Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Unnecessary Retrospective: The Chucky Franchise (Part Two - Child's Play 2)

Welcome back to another foray into the Uncanny Valley of the Dolls where the diminutive little bugger stalking you in the dark looks just human enough to creep you the fuck out, otherwise known as The Chucky franchise. Last time we talked about Child's Play, the first film to feature the world's most famous killer hunk of plastic. We learned the rules and fell in love with the foul mouthed little monster just in time to watch him explode in a hail of gunfire, his heart destroyed in what based on the movie's own logic should have been his final hour. Of course, it wasn't, because this was the 80's, and when a horror movie made as much money as Child's Play did, no matter how ludicrous the concept or final the death scene, they always find a way to come back.

Child's Play 2 finds young Andy Barclay from the first movie forced into the foster care system after his mother was, it would seem anyway, driven incurably insane by the events of Child's Play. Actually its just a flimsy excuse to do a movie about a small child without his mother when the actress didn't want to come back, but it gets us to a new family and a new slate of victims to serve as knife fodder for a rebuilt Chucky, unwittingly brought back to life by the toy company that made his body as a reaction to the very scandal he caused, as a way to prove that there wasn't anything to worry about. The fact that a man dies just putting the thing back together, and then an executive is suffocated to death the same night, doesn't seem to dissuade them of this notion, as we will see in even greater detail in the next movie.

Whenever a movie does enough business to merit a sequel, we always expect the worst, but even in the most unlikely or unnecessary continuation, there is in the back of our minds the smallest glimmer of hope that they'll actually pull out something new. I think this is especially true in the case of fantasy, science fiction, and horror dealing with the supernatural, because there's just so much room to experiment and expand on the mythology already established to provide a new twist on what we've seen before. Puppet Master, the series that inspired me to start these retrospectives in the first place, added at least one new creative wrinkle to all ten movies (even the clip show), and those were straight to video. A little ingenuity isn't too much to ask.

As you might have guessed by my overly long set up, Child's Play 2 isn't exactly original or groundbreaking when compared to its predecessor. It's basically the same story structure with a slightly wider array of locations to stage its potentially gruesome set pieces. The world is a little bigger, but only so as to make the action more visually exciting and elaborate, sacrificing innovation for style and polish. And yet, paradoxically, I don't really have that much of a problem with that. Sure, it doesn't change the game or teach me anything really all that new about these characters or their world, but it doesn't really have to, and frankly, I didn't really expect it to. I came into this movie wanting one thing, a homicidal living doll on a rampage, and on that score, the movie's pretty solid.

Lacking the first time novelty of the original, Child's Play 2 creeps just a bit more into campy self-referential fun while still maintaining the same albeit skewed reality of the first film. It isn't to the level that we would later see beaten over our heads in the later movies, but its enough that there scenes where you're supposed to laugh and cheer at the violence, instead of just doing so unintentionally like last time. Like many horror sequels, it feels a lot like the writers looked back on the first film as unfinished, collected all the ideas for kill scenes they couldn't do in the first one, and then wrote a movie around them. If you're not on board by the time Chucky has replaced his hand with a knife and attacks the kid inside a toy factory designed to make toys just like him, one wonders why you even stuck with the movie that long.

This time around, instead of creating a cast of characters that are actually likable and then putting them into perilous situations that you root for them to escape from, Child's Play 2 regrettably falls into the common trap of stuffing the cast full of people you're meant to hate, so that when Chucky finally kills them, you almost commend him for it. We get two distrusting foster parents, a smarmy toy company executive, a no-nonsense social worker, and a bitchy teacher, none of whom engender any sympathy before their death, leaving all the tension for the last act when he finally starts cornering the few characters we actually care about. In a weird way, Chucky is almost Andy's brutal guardian angel in this movie without even trying to be, dispatching all the people who hurt his already shaken self-esteem. Still, most of the deaths are creatively staged, and while formulaic, they are no less entertaining for lack of a different sort of gimmick.

The closest we get to any addition to the mythology, which is what I usually like to focus on in these things, is the reveal towards the end that by this point in the series, Chucky has in fact remained in the toy body too long, his soul permanently acclimating to it. Its made a little more clear in this film than in the previous one that Chucky was under a time constraint, his ability to transfer his soul into one specific human being representing a sort of grace period following his initial resurrection wherein the voodoo gods he worships apparently allow do-overs. Watching Chucky try to find a way around this might have been an interesting avenue to explore in future films, but as we'll see, this twist is mostly invalidated by the beginning of the next one.

The best metaphor I can think of to describe this movie is the giant toy making machine that violently jabs fake eyes into the empty eye sockets of half made Good Guy dolls. Probably the first time something like that has been used for a metaphor, but hear me out. The device is introduced in the opening scene after a particularly well done montage of Chucky being re-built, and you just know that someone is gonna fall into it and get toy eyeballs jammed into his head. The movie makes you wait until the very end, but sure enough, it happens, and the degree to which this moment can still be viscerally satisfying even with all the obvious build up is the benchmark by which you can judge your love of this movie and this series. Personally, I cheer every time I see it.

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