‘Cult of Chucky’ Is What it Is, Which May Be Fine Enough (FILM REVIEW)

It’s inexplicable that we’re on the seventh entry in the Child’s Play franchise, which began almost thirty years ago with Child’s Play in 1988, ran out of steam about half way through Child’s Play 2 in 1990, and has kept on trucking, slowly but surely, ever since. It’s almost meta, at this point. We can’t kill it. We can’t even stop it. We can’t run from it. No matter what we do, Child’s Play continues to lurk, stalking us, searching for us, waiting for us.

Like so many masked monstrosities in so many movies, there’s just no getting rid of the Child’s Play series, or its incomparable killer, Chucky. As tired as the series is (and has been, save for 2013’s bizarrely enjoyable Curse of Chucky, for which Cult of Chucky is a direct sequel), it’s hard to deny the iconic status of the murderous doll, possessed by the spirit of killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif). It seems odd to say, but he’s up there with Freddy, Jason, and Michael in the pantheon of cinematic murderers.

While the series has never topped the terror of its initial outing, and has lately become a pale imitation of itself, you do have to hand it to Don Mancini, who’s guided the series through the years with script after script of doll sized mayhem. He’s returned as writer, and director, for this outing, which unfortunately undoes a lot of the good will built up with Curse of Chucky. We’ve backslid into goofiness again, and while it’s never as bad as Bride of Chucky or Seed of Chucky, Cult of Chucky is still pretty bad.

But whatever, right? What’s another bad movie in a series built on the production of bad movies? How good can we expect it to be with a straight to home video release? I guess, in that sense, Cult of Chucky is delivering exactly what it intended to deliver. There’s no ulterior motives to a new Child’s Play or Chucky movie or whatever I’m supposed to call it now. These are face value flicks that you either love or don’t. A single bad movie (or five) isn’t going to stop this train, so either all aboard or get out of the way.

This outing finds Nica (Fiona Dourif, Brad’s daughter), the surviving cast member from Curse of Chucky, locked away in a mental institution and accused of the murders actually committed by Chucky. Despite making some progress in her treatment (which means coming to the false realization that Chucky isn’t real and that she actually committed the murders) she’s still wary about killer dolls, especially when her doctor (Michael Therriault) brings a vintage Good Guy Doll in to group therapy. Soon, patients at the insane asylum begin dying in brutal ways. Is it Nica? Or has Chucky returned? Also, Andy (Alex Vincent) from the original Child’s Play is there for some reason.

As nonsensical as the plot to Cult of Chucky is, I guess you don’t exactly watch these movies for their moving narratives. No, you watch them for the brutal murders and the voice of Dourif, whose accomplished acting skills will surely be dwarfed by his performances as Chucky. No one else could voice Chucky at this point, and if they tried then it just wouldn’t be the same. It’s too bad he’ll be more remembered as Chucky than he will as, say, Billy Bibbit from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings or Doc Cochran from Deadwood.

Flippant though I may be, I admit that there’s still a nostalgic twinge of excitement every time I hear Chucky’s trademarked sneer. Dourif manages to inject life into the lifeless with his voice portrayal, and as ridiculous and bad as Cult of Chucky might be, it’s worth watching just to hear him deliver his lines. On top of that, the best part of these movies has always been their reliance on practical effects.

Call me old fashioned, but a puppet monster and model decapitated head is more fun to watch than CGI any day. And, to Mancini’s credit, there are some great practical effects in this movie. If nothing else, he’s a modern master at practical effects and other directors could do well to follow his example.

Still, none of this ever quite makes up for how lackluster things are overall. At times Cult of Chucky feels less like a movie than a series of scenes thrown together as an excuse to show off practical effects skills. It might be worth watching for that alone, but you’re not going to get much replay value out of the experience.

The Blu-ray does include two versions of the film, rated and unrated, which is a bizarre choice for a direct to video movie. Usually these kinds of decisions are made to get one rating for the theaters and another for the home release. Without theatrical support, what’s the point? Just gives us the one cut of the movie and call it definitive. Still, I guess that does give you the excuse to watch it twice, were you so inclined. Additionally, there are a host of special features that will satisfy lovers of practical effects and Chucky.

In the end, I’m sure Cult of Chucky will be enough to satisfy the ardent fans of the franchise. All of the elements you’ve come to love are still here, and in many cases amped up considerably. On top of that, there’s enough there to keep the less devout at least mildly interested through a single watching, though it’s a shame about the script. With so many years between Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky, you’d think they’d be able to come up with something that made a bit more sense. Maybe it’ll make more sense retroactively with whatever the eighth movie ends up being. And certainly, there’s going to be another one. Maybe not soon, but one day. It’ll come. You can always count on it.

Cult of Chucky is now available to own on Blu-ray.

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