All honesty, I’ve never been one for rebuttals when it comes to writing about horror. I respect the opinions of others and understand that we won’t all see eye-to-eye very often, if at all. Who’s to say who’s right and who’s wrong?
However, a recent article from 1428 Elm wondered whether the Child’s Play franchise was not only spreading itself thin, but if it was in danger of getting stale.
I cannot abide. So here we go.
Having recently spoken with Child’s Play 2’s (1990) Christine Elise, she used a phrase that struck me, “Don Mancini’s empire.” Though I had never thought of it quite so succinctly, it’s no less true, because it is Mancini who drives the franchise, not Chucky, he’s merely the vehicle.
The man not only created this universe we all know and love, but has written all seven installments, directed the last three, acted as executive producer for Bride of Chucky (1998), and as of this writing, is slated to, at the very least produce the television series.
At a glance, it would appear that seven features and an upcoming TV project may appear to be a bit much, maybe even spread thin, but not when you consider that the original film hit theatres in 1988, and we have seen gaps of seven, six, nine and four years from Child’s Play 3 (1991) to the most recent effort, Cult of Chucky (2017).
What’s more, the last two films are the very reason Wade Wainio’s assertions are askew.
Mancini has always possessed perfect pitch when it comes to his franchise, not only in tone and atmosphere, but with what is or is not resonating with the fans. After Child’s Play 3, Mancini felt as though he was beginning to tell the same story over and over, and believed it was time to switch things up. And he was right, 3 didn’t have the same energy as the first two, which led to that first seven-year hiatus. Mancini made the decision to fully embrace the badboy one-liners and humor inherent in his demonic doll, and gave us the thoroughly enjoyable popcorn horror thrill ride that was Bride. And the fans loved it. That Jennifer Tilly entered the equation as Tiffany didn’t hurt one bit because Mancini realized that the time had come to give Chucky a wing-man, or wing-woman as it were. And make no mistake, Tiffany is adored by Child’s Play fans, so that particular call was a stroke of genius. And it wouldn’t be the last.
When Mancini attempted to build on the final frame of Bride with Seed of Chucky (2004), it seemed to fall flat, at least in this writer’s estimation, but as previously stated, I could be wrong, I’m sure there are many who dig the fifth film. That said, the injection of a humor focus worked for Bride, but not so much for Seed, so Mancini again took his time before unleashing the next chapter.
Nine years later, we would find Chucky venturing back to his darker roots with Curse of Chucky (2013), and though we would get our first glimpse of a new Mancini trick – the end credits tease – it wasn’t the hint of Andy’s (Alex Vincent) return that made the film, but rather the introduction of a new character, Nica Pierce. Beyond the rare slasher trait of continuity, something that has always set the Child’s Play franchise apart is the sense of family, not only on-screen, but off. Those who have built this “Mancini empire” truly appear to be a tight-knit group, and what could be more familial than casting Brad Dourif’s daughter to play the human lead? And as we all know, Ms. Dourif didn’t just get the part because she’s Brad’s offspring, she has added layers of vulnerability, strength, emotion and depth that has elevated the entire franchise.
From Curse, the most recent foray was with Cult last year, and pound-for-pound, it may be Mancini’s finest effort yet. Not only was Chucky at his hilariously villainous best, he is now legion, complete with Hannibal references that warm the heart. Fiona again delivered a sensational performance, Tilly was involved, Tiffany made an appearance, and of course, Andy is back in the fold. The story was strong, the writing spot on, it had creative kills, and despite a clinical setting, it was visually pleasing, and the climax had fans aching for what’s next.
Truly think about that last statement. We are talking about a franchise’s seventh film. Typically with such scenarios, we’re off the rails, numerous writers and directors have veered so far from the original vision that it’s almost, if not completely laughable. But Child’s Play is not Hellraiser or Friday the 13th or Children of the Corn, because it’s always had Mancini.
The final few minutes of Cult were eye-bulgingly fantastic. Chucky’s chant finally worked, and when Nica rose from her wheelchair and Ms. Dourif gifted us one of the most spot-on mimics in cinematic history, we felt chills. What is Chucky going to do in that body? Where is he going to go? What awaits down the road?
Fiona as Chucky walked out into the snow to Tilly while Andy was stuck in a cell, most likely to be framed for the slaughterhouse inside the mental health facility, to say nothing of the small army of Good Guy dolls ready to wreak havoc at Nica / Chucky’s command.
The fun didn’t end there, however, because Mancini had one last face-breaking smile left in his bag of tricks. He sent a friend to pay a visit to Chucky’s head, left at Andy’s secluded cabin, and when the sliding door opened and Kyle (Elise) walked in, you could almost hear the squeals of delight from every corner of the country.
Events, intriguing events, that will lead into the television series, and perhaps the next feature, whenever that might be.
When a franchise spreads itself thin, over-saturation is almost always the culprit. A new movie, shoddily pieced together to make a deadline focused less on quality than a cash grab. And if a television series were to be a thing, it would usually fall sometime during the height of its run, not more than three decades after it began.
Thirty years and seven movies on, that is where the Child’s Play franchise stands. It’s not only alive and well and thriving, but almost incomprehensibly improving the further it wanders from the night we met Charles Lee Ray.
And that’s as far from stale as it gets.