This is a bold statement, so hear me out. I’m not saying Child’s Play is my favorite horror franchise, although I certainly don’t bash anyone who regards it as such. I’m not even necessarily saying that Child’s Play is the best overall. But when you look at the major horror franchises, from Friday the 13th to Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Hellraiser and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I think as a whole that the Child’s Play series holds up best. And it surprises me to think that, but for me at least, it’s true.
When you poll horror fans, there are beloved and maligned entries in every franchise and while I actually love a lot of underdog sequels, the fans in general are very outspoken. They don’t much like Friday the 13th Part V, or Jason Takes Manhattan or Jason Goes to Hell and have gone from total bashing to being fairly divided on Jason X.
With the Child’s Play series, the hated entry is Seed of Chucky… and that’s really it. Bride sometimes gets lumped in with Seed retroactively, but it’s still fairly well received and was a huge hit when it was first released. Seed is the franchise black sheep. And it’s amazing, with this being a whole series centered around a killer doll, that it’s the only one.
But from the beginning, Child’s Play was better than it probably had any right to be. It made the absolute most out of the concept of a killer toy. Tom Holland directed a very, very suspenseful film coupled with amazing animatronic work that I think still holds up. The thing I love most about that, though, is that the movie holds off actually showcasing the effects. Apparently, this was a decision made in editing, but it works very well. It’s over forty minutes into the feature that you actually see Chucky come to life. By that time, so much suspense has been built that you just totally buy it.
The second and third are incredibly strong sequels. Several of the biggest fan-favorite moments, including killing the teacher with the yard stick and the showdown at the doll factory, come from the second movie. While it tends to go overlooked, I’m a big defender of the third film as well. It’s a smart feature that’s as different from the second as the second is from the first. That sequel also brings a close to what I consider to be the first trilogy within the series.
Looking at the six pictures as they exist now, I think there are two distinct trilogies that help to make it an interesting and surprising series, even if they all ultimately function as one unit. The first three, the Child’s Play movies, center around protagonist Andy Barclay. The second three are the Chucky movies and, as such, transform Chucky into the series antihero. Each one progresses their lead character in interesting ways. Andy’s arc is about facing his fears and, more than anything, is about growing up and taking control. Even Chucky evolves as a character, which is a rare thing for a horror series. You don’t see Jason attempting to settle down or raise children.
When you look at the overall franchise criticisms, they tend to stem from the same place as series like A Nightmare on Elm Street. The backlash is virtually the same. Fans complain that as the series went on, the main villain became oversaturated and was turned into a complete joke. But even when Child’s Play was scary, and it was, Chucky was always hilarious. One of the funniest moments in the series is when Chucky says “Fuck you” in the elevator to the old woman who calls him ugly. It’s a moment of levity in a movie that needs it, being so centered on a doll maliciously attempting to kill a child and take his body.
For Freddy, things took a very sharp turn. There was an element of dark humor injected into Dream Warriors that worked very well. It was used sparingly to great effect. But by the time The Dream Master rolled around, things had already shot into the direction of over-the-top, full-fledged fantasy/comedy. Freddy was the star, at the forefront of the marketing and the movie itself, and making a pun a minute.
With Child’s Play, the humor evolved much more organically, and I think that’s been the biggest key to its success. There was no sudden turn. The second was funnier than the first, the third funnier than the second, and that eventually snowballs into a full-fledged comedy, which was Seed of Chucky. When that didn’t satisfy the larger fan base, creator/writer/director Don Mancini smartly course corrected and brought the tone back to the original with Curse of Chucky.
Honestly, Curse of Chucky is something I never expected to see in this day and age. It’s a straight-to-video sequel that’s actually good because the director was smart enough to confine it to one location. It’s a movie that feels like a reboot because it returns to the tone of the original, but manages to weave together the continuity of the entire franchise. It’s proof that you can do both, rebooting the series while not doing a remake. That’s something we just don’t seen enough of at this point in time.
I’m not saying Child’s Play is my favorite horror franchise. I think there are entries in some of the other franchises that are at the very top of the best horror movies ever made, like Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. But when you look at a collection of films as a single, complete entity, I think Chucky ultimately proves to be the winner.