Writer: Don Mancini
Cast: Brad Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Katherine Heigl, Nick Stabile, Alexis Arquette, Gordon Michael Woolvett, John Ritter, Michael Louis Johnson
Plot: A police officer steals a bagged item from an evidence locker, bringing it to a mysterious woman (Jennifer Tilly) in a parking garage. The woman, Tiffany, kills him and retrieves from the bag the shattered remains of the “Good Guy” doll, Chucky, possessed by the spirit of serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif). As she stitches the doll back together, she begins a ritual to restore it to life. Although her first attempt seems unsuccessful, she uses a pathetic wanna-be Goth named Damian (Alexis Arquette) to help bring him back. Chucky, you see, was her boyfriend for years before he died… and he was violently jealous. With Damian trapped, the doll returns to life and slays him. Tiffany is dismayed when she learns the ring she found in Chucky’s house after he died was not an engagement ring, as she suspected, but just another bauble stolen from one of his victims. Angry, she refuses to continue with the plan to help Chucky regain a human body and locks him up.
Elsewhere, we see a young man named David (Gordon Michael Woolvett) pick up a girl named Jade (Katherine Heigl) for a date. David is just a ruse, though, a clean-cut young man her uncle Warren (John Ritter) doesn’t object to. Once they leave the house, she jumps in the back seat of David’s car, where her boyfriend Jesse (Nick Stabile) is waiting. They’re busted when a beat cop, Norton (Michael Louis Johnson) pulls them over and Jade’s uncle – the Chief of Police — shows up to take her away.
The next day, Tiffany moves a crate with Damian’s corpse out of her trailer and asks her neighbor – Jesse – for help loading it into her car. She flirts with him, but he resists, telling her he’s seeing someone. Tiffany asks him to “treat her right” and leaves. When she returns she has a surprise for Chucky – a Bride Doll she places into his cage to mock him. He uses the ring she places on the doll to cut through his wooden bars and, as she relaxes in a bubble bath, pushes in a television and electrocutes her. As she dies, Chuck repeats the voodoo ritual that trapped him in the doll 10 years ago, placing her spirit into the Bride Doll.
Chucky tells her their only hope of getting human bodies is by means of an amulet that was buried with his real body ten years ago, but they have no way of getting to the cemetery in New Jersey. Tiffany calls Jesse and offers him a thousand dollars to pick up a pair of special dolls from her trailer and transport them. Before he leaves, he goes to Jade’s house and begs her to run away with him. She agrees, and as she rushes to pack, Warren tries to find a way into Jesse’s van. Chucky prepare to stab him, but Tiffany urges him to get more creative. When Warren enters the van, he stumbles into a trap the dolls prepared, riddling his face with nails. The teens, unaware that Warren’s body is in the van, are pulled over by Norton. As he calls the station, the dolls sneak out, light his gas tank on fire, and blow up his car. Jesse and Jade floor it, each suspecting the other of killing Norton and afraid the media is going to pin his death on them.
Despite this, they swing through a wedding chapel in Niagara Falls. Tiffany grows more nostalgic over the prospect of a wedding. Chucky starts to apologize for getting them into the situation, but everything goes crazy as a still-living Warren pops out. As Jade and Jesse are nervously married, Chucky chops up Jade’s uncle with a knife. Jade joins the fun later, butchering another couple at the hotel who steals from Jesse and Jade, and Chucky goes mad with love. The next morning the bodies are found by a maid (Kathy Najimy in a weird cameo) and Jesse and Jade panic and flee.
They’re met by David, who knows each of them have been suspecting each other of killing the people in their wake, but David is convinced there’s a third party: Warren. That theory is shattered, though, when he finds Warren’s body hidden in the van. Now afraid that one of his friends is a killer, he takes Warren’s gun and demands they pull over, revealing the body. The dolls reveal themselves, pulling out guns. Terrified, David stumbles into the street and it pulverized by an 18-wheeler. The dolls demand Jesse starts driving. The plan is revealed now – they want to place their spirits into Jesse and Jade’s bodies.
On the radio, a news bulletin says that Charles Lee Ray’s fingerprints were found at the scene of one of the “Jesse and Jade” murders, and that Ray’s body will be exhumed. As they continue towards New Jersey in a stolen camper, Jesse and Jade stir a little discord between the grotesque couple. While they argue, the teens take advantage and shove Tiffany into the oven and Chucky out the window. The camper crashes and the teens barely get out. Jesse takes Tiffany hostage as Chucky takes Jade and forces her to take him to the cemetery. The men force each other to let the women go, and Chucky throws a knife at Jade, but Jesse takes it in his back instead. Tiffany distracts him, taking his knife and stabbing him in the back, too touched by Jesse and Jade’s love to destroy it. The dolls fight, Chucky stabbing Tiffany. Jesse knocks the doll into Ray’s open grave and Jade guns him down. A cop who’s been pursuing them arrives in time to see Chucky’s death and lets them go, swearing no one will believe it. Moments later, Tiffany begins screaming, her stomach twitching… and a little baby doll spurts out in a gout of blood.
