Best & Worst: Child’s Play

When it comes to horror, nothing is sacred. This is especially true when it comes to the slasher subgenre. Seemingly every popular slasher has gotten countless sequels, remakes, reboots, and whichever other terminology you’d like to use. All you have to do is run down the list for proof; The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and even Leprechaun have seen highs and lows mixed with a butchered re-imagining of their villains. Only one iconic 1980’s slasher has stayed true to one primary storyline throughout his over thirty year career. That is, until now. Later this week, the remake of Child’s Play hits theaters. Of course, that means that it’s time to rank all seven entries of the original series in this installment of Cinema Smack’s Best & Worst!

Before we begin, we should talk a little about the upcoming remake as there’s a bit of controversy surrounding this new version of Chucky, the infamous killer doll. The Child’s Play franchise was created by Don Mancini with the first film being released in 1988. Mancini is responsible for writing the original film, along with John Lafia and Tom Holland, and every single one of its sequels. He even directed the three most recent films in the original series. It has long been rumored that a darker, more serious remake was in the works from Mancini with the voice of Chucky, Brad Dourif, confirmed to return. However, plans fell through and Mancini continued his original series with direct-to-video releases. Though, there is currently a television series, appropriately titled Chucky, in development for release on the Syfy channel in 2020 that will continue Mancini’s take on the character.

After things fell through with Mancini’s proposed film, MGM Studios decided to reboot the franchise themselves without the help of the original creator. In addition, longtime franchise stalwarts like Dourif and Jennifer Tilly declined to participate in the 2019 film. Instead, Norwegian director Lars Klevberg helms the film with Aubrey Plaza starring. The film will mostly follow the events of the original 1988 Child’s Play with some 21st century enhancements. Chucky gets an upgrade as a smart, robotic toy that suffers a malfunction. Perhaps the lone bright spot for fans of the original series is the casting of the legendary Mark Hamill as the voice of the new Chucky. Of course, Hamill is best known for his role as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars saga but he has also done stellar voice work throughout his career. In this regard, he has been known as the definitive voice for Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Joker, in Batman: The Animated Series and the recent Batman: Arkham video games.

With that bit of business out of the way, let’s kick off our list with the worst of the Child’s Play franchise!

7. Seed of Chucky (2004)

When it comes to Seed of Chucky, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t label this film as the worst of the bunch. In this fifth go-round, Glen/Glenda (Billy Boyd), the spawn of the killer doll duo of Chucky and Tiffany, voiced by Brad Dourif and Jennifer Tilly respectively, escapes from being a ventriloquist dummy in an effort to reunite with his parents. He locates them on a Hollywood film set and resurrects them with the belief that they’ll be a happy family. Upon being resurrected, Chucky feeds his natural urge to kill and wants Glen to follow in his footsteps. Tiffany, however, taps into the more sensitive Glenda side of their offspring’s personality and wants to take over the human body of actress Jennifer Tilly and live a normal life. Chucky and Tiffany find themselves at odds in parenting but both try to do what they think is right for Glen/Glenda.

Seed of Chucky is a strange and unbelievably stupid film to talk about in general. As you can see from the plot, the film is a mess but, in all honesty, there’s something endearing about it. It was the first to be directed by Don Mancini and also the last to be theatrically released. Ultimately, Mancini chooses to have fun with this film and, if you just accept Seed of Chucky for what it is, you’ll find yourself having fun with it too. There’s a ton of self-referential humor, most of which is from Jennifer Tilly herself, that’s legitimately laugh out loud funny at times. The film even calls attention to the absurdity of the franchise in general with a declaration from Brad Dourif’s Chucky that he actually enjoys being a killer doll. All in all, Seed of Chucky isn’t a good movie by any means. Yet, it’s a very fun movie that’s good enough for some mind numbingly stupid humor from time to time.

6. Cult of Chucky (2017)

Surprisingly, the newest film in the Mancini series, Cult of Chucky, gets quite a bit of love from fans. The film picks up four years after the end of Curse of Chucky with that film’s protagonist, Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif), in a mental institution after being framed for the murders of her family committed by Chucky. She’s transferred to a medium security institution where she participates in group therapy where her doctor, Dr. Foley (Michael Therriault), introduces a Good Guy doll. Nica is also visited by Tiffany in human form (as Jennifer Tilly) who brings her the doll her niece used to cope with the murders from the previous film. Meanwhile, Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) holds the original Chucky’s head as a hostage which he continuously tortures. He also uses the head as a means to hopefully get Nica freed from the hospital.

