where it goes above and beyond is with the quality of the effects-work and the overall direction. Despite having a miniscule budget (as far as studio horror films are concerned) the puppeteering of Chucky puts a lot of bigger budget films to shame. Because the puppeteers were able to actually get in close this time (as opposed to having to build sets six-feet off the ground and find creative ways to mask cabling in the shots) the performance of Chucky himself is much more believable and threatening.
And the kills are brutal, bloody, and violent. The quality of the gore effects is amazing given the shoestring budget. There's a beheading in this movie that has one of the best fake heads I've ever seen on film. It really looks like the victim. In fact, the reliance on practical effects for this film is another of its strengths. While there are CG touches here and there, most of the computer work went toward erasing the puppeteers from shots and providing slight enhancements to shots.
Although, according to the director's commentary, there's an early exterior shot of the house and surrounding woods that is entirely CG and it's amazing. And there are a couple of shots where Chucky was too scary for the 6 year-old Summer Howell and he had to be added to the shot digitally later. But that says more about the quality of the practical effects work than anything I could.
Mancini's direction is sure-handed and effective, from the choice to shoot most of the film from Nica's wheelchair-bound eye-level to the choice of music cues. There were a couple of jump scares that I didn't care for, but that's a personal preference. They did what they were supposed to do, so there's that. It's a solid and praiseworthy entry in the slasher/monster genre that should please even the most jaded of fans.
But it's the final moments that really won me over. There's a twist ending (or two), bringing back a secret guest star (or two), that made me very happy. Despite going back to revisit the night that transformed Charles Lee Ray (and his very bad wig) into Chucky, this is definitely a continuation of the story rather than a reboot. If you're a fan of any iteration of Chucky over the years, Curse of Chucky has something to satisfy you until Universal decides to let Mancini continue taking his brainchild into new and entertaining directions.
The disc itself is a 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer that is spotless. Shooting on digital really agrees with Chucky. Mancini's choices to keep the colors muted in blues, greens, yellows, and browns doesn't affect the pristine clarity or the lifelike skin tones. The
deep shadows are solid blacks with no fuzziness or noisy encoding problems.
The audio is likewise about as good as it can get, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that really delivers a nice blend of sharp shocks and subtle ambient unease. The jump scare music cues were a bit loud for my tastes, but they did inspire the jumps they were intending.
All in all, this just a very well-put-together film with a very well-put-together Blu-ray transfer.
R-Rated and Unrated Cuts: The R-rated cut is 95 minutes and the Unrated cut is 97 minutes. While I don't know exactly what the difference is between the cuts, I'd say just stick to the Unrated. Although I'm sure the R cut is fine, too.
Audio Commentary: Writer/Director Don Mancini, puppeteer Tony Gardner, and lead actrss Fiona Dourif chat all the way through the film and it is a treat. There are plenty of stories from behind-the-scenes, as well as insight into some of the directorial choices Mancini made. Everyone involved seemed to be having fun and that made listening to the commentary a fun experience, too.
Deleted Scenes: Six deleted scenes are included and none of them really made much of an impression on me. Which, I suppose, is part of the reasoning behind the cuts.
Gag Reel: If you like [REDACTED], then this will make you chuckle. Otherwise, it's fairly light.
Playing with Dolls: The Making of Curse of Chucky (16 min.): Behind-the-scenes look at the filming of Curse of Chucky with interviews from the cast and crew. It's a very nice look at the motivations behind this one and the return to the franchise's horror roots. As a fan who enjoyed Bride and Seed of Chucky more than the earlier efforts, it's a little frustrating, but what can you do?
Blu-ray Exclusive Features:
Living Doll: Bringing Chucky to Life (9 min.): Just like it says, this looks at all aspects of putting Chucky on film, from design to construction to performance. There are some good bits in here that give you a good idea where the money went. For a low-budget, direct-to-video film, there's a very high level of quality to the effects and set design.
Voodoo Doll: The Chucky Legacy (7 min.): A look at Chucky as a horror icon. It's fairly entertaining, if a little light. All in all, there's not a lot of substance to the extras, but they are enjoyable.
Storyboard Comparisons (25 min.): There are four storyboard to film comparisons here with introductions by Mancini. Interesting if you like that sort of thing.
Curse of Chucky was released as a VOD/Digital Download on September 24 and will be released on Blu-ray/DVD October 8, 2013.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.