What, they’re still making these?
Oh, ****, this the seventh of these things – the latest instalment in the 29-year-old Child’s Play franchise, once again written and directed by Don Mancini, who by now has steered this bizarre string of films through so many genres and pop-culture trends that I honestly couldn’t say, before watching this one, what I was in for. Now, after having watched it, I still can’t say for certain exactly what it was. These films have been, at various points, generic slashers, satirical comedies, and psychological thrillers. Cult of Chucky is all of those things, and also some others. It’s a weird and violent little film which, depending on how it performs, is either going to be a swansong or a fresh start for horror’s most tenacious, indestructible franchise.
This time around we’re given what is mostly a serious single-location thriller, albeit one with smatterings of dark humour and a bunch of extended cameos from various series’ personalities (including Jennifer Tilly and Alex Vincent). I couldn’t begin to explain the state of the continuity at this point, but fans can fill in the blanks. Cult of Chucky is more or less a direct sequel to Curse of Chucky, and once again stars Fiona Dourif as a wheelchair-bound Nica, who has been institutionalised since the events of the previous film and now, thanks to years of “therapy”, believes she is guilty of Chucky’s killing spree. Said “therapy” has been conducted by a Dr Foley (Michael Therriault), a sexually deviant hypnotist who gets some character development and some funny lines and some creepy scenes.
Setting Chucky’s latest spree in an asylum, where none of the victims are likely to be believed, is actually quite a smart choice, as is keeping its interiors so blindingly white and clinical. When the blood starts to flow (and there’s a lot of it here) it contrasts so starkly with the background that you get the sense even an innocuous nosebleed would make a serious impression. And Chucky (Brad Dourif) isn’t handing out nosebleeds, believe me. I wouldn’t spoil any of the kills – which, let’s be frank, are more important in this franchise than any plot swerves – but suffice it to say that in Cult of Chucky the eponymous doll puts on arguably his career-best performance.
Is that going to sway you if you don’t enjoy these films? Nope, not for a moment. And even if you do enjoy these films, but have missed a couple such that you’re not entirely brushed-up on the continuity, there are enough cutesy insider references here that it might feel slightly alienating. I know that I didn’t catch all the nods and winks, and while I can’t say it affected my enjoyment (this is a fun film), I also know I’m a much easier sell than most. So, maybe keep than in mind.
All the same, though, Cult of Chucky is, on balance, one of the best Child’s Play films since… well, Child’s Play. It’s a mostly back-to-basics retooling of a franchise that kind of lost its way in some respects, but it still manages to retain and incorporate all the odd wrinkles and fan-favourite flourishes that make this strange, endless series so unique and appealing. I couldn’t say how well this instalment might perform, especially during an October that is relatively stuffed with high-profile and high-quality genre fare, but perhaps Cult of Chucky’s modest straight-to-DVD-and-VOD status might do it some favours. It’s always advantageous to be the craziest killer doll in the toy store.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.