I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was surprised as hell when Curse of Chucky got announced. Seed of Chucky was not only a disappointment for fans, but it didn’t do well in theaters and got kind of slapped together on DVD. I remember waiting a year for it to hit home video because I didn’t get to see it in theaters. I didn’t even wait to rent it before snatching it up as soon as it came out. While it’s grown on me and I definitely understand what it was going for and think it succeeded at that, it knocked me for a loop when I saw it as a high school freshman.
That might have been the only franchise entry where, as soon as I saw it, I was sure we’d never get another. For a few years, nothing but silence. Then a remake got announced, but nothing ever came of it. That was largely due to MGM owning the original while Universal owned the rest of the franchise. Rights issues like that were the only things holding back the few horror remakes we didn’t see in the late 2000s.
So, when Curse of Chucky was announced, it was already completely unexpected because I’m not sure anyone believed the franchise would continue except for—thankfully—Don Mancini. Along with its announcement, though, came the news that it would be direct-to-DVD/Blu-ray/VOD. Given that every previous entry had been theatrical, that felt like cause for alarm. It should also be taken into account that the DTV model had been hugely popular throughout the 2000s, but had waned quite a bit by the time Curse got announced.
It felt like it had everything stacked against it. It just felt like it was not going to be good. As a lifelong fan of that franchise, I’ve never been more happy to be proven wrong. Honestly, as silly as it sounds, Curse of Chucky taught me so much about giving any movie a chance, no matter how it looks from the onset. Because everything felt like this should not have worked.
Most people expected it to be a soft reboot and in a way it is. It’s a new story that goes back to the tone of the original. But at the same time, it manages to tie together the entire franchise. If that had been theatrical, it would have alienated the general audience. Mancini brilliantly took advantage of the smaller release to throw in things that were just for the fans.
Yet here’s the contradiction that really sells the film: while it kind of needed to be straight-to-video, it doesn’t feel DTV at all. That’s because it does something that surprisingly not enough movies of the type do: it’s smaller. So many DTV flicks don’t write to their smaller budget and try to go toe-to-toe with their larger budget counterparts.
Curse has less money to work with, so it’s confined to one house and a set cast. It never feels stale. The characters don’t get old and it never starts to feel repetitive. One of the best things about this franchise is that each movie feels like it’s part of a different sub-genre. Each has a drastically different setting. From Chicago, to suburbia to military school, Jersey, Hollywood and now a large Victorian house in the middle of nowhere.
It takes on an old-school, gothic feel. There’s something about it that’s very reminiscent of The Haunting, but with a healthy dose of Hammer as well. Chucky’s presence builds tension because we’re intimately familiar with who he is and what he can do. The scene in which Chucky poisons a bowl of chili is such a perfect example of this. It’s shot in a way that’s meant to disorient us, to challenge us into guessing which one of these people at the dinner table is going to die. That’s such a Hitchcockian sequence. There are no jump scares—although the movie does fall into them later on—just tension and black humor, as Mancini makes us think for just a second that the little girl is the one with the poisoned bowl.
On top of everything else, the sequel gives us one more thing the franchise desperately needed: a new human protagonist. Chucky and Tiffany took over as the main characters in both Bride and Seed, which meant it fell on Curse to make us care about human beings again. But Nica is such a great character—which, once again, was about the last thing I expected her to be. She’s a disabled heroine who’s completely undermined by everyone around her—especially her sister, who legitimately hates her—but she overcomes all of it.
There’s a fantastic moment where Chucky slams an ax into her leg and she could not give less of a shit. These are things I loved about slashers of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Curse feels like such a return to idea of what a franchise used to be, before everything had to be rebooted and repackaged every few years.
On top of that, it ties back into the original in a way that doesn’t feel too forced. Outside the opening scene of the first movie, we’ve never really seen much of Charles Lee Ray. It’s great to go back and explore him a little bit, allowing us to see for the first time just how goddamn crazy he really was.
I’m not saying it doesn’t have its flaws. Everything does. Even with the great twist, I’m never totally sold on the way Chucky looks. For a surprisingly character-driven and sophisticated little feature, it ends on a hokey jump scare. But there’s so much here that’s great and, more importantly, feels necessary even if we didn’t know we needed it. The success of the movie really boils down to this: as a fan, I could not be more excited about where the series is headed, which is certainly not what I’d been thinking before it came out.