Don Mancini’s Seed of Chucky, the fourth sequel to the Mancini-penned, Tom Holland-directed Child’s Play, was one of this writer’s favorite films of 2004. Of course, horror fans expecting a more linear conventional film full of Chucky kills and one-liners were aghast by this self-referential and gleefully smutty and perverse franchise sidebar, a movie that turned the series on its head and delivered gore, silly sex, shock, laughs and style galore. It was a cross-eyed Brian De Palma movie in some respects. Hell, Mancini even commissioned De Palma’s right-hand man Pino Donaggio to compose the elegant score. I adored the film because I could see the fun Mancini was having sculpting a gleeful salute to the sort of cinema he adores and using the Chucky films he will forever be chained to to do so. But I get why the picture also served to isolate many fans.
And while I enjoyed the more somber, conventional direct-to-video Mancini-directed Curse of Chucky — which was a calculated bid to make something closer to the Hitchcockian original — I am pleased as punch to report that the follow-up to that film, Cult of Chucky (releasing on October 3rd to Blu-ray, DVD and Digital) sees Mancini exploiting the success of Curse by cannily concocting yet another deeply eccentric and totally personal melting pot of influences, quoting everything from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Samuel Fuller’s delirious Shock Corridor to Brian De Palma’s Raising Cain to David Cronenberg’s The Brood to Dario Argento’s Suspiria and even A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 while also delivering the most giddily macabre and oddly disturbing and dream-like Chucky movie yet.
Fiona Dourif (daughter of Brad, who of course serves as the voice of Chucky) returns as Nica, the paraplegic heroine who survived Chucky’s rebirth and rampage and is now locked in an antiseptic insane asylum, filled with every class of fractured soul and lorded over by the patronizing Dr. Foley (Michael Therriault). As the good Doc tries to convince Nica that her Chucky ravings are just that, he brings replica Good Guy dolls into the ward for the other patients, using the dolls to exploit the fears and delusions of his patients. But when the dolls begin walking and talking and swearing and killing, it’s up to Nica to either convince her captors that Chucky is legit or claw her way out of the dream-like loony bin. Throw in Jennifer Tilly as a supposedly DIFFERENT character than either herself (who she played in Seed) or her character Tiffany and Alex Vincent reprising his roles as Andy Barclay from the first two films and you have a Chucky movie that is clearly cannibalizing its own mythology, which sort of explains the word “Cult” in the title. Of course, there’s more to that title than just self-reference and we certainly won’t spoil that here…
While Curse was an “old dark house” movie by way of women-in-peril classics like Lady in a Cage and Wait Until Dark, Cult of Chucky is a wildly deranged free-fall into psyche-ward horror, like The Snake Pit, the 1962 remake of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Curtains, spiraling into head-trip zones the series has never before broached and giving Dourif a huge, stark-white canvas to deliver a totally ballistic performance, literally channeling her dad and proving that she’s a force to be reckoned with. And damn, does Mancini know how to direct and stage scenes. Cult of Chucky is a modestly-budgeted film, shot in Winnipeg in the dead of skin-withering winter (it was colder than a Mother-in-law’s kiss… I know, I was on set) and filmed on practically-designed, simple and beautiful sets, abstractly creating an impression of an asylum and using whites to make the appearance of Chucky — in his rainbow-striped outfit with that shock of orange hair — even more alarming. The wide, white spaces and snow-covered exteriors also come in handy when Mancini blasts blood and gore all over the joint, which he does often. Indeed, we can add Lucio Fulci to the myriad maestros Mancini nods to here, because the carnage is totally over-the-top.
In fact, there are so many nods in the movie, I’m surprised it doesn’t have whiplash. There’s even a cheeky allusion to another Jennifer Tilly classic, 1996’s Bound, and a wink to Mancini’s pal Bryan Fuller’s cancelled Hannibal series. There’s also a nifty confessional aspect to the picture, nowhere more evident than in the opening sequence where the adult Andy is on a date with a woman only to learn she’d googled him and is concerned about his checkered and violent history. So Andy retreats home alone and pulls out Chucky’s severed head and places it on his desk. After resigning himself to the fact that he and the murderous doll (or what’s left of it) belong together, he pulls out a blow torch to sadistically take out his frustration on the cursing Chucky. Could this be Mancini’s own sighs we hear in this scene? Could he be saying that he’s tired of being tied to the Chucky franchise he created and yet has accepted the fact that he and the series are now one in the same? And could Andy’s fiery antics be Mancini’s mission statement that if he IS indeed irrevocably tied to Chucky-verse than, f**k it, he’s going to — as Al Pacino blusters in Scent of a Woman — “Take a FLAME thrower to this place!” and dismantle conventions, rebuilding the mythos as he sees fit? I like to think so. Because the beauty of Cult of Chucky is that it really has no rules save for the ones Mancini is making up as he goes along. It’s fun to see his genius tucked into the confines of a movie that positions itself as a direct-to-video horror sequel. Cult of Chucky is a funny — sometimes blackly, sometimes broadly — bloody and hopelessly deranged horror film and as long as Mancini is stuck to the Chuck, I’m in, forever.