“Sorry, Jack. Chucky’s back!”
For those of you who don’t remember, this was the wry proclamation that announced the return of a very different breed of antihero, and unless you were on the receiving end of a plethora of sadistic, doll-related murders back in 1990, it was a return that was very much welcome. If you don’t remember, take a quick look at this trailer for the much-anticipated Child’s Play 2, the inevitable follow-up to Tom Holland’s cult sleeper hit Child’s Play, a movie that would spawn a decades-long franchise of rare endurance. The main reason for this is Chucky and the actor who forged his inimitable personality. Brad Dourif is perhaps most notable for his turn as the deeply troubled whipping boy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest‘s militant oppressor, Nurse Ratched, but Holland’s creation taps into a very different side of the actor’s capabilities, giving us a horror superstar who is part Jason Voorhees, part Arnold Schwarzenegger, and thus a star was born.
Writer Don Mancini understood this, and with Holland no longer involved in the project he was given free rein over the character, having initially had his idea scrapped in favour of a Holland rewrite for the first movie. Mancini’s original screenplay for Child’s Play, penned under the working title Blood Buddy, was a much darker whodunnit reminiscent of Richard Attenborough’s psychological horror Magic, keeping the audience in the dark for much longer and hinting at peewee victim, Andy, as the real killer. Holland would see things differently, and though Child’s Play 2 is arguably darker than its predecessor, Mancini picks up where the original left off, embracing its wicked sense of irony with a zeal that makes the character even more infectious.
While most slasher franchises turned to the self-reflexive following the censorship impositions of the BBFC and MPAA, Chucky was in on the joke from the ground floor up, and by the time the sequel came to fruition the comedy had been cranked up to preposterous levels, the kind only a murderous cuddly toy could conjure. It’s easy to forget just how much of a revelation Chucky became as horror entered the barren early 90s. Dourif’s anarchic killer was the talk of school playgrounds everywhere, resulting in a series of child-led copycat crimes that plunged the series into disrepute by the time Child’s Play 3 hit the shelves, but despite those unfortunate incidents the series is all about having fun. I mean, just look at the poster for Child’s Play 2. A doll about to snip the head off a very distressed looking Jack-in-the-box. It’s just priceless!
The fact that Chucky is actually a voodoo-practising serial killer trapped inside a cute, freckle-faced ‘Good Guy’ doll is the ultimate horror movie irony. It is also the perfect pretence for a sadistic mind such as Charles Lee Ray, whose spirit is somehow returned to a charred-beyond-recognition doll that the cheapskates at the Good Guy factory would rather clean up and rebuild than simply make anew. How the police ever let that valuable piece of evidence back into corporate hands is something of a head-scratcher, but Chucky is nothing if not fortuitous, and fortune very often favours the sinister.
Nothing has changed for Dourif’s Lee Ray, the deceased criminal responsible for adding flesh and blood to a toy of cute grotesquery. He still needs to transport his soul into the body of the first person he came into contact with and sets off on a journey to track down the now-fostered Andy (Alex Vincent) after his mother, presumably refusing to dance with sequel ignominy along with Chris Sarandon’s hard-boiled cop from the first movie, is conveniently confined to the nuthouse. Sarandon, who would wow as neighborhood Nosferatu Jerry Dandridge in Holland’s hit horror comedy Fright Night five years prior, is said to be less than enamoured with the attention his role in Child’s Play receives. He even had to be persuaded to star in Fright Night after deciding that horror could only be bad for his career. I’m sure the royalties are more than worth it.
Foster mother, Joanne (Jenny Agutter), has no idea what she’s getting herself into when she discovers Andy at a local foster home, a fact made evident when her chosen son finds a Good Guy doll nestled amongst his new toys. Do you research, woman! Andy also has a foster father named Phil (Gerrit Graham), a man of such little patience and empathy he threatens to drag Andy back to the foster home after his doll-related outburst, leading the poor kid to feign affection for the red-headed threat sitting ominously in his room, something Chucky quickly takes advantage of.
But Andy has bigger problems than a dismissive schmuck who will surely meet his maker, and he is lucky enough to inherit a spitfire surrogate sister named Kyle (Christine Elise), also fostered, whose Madonna facade and understanding of what it is to be misunderstood uncovers Lee Ray’s perfect disguise with the threat of a lit cigarette, but not before he’s laid waste to a mostly deserving secondary cast in a series of increasingly sadistic ways that will have you laughing through gritted teeth. Chucky is in his element here, more concerned with the thrill of the torture in a sequel that simmers with bestial mischief.
Child’s Play 2 is more violent than its predecessor. It may fail to match the scares of the original but it stays true to the delayed reveal of the first movie, only this time we’re in on the absurdity from the off, and are able to delight in the ignorance of a perfectly sane cast in a less than sane situation. The film also benefits from the kind of improved animatronics that turn Chucky into an all-too-real creation that lends Dourif’s incredible voice performance further credence, and what the sequel loses in mystery it more than makes up for with sheer sadistic joy.
Child’s Play 2 does everything in its power to amp-up the voltage, with more deaths, more foul language and a series of over-the-top scenes that wouldn’t look out of place in a Rambo sequel. Even more desperate to reclaim his flesh and blood, our ironically named Good Guy is prone to fits of incredible frenzy, the kind of violent outbursts you can’t help but giggle at. Chucky is a marauding purveyor of cruelty who is well schooled in human ignorance, and he and Dourif have cursing down to a fine art.
Key to the sequel’s success is its understanding of the Chucky character and the way in which it handles him. Bigger and bolder is the only way a character like Chucky could have gone. Mancini realised this, as did director John Lafia, and despite Holland’s well-documented disputes with Mancini, you just know this movie brought a smile to his face. It certainly brought a smile to mine.