Originally conceived as a commentary on the toy industry’s marketing practices of the 1980s, Child’s Play is a franchise which has survived longer than anyone would have thought possible. The killer doll at the center of it is cool and all, but he’s still just a doll. There’s only so many movies of that kind of slasher horror and Brad Dourif screams we can take before it all gets a bit ridiculous.
That’s why Child’s Play keeps reinventing itself. With 7 films released over 30 years, Chucky’s adventures have gone from straight ahead horror (Child’s Play 1-3) to tongue-in-cheek camp (Bride and Seed of Chucky) before shifting right back to more serious-minded horror again (Curse of Chucky) and then finally settling on a mixture of camp and horror (Cult of Chucky). Along the way, the canonical timeline has become more convoluted and the sense of humor far more meta, which is how we’ve reached a point where Jennifer Tilly has played both herself AND Chucky’s girlfriend. On top of that, Brad Dourif’s own daughter Fiona is now the new human face of the films.
Don Mancini has been with the franchise every step of the way, graduating from a Hollywood newbie who had his first Child’s Play script heavily re-written to a well-traveled veteran who has written every Chucky sequel and even directed a few of them as well. However, you stick around long enough and Hollywood will eventually do you dirty. So, while Mancini and longtime franchise producer David Kirschner prep a potential Child’s Play TV series for SyFy MGM has moved forward with a remake without them. Critics, somewhat surprisingly, don’t totally hate it. I’ll reserve my judgement until I’ve seen it.
Until then, what about the 7 Child’s Play movies from the original Don Mancini timeline? Which of those are worth remembering and which would I rather forget? I re-watched ‘em all to find out.
7. Seed of Chucky (2004)
This is the consensus pick for the worst in the franchise, and while Don Mancini has repeatedly defended it he’s also conceded that it’s simply not for everyone. Given that reputation, what’s most surprising about Seed is that it actually starts off as a rather cracking Hollywood satire, jumping down the meta rabbit hole to take us into the production of a horror film based on Chucky’s life and starring Jennifer Tilly, who proves to be especially game considering the number of jokes the script makes about her career. Soon enough, the real Chucky and his girlfriend Tiffany show up to slice and dice, but then they are confronted with their sweet-natured, gender-confused child and differ significantly over how to act as parents. Not a bad setup, but eventually the camp factor simply goes too far and the film goes straight up its own ass.
6. Child’s Play 3 (1991)
As a child, this was my favorite of the original three Chucky movies because I appreciated all the changes it made to the formula. Andy is now a teenager instead of a little kid, forcing Chucky to focus in on a new black kid for a game of hide the soul. Plus, it’s set at a military school where Chucky can easily turn a war game into a terrible massacre by switching out the blanks with live ammunition. That all stood out to me as pretty cool back in the day. However, upon a re-watch it’s far more apparent to me now how much Child’s Play 3 feels completely thrown together in a hurry, which it absolutely was since it hit theaters just 9 months after Child’s Play 2. There are some good ideas in the story, but the execution – from the performances to kill scenes to pacing – is just completely slap-dash.
5. Curse of Chucky (2013)
The first of two direct-to-video sequels, Curse was the inevitable course correction away from the supreme camp of Seed and back toward the more straight-forward horror of the 1988 original. This back-to-basics approach works surprisingly well, setting its story in-between the events of Child’s Play 3 and Bride of Chucky and dropping a newly CGI Chucky into the middle of a murdery mystery inside a giant mansion. Why he’s there and how exactly he connects to the family inside the mansion is effectively teased out until the genuinely surprising, darker-than-expected finale. Plus, Fiona Dourif joins the franchise and earns instant acclaim as a more than capable final girl.
My main issue with the film, however, is that it holds Chucky back for too long and when it eventually doles out some flashbacks to Charles Lee Rey’s pre-Chucky life it is hard to ignore how much older Dourif looks while trying to play a younger version of a character he originated nearly 25 years earlier. A petty criticism, perhaps, but the flashback is crucial to the plot and seeing an older Dourif playing young pulls me out of the movie at such an important moment.
4. Child’s Play 2 (1990)
After the events of the first film, Andy ends up in foster care and gets a badass older sister named Kyle in the process. Chucky, meanwhile, returns after the company behind the Good Guy Dolls simply cleans his charred corpse, scraps it for parts, and puts it back on the assembly line to become a new doll. As with any Part 2 in a slasher franchise, the story is thus a wait for the killer to get plenty of screen time and rack up a body count, which Chucky does immediately and with far more of a comedic edge this time. Sorry, school teacher who was mean to Andy. You’ve got to go. A final battle between Kyle, Andy and Chucky in a toy factory caps off this far more violent, far funnier sequel.
3. Cult of Chucky (2017)
What every Child’s Play movie automatically has going for it is Chucky. He’s a cool looking doll with a horror-movie-iconic voice thanks to Mr. Dourif. Cult of Chucky dares to ask what if there was more than one Chucky, thus leading to a scene featuring multiple Chuckeys conversing on-screen together. Don’t worry how it makes sense. The film waves that away with a goofy explanation. The point is Cult pulls off one of the things that had been on Mancini’s wish list for years. It also manages to tie the old continuity from the original five films to the new continuity started in Curse, meaning some old faves are brought back to share the screen with Fiona. The drawback is the small budget shows more than it should and the gore goes a tad too far on occasion for my tastes. However, Cult is tailor-made for longtime fans and follows Curse’s lead by ultimately going to some pretty dark places in the end, upending the franchise formula in the process.
2. Bride of Chucky (1998)
So much about Bride of Chucky screams 1998 now, from its post-Scream meta jokes to the nu-metal soundtrack to Ronny Yu’s gonzo direction. In that way, Bride is very much a movie of its era, which might give it a dated feel for some. However, the addition of Tiffany – girlfriend and partner in crime for Chucky – turns out to be the missing ingredient the franchise never knew it always needed. Plus, the decision to fully embrace horror-comedy works wonders in this twisted little movie which brazenly steals from the likes of Bride of Frankenstein and It’s Alive and amuses every step of the way.
1. Child’s Play (1988)
What happens with any rewatch of nearly any slasher film franchise is when you go all the way back to the first movie you’ll see far less of the killer and more of the humans. That’s because before there was a franchise with a formula to follow and hardcore fans to please there was simply a movie with a pretty decent story to tell. In the case of Child’s Play, that story is about an adorable little kid who has either snapped and turned homicidal or is being made the fall guy for a series of murders committed by his doll. Given the way director Tom Holland – no, not the Spider-Man Tom Holland – uses the killer POV through the first half of the film, the audience is meant to not know for sure if we’ve been watching the deaths through Andy’s eyes or Chucky’s.
The answer is now quite obvious, but Child’s Play still works as a clever psychological thriller with a crazy mid-movie twist. Add in Catherine Hicks as the mom and Chris Sarandon as the cop and you get a well-acted, well-directed slasher whose satirical take on the Cabbage Patch Kids craze of the 80s has yet to be sanded off and replaced with campy fun. That means some of the later films in the franchise are better for laughs and gore, but this first installment is probably the best actual movie of the whole lot.
How would you rank them? Let me know in the comments.