CULT OF CHUCKY (2017) is a sleek, stylish, strangely beautiful seventh addition to the twisted franchise
#31DaysOfHorror: October 5
This October, I’ll be reviewing 31 horror movies in 31 days! You can see the ongoing list of what I’ve watched and reviewed here.
After the events of Curse of Chucky, Nica was confined to an insane asylum, convinced that she — not Chucky — murdered her family. Four years later, Chucky’s reincarnated once again, and the people around Nica start dying once more. Meanwhile, Andy Barclay — from the original Child’s Play films —has a plan that might just save Nica’s life…
What a strange franchise this is. After three initial installments of diminishing quality, writer/director Don Mancini managed to inject life into the franchise with the horror/comedy/self-aware satire Bride of Chucky, which fit in with the self-parodic, meta-slasher boom in the 90s that also included films like Scream and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. By Seed of Chucky, though, Child’s Play-as-full-on-comedy had lost its shine, and for a while the series seemed over and done.
But then, like Chucky himself, Mancini once again raised the franchise from the dead with 2013’s fantastic Curse of Chucky, which brought back the horror. The sixth installment is basically a haunted house movie, revolving around the wheelchair-bound Nica (Fiona Dourif, daughter of Brad Dourif, who has voiced Chucky since the beginning)… except, the ghost haunting the house is a familiar Good Guys doll who just wants to play. It’s atmospheric, claustrophobic, funny in just the right amounts, and plenty twisted.
Four years later, the franchise is back with Cult of Chucky, which picks up with the same characters we saw at the end of the last film. Notably, that includes Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent), back again for the first time since Child’s Play 3 (not counting his cameo at the end of Curse). Jennifer Tilly also returns as herself, and/or as Charles Lee Ray’s girlfriend Tiffany (as she says in this movie, even she can’t keep it straight anymore); she’s by far the best addition to the franchise since it began, and, I’d argue, one of the great “characters who weren’t in the first installment of a series” of all time. (Her willingness to completely break down her star persona and rebuild it as something weird and demented is pretty much the only redeeming quality of Seed.)
For a franchise that’s almost 30 years old and 7 movies in, Cult of Chucky is remarkably excellent. It’s a perfect blend of suspense, gross-out gore, and the same wacky, twisted comedy that has made the franchise a horror mainstay for all this time. Part of this is thanks to Brad Dourif’s delightfully bonkers performance as Chucky. In this movie, Chucky has learned a new voodoo spell that allows him to replicate himself, breaking off pieces of his soul and injecting them into a veritable army of Good Guy dolls. Dourif’s voice work manages to imbue each one with a slightly different personality, and the resulting effect is brilliant fun.
As an added bonus, the movie is surprisingly gorgeous. That’s not something I ever thought I would say about a film in the Child’s Play franchise, of all things, but it’s true: there are some shots in this that are downright beautiful. The set design — a cold, sterile mental hospital in the dead of winter — lends itself to a lot of vibrant whites and grays. This backdrop allows for any color to really pop; Chucky’s trademark orange hair stands out really well, as do a number of bloodred costume choices for the villains in the film. In particular, Jennifer Tilly wears a gorgeous red coat that caused me to gasp the first time she came on screen. (Also, I just really love Jennifer Tilly, you guys).
There are also a number of intriguingly-filmed setpieces, including one shot where a patient is strapped to a gurney, immobilized, and is staring up, at the snow falling outside gently covering a skylight. The initial shot is almost abstract; it’s all shapes and shadows and moving dots, and at first you’re not even sure what you’re seeing until the reverse-shot shows us the patient on the operating table. It’s disorienting, and strangely beautiful.
The final act of the film takes place over one day, and especially that night, as the snow falls harder and faster. There are too few horror movies that take place in the wintertime.This October has been unusually warm, so I had a bit of a disconnect while watching it this first time, but I can see Cult of Chucky quickly becoming a cult classic, a staple of wintertime horror-viewing; the snowy scenes are filmed so well, with such atmosphere, that you’ll want to curl up under a blanket with a mug of hot chocolate while you watch.
The performances are all great, especially Adam Hurtig as Nica’s fellow patient, Michael. Michael has multiple personalities, at times suave, at times gruff, sometimes evil, and, in one memorable scene… Mark Zuckerberg. Hurtig’s impression of Jesse Eisenberg’s The Social Network portrayal of Zuckerberg is spot-on; I picked up on what was happening the instant before Nica calls him out. Hurtig excels at all of the above. He doesn’t have a particularly extensive IMDb resume yet, but I’m hopeful that this role leads to bigger and better things for him.
My biggest (and only) complaint about Cult of Chucky is that in some ways it doesn’t feel like a complete film. The ending is bleak and a bit of a cliffhanger; it’s clear that, on one level, the final act of this movie is putting pieces into place for the next movie. In an interview with Forbes, Mancini discusses the ending of the film being “designed” to fit in with “plans” for where the continuity can go from here. That’s fine, as far as it goes; I’m a big fan of the franchise and I’ll absolutely follow it wherever it goes next. Cult of Chucky does a decent-enough job tying up various loose ends from this film, to the point where I don’t really feel like I have lingering questions beyond where the story goes next, but I can’t help feeling like it’s Cult of Chucky: Part One.
That’s a small thing, though. Mostly, I’m just glad Cult of Chucky A) exists at all, and B) is anywhere near as good as it is. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another four years for the follow-up.
But where can I stream it?: Cult of Chucky is available on Netflix, although hardcore fans should be aware that the version streaming on Netflix isn’t the Unrated version (which includes a post-credits scene).