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Cult of Chucky series creator Don Mancini returns to the direct chair the seventh chapter in the long-running demon-doll slasher franchise.
Killer-doll movies have been an enduringly creepy horror staple for decades and currently seem to be enjoying a major commercial revival in The Conjuring / Annabelle Creation. Started with Child’s Play(1988), the Chucky franchise has so far provided us six helpings of the malevolent grinning toy possessed by the evil spirit of a wisecracking serial killer. Quality levels have inevitably wobbled but the most recent reboot, Curse of Chucky (2013), was widely hailed as a strong comeback, generating enough critical and commercial buzz to spawn yet another sequel. Cult of Chucky full movie was triumphantly received at its FrightFest world premiere in London recently.
Screenwriter Don Mancini, who created the character and co-wrote most of the series, returns to direct for the third time here. As with Curse of Chucky, the blend of comic-book carnage and tongue-in-cheek humor is more joyful than scary, but Mancini is obviously working from a profound knowledge and paternal affection for the series. Universal’s genre-friendly 1440 Entertainment subdivision is once again releasing this Canada-shot sequel directly to VOD and home-entertainment formats in North America on Tuesday, though other territories will host theatrical runs later in the year.
Mancini uses the main story from Curse of Chucky, with wheelchair-bound Nica (Fiona Dourif, whose father Brad dubs the demonic doll himself) still under lock and key after being framed for Chucky’s most recent killing spree. Diagnosed as insane and delusional, she is sent to a fortress-like secure mental hospital in the snowy hinterlands, where sleazy psychotherapist Foley (Michael Therriault) thinks it’s a smart move to bring several wide-eyed, flame-haired Chucky dolls into the ward to help ease Nica’s mental health. What could possibly go wrong?
Also converging on the asylum are two further Curse of Chucky survivors: the grown-up Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent), who survived the first three Child’s Play movies, and Jennifer Tilly once again playing none other than herself, or at least her meta version who has been possessed by Chucky’s malicious girlfriend Tiffany Valentine since Bride of Chucky (1998). “Does anyone ever tell you you look exactly like Jennifer Tilly?” Nica asks her, a heavy-handed in-joke for the franchise faithful. Horror-addicted fans may also spot fleeting tributes to Carrie, The Shining and more.
Sticking dutifully within genre rules, Cult of Chucky full movie starts slowly, dropping a few jump shocks and false alarms into a low-voltage first act. The creepy, futuristic, almost Kubrickian hospital design and the soaring aerial scenes of snowy Manitoba bring pleasant distractions while Mancini ultimately ramps up the suspense, teasing us with obligatory hints that Nica may actually be a real serial killer plagued by nightmarish hallucinations.
But once the Chucky dolls turn on the demonically possessed doll mode, the bratty quips and blissfully nasty murders come thick and fast, with drillings and decapitations, high heels and compressed air canisters all part of their harmony. Mancini’s low-key shooting style also shifts up a gear with slow-motion split-screen action and deranged psycho-lesbian clinches, like Brian de Palma on an indie-movie budget.
A genuine 91-minute run, Cult of Chucky full movie is a bit self-spoofing slasher, a bit lowbrow bloodbath and full guilty pleasure. There are plot holes here bigger than Trump Tower, and almost as ridiculous, but only the most joylessly wrong-headed film critic would waste mental energy unpicking them. More importantly, Dourif Jr.’s acting skills are irritatingly underused in the lead role, reduced to a wan spectator for much of the action until a final-act twist brings a much-needed spring in her step. Inevitably, the gothic, revved-up, kick-ass conclusion leaves the door open for further chapters. And they will come. The Chucky series is hardly Toy Story, but it is trustfully pulpy entertaining, the gift that keeps on taking.