I’m not a fan of the CHILD’S PLAY films, but I had a fun time a few years back watching CURSE OF CHUCKY. With a strong leading lady in Fiona Dourif, some sly references tying the whole series together and a revitalized Chucky, CURSE was much better than I expected. So I had high hopes for CULT OF CHUCKY, the follow up which would pit Chucky against both CURSE’s wheelchair bound Nica and series favorite Andy Barclay. CULT OF CHUCKY, though… ehh. Though it’s got some good stuff going for it, including another solid performance from Fiona Dourif and some of Chucky’s best lines in the series, it’s mediocre on too many other levels to be any real fun.
The film opens in stunning fashion, not because of the material, but because of a real-life event. Andy is out on a date discussing the merits of gun ownership, in a movie I watched mere days after a mass shooting at a concert in Las Vegas. Andy comes across as a broken weirdo, even given how vague he is about his backstory. He returns home to the company of Chucky’s mangled head, a remnant of the post-credit sequence from CURSE. 30+ years later, the two have formed an uneasy bond that is still antagonistic. The scene shifts to a mental institution, where Nica has been for the four years following her family’s slaughter. Years of shock treatment and therapy have convinced her of the version everyone believes, that she, not Chucky, killed her family. Dr. Foley is so encouraged by her improvement that he’s moving her to a medium security institution, where she’ll participate in group sessions as part of her healing process. Also participating, a Good Guy Doll, that Foley introduces. Charles Lee Ray’s girlfriend Tiffany shows up not only with bad news for Nica, but a second Chucky doll. Chucky starts an interesting game of bait-and-switch that results in some pretty gruesome murders, drawing Andy and a third Good Guy Doll with a buzz cut to the institution.
This sounds like a great way to unite Nica and Andy for a fight against Ten Little Chuckies. I kept waiting and waiting for the two to pair up for an all-out war. That never happens, which is the flick’s biggest letdown. After the opening scene, Andy becomes mostly an afterthought, popping up infrequently to spar verbally with the Chucky head, and he only turns into a player in the action in the final minutes. This leaves us with a lot of sanitarium scenes with Nica, the sleazy Dr. Foley and a rogue’s gallery of stereotypical movie versions of institution inmates. Dourif did a lot to carry CURSE, and thankfully she’s spot on again and does most of the heavy lifting here, but the players around her did little to interest me. If Andy had been institutionalized 40 minutes earlier in the runtime, this would’ve made for an intriguing film. Without that pairing, CULT is a pretty boring affair anytime either Nica or Chucky isn’t onscreen.
Believe me, this flick is far from boring anytime Chucky is around. The Good Guy gone bad is a joy, a foulmouthed little bugger relishing in pure evil. I’ve never really gone all in on Chucky—if I were in a CHILD’S PLAY flick, I’d punt him into a thousand pieces—but there’s something very enjoyable in the demented glee in his face here, and just how evil he looks when that face goes harsh (the effects work here are the most impressive of the series). And though I usually hate one-liners in horror flicks, especially when they come from the mouths of the villains, I laughed a lot when Chucky said of Dr. Foley, “I just can’t with this guy! I don’t know whether to kill him or just take notes!” This is Chucky’s sharpest dialogue of the series, even when the references to Brad Dourif’s ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and the TV series Hannibal for which writer Don Mancini wrote are a little too on the nose. He livens things up every time he’s onscreen, which is a welcome jolt in this landscape of boring mental institution clichés.
The look of the institution is right out of fantasy, so brightly lit and whitewashed it’s surreal. Outside it’s constantly snowing, creating a CHILD’S PLAY snow globe. I would’ve preferred a more authentic look for the setting, but the sterile whites play nicely against the blood reds. And there is an ocean of blood in this movie. Mancini, who also directed, ups the gore quotient amply from the earlier entries, even in the R-rated version I watched. Chucky’s methods have gotten more creative also, as he incorporated a spoke off a wheelchair wheel, a long drill and a compressed oxygen tank. Chucky’s always been a nasty little dick, but he’s amped up his pissed off attitude in CULT. Brad Dourif is squarely in his wheelhouse with the demented little moppet, and at least the flick benefits from that.
CULT OF CHUCKY suffers from bland characters outside the leads, a boring setting and pacing issues. It also includes some of the oddest touches in filming techniques. With its reliance on split diopter shots and split screens, CULT OF CHUCKY is in the style of a De Palma film. There are definite overtones borrowed from De Palma’s earlier film SISTERS, and a smattering of DRESSED TO KILL with some subterfuge involving the killer. I have no idea why Mancini decided to make CULT a De Palma film, but it doesn’t work on De Palma’s level. I wonder if anyone who’s not deeply invested in that director’s catalogue even knew what those split screens were all about.
About that subterfuge… There’s a reason the flick is called CULT OF CHUCKY. At first I thought it was just a generic title, but it actually applies. To explain how would ruin that for you, so you’ll have to see it for yourself. Though I can’t recommend seeing the flick, sadly. The gimmick implied by the title is kind of cool, but it leads to an odd ending that doesn’t fit so well, and serves to set up the sequel. As for the post-credits sequence at the actual end, it plays out more as fan service than the last flick’s sequence, which set up the return of Andy. I won’t ruin that for you either.
CULT OF CHUCKY doesn’t exactly ruin the good will of CURSE OF CHUCKY, but it does take the air out of that comeback effort. Where CURSE was fun, CULT is too uneven and doesn’t go the obvious route of joining Nica and Andy together against a cult of Chuckies. That union would’ve made this flick a cult favorite in my book.