By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Fiona Dourif, Michael Therriault and Brad Dourif
Written and directed by Don Mancini
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
You have to hand it to CHILD’S PLAY creator Don Mancini: He keeps coming up with new environments and approaches to the CHUCKY sequels to keep the franchise feeling fresh. After the old-dark-house Gothic of the previous CURSE OF CHUCKY, he changes the game again in CULT OF CHUCKY, while taking the opportunity to stage a reunion of past players.
Out today on Blu-ray, DVD and digital from Universal, CULT OF CHUCKY re-introduces us to a now-adult Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent, reprising his role in the first two CHILD’S PLAYs), whose inability to let go of his horrific past with his former “friend till the end” has put a serious crimp in his love life, and who indulges in a rather nasty method of self-therapy. Meanwhile, wheelchair-bound CURSE heroine Nica (Fiona Dourif) is doing time in a psychiatric institution, undergoing electroshock therapy and now convinced it was she and not the living doll who was responsible for the deaths of nearly her entire family. The hospital is a spare, THX-1138-esque environment of white corridors and silver equipment, an effectively stylized backdrop against which to splash lots of dark red blood. (There’s extra gory goodness in the unrated version on the discs, which runs about 50 seconds longer than the included R-rated cut.)
Nica has been convinced of her own culpability by head shrink Dr. Foley (Michael Therriault), who makes the extremely ill-advised decision to bring a Good Guy doll into the therapy group she shares with a bunch of other severely troubled inmates. Their number becomes dramatically and gruesomely reduced once Chucky becomes ambulatory again (voiced, as always, by Brad Dourif) and finds fatal applications for assorted medical equipment. Mancini’s most creative and striking death setpiece is the fate of Claire (Grace Lynn Kung), which is tragically horrifying and strangely beautiful at the same time.
The flourishes Mancini brings here and elsewhere add interest to what is essentially a sequential-kill scenario, in which the suspense lies not in whether the assorted supporting characters will die, but how and in what order. Fiona Dourif is once again a solid, sympathetic heroine, and the performances around her are all on the mark, most notably Elisabeth Rosen as Madeleine, whose particular psychological damage is especially pertinent to the situation. Adding to the appeal for longtime fans are the appearances by Vincent and Jennifer Tilly as Tiffany, though the latter amounts to an extended cameo and the former, after his opening scene, doesn’t re-enter the scenario until the halfway mark. There is a pretty cool payoff involving Andy in the final stretch, however.
The snake-pit setting allows Mancini to have fun with drug-induced hallucinations and nightmare imagery, and he indulges in a bit of Brian De Palma-style split-screen as well. CULT OF CHUCKY has a wider streak of black humor than its predecessor, with occasional in-jokes; Nica tells Tiffany she looks just like Jennifer Tilly, and Chucky quips about the HANNIBAL TV show, for which Mancini wrote a couple of episodes. And what of the CULT part? Best not to reveal that, as it’s one of the major ways in which Mancini expands the mythology, and sets up more possibilities for further sequels.
Though made for the video market, CULT OF CHUCKY has theatrical-level production values, which come off very well in the Blu-ray’s 1.78:1 transfer; the image is sharp and slick as can be, with strong definition even in the all-white environments. Foremost among the bonus features is an audio commentary by Mancini and Chucky effects supervisor Tony Gardner, which covers a wide range of both aesthetics (Mancini describes his visual scheme as “black and white in color”) and production logistics (like how the director handled his “first sex scene not including puppets”). Most pointedly, they discuss serving fan expectations in this now nearly 30-year-old franchise, and keeping things interesting for the audience; once Chucky goes haywire, Gardner shares a lot regarding the craft of creating him.
More details about his complex brand of puppetry are covered in the “Good Guy Gone Bad: The Incarnations of Chucky” featurette, whose best reveal is the computer-assisted lip-synch process that allowed the evil doll to “speak.” Another segment, “Inside the Insanity of CULT OF CHUCKY,” is brief enough that it would serve best as a primer for watching the film, if it didn’t contain so many spoilers. Three deleted scenes add a bit of extra depth to the characters, but the best extra on the discs is “The Dollhouse,” created by Gardner’s daughter Kyra at Florida State University’s film school. This heartfelt little piece not only reveals the ways in which the longtime CHILD’S PLAY/CHUCKY team have become a family, but explores how actual families deal with the enforced separation that results from filming on location.