While Cult of Chucky does do some interesting things with its plot and connects characters from Chucky’s past, present, and future, it’s just another jumbled mess of a sequel. The multiple Chucky idea is new and fresh but it starts to change things far too late in the game and doesn’t provide any explanations. Brad Dourif’s real-life daughter, Fiona, is a great new series protagonist as the paraplegic Nica. She has an undeniable presence onscreen and feels like an important piece of the puzzle moving forward. Hopefully, she’s brought back for the upcoming television series as well. It’s fun to see Alex Vincent return as Andy, the original film’s protagonist. He’s obviously much different here than he was as a child all those years ago but Mancini and company do a good job making his character in this film feel like a logical progression. There’s also another unexpected cameo in a post-credits scene that hopefully pays off in the TV show. As a standalone film, Cult of Chucky does some nice things but it’s overshadowed by some dumb choices. Regardless, it leaves the series on a good cliffhanger that will hopefully be further explored in the near future.

5. Child’s Play 3 (1991)

Child’s Play 3 is a film that is often at the bottom of the pile along with Seed. Yet, upon rewatching it again recently, Child’s Play 3 really isn’t as bad as a lot of people may remember it. The plot sees a teenage Andy Barclay (Justin Whalin) enlisted into Kent Military Academy. Here, he looks to shed his past difficulties adapting to life after Chucky. However, Chucky is resurrected when the Play Pals toy company reopens its factory and begins making new Good Guy dolls. Chucky locates Andy and mails himself to Kent where he’s first discovered by a young boy named Tyler (Jeremy Sylvers). Due to having a new body, Chucky believes he has found a loophole to take over Tyler’s body instead of Andy’s as he had set out to do. Of course, he can’t leave Andy be as he decides to wreak havoc on Kent anyway.

Of the original three films, this one is certainly the worst but it’s not completely devoid of substance. The acting across the board is pretty good and Justin Whalin plays a convincing teenage Andy. Another villainous character is introduced with Travis Fine’s Lieutenant Colonel Brett C. Shelton and he’s really good throughout. Even Hellraiser alum Andrew Robinson makes an uncomfortable but satisfying appearance as an obsessive military barber. Brad Dourif is in top form with some of Chucky’s best one liners coming in this film. There has always been humor throughout the series but this is the first film where it seems to take more precedent. Where Child’s Play 3 really falls flat, though, is with its ending. Somehow, the climax ends up in a haunted house carnival ride seemingly out of nowhere. It’s a neat set piece but it has no business being in this film. For the record, Mancini himself has cited that Child’s Play 3 is not his favorite.

4. Curse of Chucky (2013)

Eight years after Seed came the direct-to-video release of Curse of Chucky. Many see Curse as a return to form for the series as the ridiculous humor and nonsense gives way to more traditional horror in this installment. The film opens with the infamous Chucky doll mysteriously arriving at the Pierce household. That night, Nica’s mother, Sarah (Chantal Quesnelle), is found stabbed to death in a supposed suicide. Following Sarah’s death, Nica’s sister, Barb (Danielle Bisutti), visits with her husband, Ian (Brennan Elliott), their daughter, Alice (Summer Howell), live-in nanny, Jill (Maitland McConnell), and Father Frank (A Martinez). Nica allows Alice to have Chucky and, soon, strange occurrences, and even death, begin happening in the Pierce home once again.

As previously mentioned, Curse of Chucky seems to correct many of the things that Seed did to sabotage the franchise. It’s truly bizarre how both films were written and directed by the same person. Not only is Curse a better horror film but it’s a more well made film in general. There’s a style and mood that’s quickly established with a lot of built up suspense from its pacing and camerawork. However, the film isn’t perfect as it has a murky backstory that doesn’t necessarily work. Also, the actual Chucky doll is quite ugly compared to all of the films that came before Curse. The same is true for Cult of Chucky even though it seems a little better in that film than here. Either way, this film better captures the essence of the character and is among the top films in the series.

3. Child’s Play (1988)

This is the first time that the original film in a series hasn’t come in at either #1 or #2 on a Best & Worst. The first Child’s Play is certainly iconic in its own right but was not the pinnacle of the franchise. This first film opens with a shootout between the Lakeshore Strangler, Charles Lee Ray AKA Chucky in human form, and detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) in a toy store. Ray is fatally wounded but uses a voodoo spell to transfer his soul into a Good Guy doll before he dies. Meanwhile, Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) celebrates her son, Andy’s, sixth birthday. When Andy is disappointed by not receiving a Good Guy doll for his birthday, Karen purchases one off of a peddler in an alley. Of course, the doll is possessed by Chucky who can only transfer his soul into the body of the first person he clued in that he was actually alive. Then, the battle is on to save Andy before Chucky can take over his body.