Thoughts: The original Child’s Play movie was an earnest effort at a scary movie about a murderer who took over the body of a creepy little doll and went on a killing spree. Like I said in the eBook edition of Reel to Reel: Mutants, Monsters and Madmen (totally available on Amazon.com for just $2.99, you guys), it never quite worked for me. It was a little too ridiculous, a little too silly, and eventually, the filmmakers came to agree with me. By this film, fourth in the series and the first to drop the Child’s Play banner and begin marketing it via Chucky himself, they realized it wasn’t as scary as it should be and decided instead to play it for laughs.
The movie, and the franchise, takes a sharp turn in this film. It’s the first time the movie abandons the concept of a child possessing the abandoned doll in favor of the new adventures of Chucky and Tiffany. I’m guessing this was a practical concern – putting a child in danger makes for good drama in a horror film. It’s a little tasteless to do the same if you’re trying to make a joke out of the whole thing. But hacking up teens and adults? That’s fair game for a few good chuckles.
Let’s face it – if one murderous doll is hard to take seriously as a movie monster, two of them are virtually impossible. Once Tiffany is inside her doll as well, it’s like watching some horrific version of It’s A Small World. The jokes start flying fast and furious as well – Tiffany tells Chucky she wouldn’t be with him if he had G.I. Joe’s body, she sits around reading Voodoo For Dummies… there are moments where the film trends dangerously close to becoming a flat-out spoof.
There’s an odd sort of visual transition here as well. In order to make Chucky less frightening, they make him more menacing. Tiffany’s crude stitch job has become the de facto image for Chucky, replacing the pristine and far creepier Good Guy doll look he started with. We also start getting a lot of good visual gags as well. My favorite bit is at the police evidence room at the very beginning, where we see a couple of familiar masks, a chainsaw, and a bladed glove. I’m not sure if this was an actual effort to join the fun of smashing horror movie killers together (something people had been calling for since Freddy Krueger’s surprise cameo in 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell) or just a little treat for the fans, but it was a cool visual moment for someone like me, someone who lives off looking for the connections and influences amongst these films. If that isn’t enough for you, though, Yu pulls out the most blatant homage in Tiffany’s death scene. The movie she’s watching in the bathtub as Chucky roasts her? The universal classic Bride of Frankenstein. The Easter Eggs keep coming after that, with references to Hellraiser and others sprinkled in throughout the film. (It’s worth noting, by the way, that Ronny Yu would go on to finally marry the two biggest franchises of the 80s in 2003′s Freddy Vs. Jason.)
Perhaps a less inspired choice was the decision to insert cartoon sound effects into the moments of violence. The same thing happened a few times in Army of Darkness, but as that was more of a cartoony sort of violence, it didn’t really bother me. The violence in this movie is much more graphic, though. Using a sound clip that sounds like it came out of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon when Chucky rips out Damian’s piercings in a bloody fountain, though… well now, that’s different. Fortunately, they don’t maintain that for every kill. The moment where Tiffany slays the couple in the hotel room by shattering the mirror over their waterbed and letting the shards rain down on them is the equal to any good horror film. We lose the horror, though, and go into just plain bizarre a few seconds later when the dolls consummate their relationship. Pretty much the only way to absorb the tender way in which the scene is filmed is to keep telling yourself it’s just a parody, just a parody, repeat it until it’s over, just a pa– oh god the dolls are talking about condoms.
In the weirdest way, the movie kind of follows the track of a romantic comedy. Chucky and Tiffany are reunited after a long absence; they’re torn apart by a misunderstanding, and slowly find each other again. It would almost be sweet if it wasn’t for the fact that they’re a pair of murderous dolls. There’s also a weird sort of statement about gender roles here. Chucky keeps trying to force Tiffany into the 50s domestic housewife stereotype, which she seems perfectly willing to do until someone points out to her that it’s kind of demeaning. Then, once we’re down to the two couples in the climax, the two men take the two women hostage in order to battle it out. On the other hand, the ladies get the upper hand in the end – Tiffany thwarts Chucky and Jade is the one to blow him away.
Like so many of the horror movies of this past, this one is often talked about for either yet another sequel or a remake. I have to be honest, although I haven’t seen the final film in the series (2004’s Seed of Chucky) I’d rather they continue the story on the track they’re on, because I really get more enjoyment out of the franchise when they’re cracking wise about how ridiculous their situation is and how goofy horror films in general tend to be. This is definitely a case where going back to the beginning would cost us something in translation.
Don’t forget, Lunatics and Laughter is the second Reel to Reel movie study. The first, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!
And while the 20 films for the first phase of Lunatics and Laughter have been selected, I’m still taking suggestions for next year’s expanded eBook edition. I’m especially looking for good horror/comedies from before 1980, so if you’ve got any ideas, please share them in the comments section.