With such a ludicrous premise, Child’s Play never feels stupid in execution. The horror elements are played straight and there’s an air of mystery to the story as the killer isn’t immediately revealed. First time viewers will find themselves questioning if the doll is actually alive for a good portion of the film. The eventual reveal of Chucky is classic and simply awesome. Catherine Hicks and Chris Sarandon are both great in their roles and, of course, Brad Dourif knocks it out of the park as the murderous doll. Though, young Alex Vincent can be quite annoying as Andy at times. It’s not necessarily his fault as a six year old boy but some of his scenes can be irksome. Nevertheless, Child’s Play is a great horror film but there are two others in which Chucky reaches his absolute heights.

2. Bride of Chucky (1998)

If Child’s Play was a suitable introduction for Chucky, then Bride of Chucky was a welcome reinvention of the character. After being chopped to pieces at the end of Child’s Play 3, Charles Lee Ray’s former girlfriend, Tiffany Valentine, pays a police officer to retrieve the pieces of Chucky’s body for her. She reassembles the pieces into a patchwork version of the doll and uses a similar voodoo spell to bring Chucky back from the dead. Upon doing so, Chucky reveals that he never intended to commit to Tiffany before he died and the two begin a brief rivalry. Soon, Chucky kills Tiffany and resurrects her into her own doll. The two unite to travel to Hackensack, New Jersey, to recover an amulet needed to transfer their souls into new bodies. They enlist the help of Tiffany’s neighbor, Jesse (Nick Stabile), to bring the supposed inanimate dolls to New Jersey for $1000. Jesse convinces his girlfriend, Jade (Katherine Heigl) to run away and marry him so the two can be together without interference from Jade’s uncle, Warren (John Ritter). As bodies begin to pile up, Jesse and Jade suspect each other to be killers while the police are on the lookout for the young couple.

Bride of Chucky began a lot of the self-referential humor that would infest Seed of Chucky later. However, it’s done smartly and never feels overbearing. There are homages to other popular slashers as well as critiques on the changes in the world over the ten years since the franchise began. Things like Chucky criticizing the current music scene before turning on White Zombie and Tiffany idolizing Martha Stewart provide humorous moments in between brutal kills. The film delivers on all fronts and even introduces the character of Tiffany who has become as synonymous with the series as Chucky. Also, the new look of Chucky was an instant success and has, arguably, become his signature look with the general public. Overall, Bride of Chucky is funny, brutal, smart, and just plain fun overall. It’s everything people should expect from a Child’s Play movie and that lands it at #2 on our list.

1. Child’s Play 2 (1990)

When it comes to the ultimate Child’s Play experience, Child’s Play 2 has to take top honors. It’s everything people loved about the first film turned up a notch. Two years after the events of the original, Play Pals is looking to revitalize its image following the Andy Barclay-killer doll debacle. The original Chucky doll is repaired and reassembled in a massive relaunch of the Good Guys brand. Things don’t go according to plan when a worker is electrocuted during the process and the Play Pals CEO (Peter Haskell) instructs his assistant (Greg Germann) to get rid of the doll. Obviously, Chucky kills the assistant and seeks out to find his “friend till the end,” Andy Barclay. Andy is taken in by a new foster family, Phil (Gerrit Graham) and Joanne (Jenny Agutter) Simpson, while his mother remains in a mental hospital. He forms a quick bond with the cynical Kyle (Christine Elise), a teenage adoptee who’s also living with the Simpsons. Soon enough, Chucky locates Andy to finish what he started by transferring his soul into Andy’s body.

Like we said about A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors when it topped our Best & Worst for that franchise, Child’s Play 2 simply has everything you could want from this series. It lightens up the mood and is a much more colorful and vibrant film than its predecessor. However, it’s also much more violent. It features some vicious kills and Brad Dourif as possibly his most sinister Chucky to date. There’s also plenty of humor but it never comes close to the absurd levels in Bride or, especially, Seed of Chucky. The final showdown in the Play Pals toy factory is bloodily awesome and is a perfect setting for a film dubbed Child’s Play. While there could certainly be cases made for both the original and Bride of Chucky, Child’s Play 2 is the quintessential film in the franchise in terms of our list.

With the 2019 reboot coming out this week, is there any chance that it will come close to knocking down the heavy hitters on this list? Things aren’t looking too promising due to the lack of endorsement from anyone involved with the original series. Not to mention, the actual Chucky doll looks very unappealing in the trailers and still images released. As previously mentioned, the one saving grace could be Mark Hamill’s performance as the bloodthirsty Good Guy Buddi doll. On the bright side, though, Child’s Play 2019 could at least be better than Seed or Cult of Chucky. Yet, even those films still hold some appeal despite their shortcomings. For fans of Don Mancini’s vision, perhaps the eventual Syfy television series is the only thing worth waiting for when it comes to this franchise.

That’s it for this installment of Cinema Smack’s Best & Worst! Do you agree with our list? Let us know in the comment section below and keep an eye out for our review, and possible crucifixion, of Child’s Play 2019!

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