Sunday, October 27, 2013

Unnecessary Retrospective: The Chucky Franchise (Part Three - Child's Play 3)

Child's Play 3 could be considered the last in the original Chucky Trilogy. It represents the end of Andy Barclay's story that began in the first film, was the last movie in the series until a reboot seven years later, and marks the end of the Child's Play series as a more traditional slasher franchise. After this movie, the series would take on a lighter, more self-referential tone and a new naming scheme reminiscent of the Frankenstein sequels beginning with Bride of Chucky. Writer Don Mancini famously claimed to be out of ideas when it came to the third installment and regards the film as his least favorite, which is a sentiment shared by many fans. I don't know if I'd quite go that far, but then we'll get to my least favorite eventually. Personally, I actually think there's still a lot to like about Child's Play 3, even if the original premise was getting a bit stretched thin by this point.

Child's Play 3 follows an older teenage Andy (re-cast with Lois and Clark's Justin Whalin) now attending military school after being washed out of the foster care system following the events of the last movie. As he struggles to put his life back together, the evil doll Chucky is once again brought back to life by the same stupid motherfuckers who brought him back to life the last time, because apparently one mysteriously dead toy company executive wasn't enough proof that maybe the Good Guy brand should stay in the 80's. Perhaps my fondness for this film is a bit colored by nostalgia, as its actually the first one in the series I ever saw. Granted it was a version edited for television during a Halloween horror movie marathon on the USA network, but I was eight years old at the time and didn't understand the distinction. Right from the opening montage of Chucky reforming from liquid plastic I was captivated, and I certainly didn't know enough at the time to recognize the kinds of cliches I gather cause most people to deride the movie.

Like its immediate predecessor and many slasher films of the era, Child's Play 3 feels like a series of interesting set pieces first and foremost, with the plot and characters becoming afterthoughts in the end. Once the formula's down, the trick is to come up with as many clever tweaks to set up neatly staged kills as possible, typically getting more elaborate as the series goes on, and at their best, all in keeping with the idea behind the monster. Chucky's climactic fight in his own toy factory from the previous film is a prime example, taking the same idea from the first movie but placing it in an environment that lends itself to a killer doll movie and makes the same cat and mouse game fresh again. Child's Play 3 is bookended by two such environments, the toy laden penthouse suite of the toy company CEO and a massive Carnival House of Horrors respectively, and while I might criticize any other kind of movie for being so light on story and characters, come on, it's fucking Child's Play 3. What were you expecting.

The biggest problem with the film is that the main setting of a military school seems both completely arbitrary (why not Chucky in Space or Chucky in the Hood?) and also pretty implausible as a place where a diminutive killer doll could effectively conceal himself and attack his prey. Chucky's biggest advantage is his ability to hide in plain sight until the time is right to strike, except that a tough as nails military academy is the last place where such a doll would be allowed, and it often strains credulity that he's able to stick around long enough to be a threat. And while the aforementioned House of Horror ride is in general a fun place to stage a slasher movie climax, its completely random in context and shifts away from the school that the movie spends so much time setting up. It just so happens that there's a nearby carnival just waiting for some kids to get murdered there. Scenes of Chucky with a bullet belt strapped around him chucking grenades at teenagers are fun, but when its not consistent, it eventually starts feeling like they're just making it up as they go along.

Its kind of strange to think that this is the Chucky movie most fans of the series despise, considering that at least in retrospect, it seems like the one that really cemented his iconic reputation as the foul mouthed, bird flipping joker villain he's known as today. His comic insults and general bad ass swagger is much more pronounced here than in either of the previous films, owing largely to the fact that he's given a much greater opportunity to verbally attack his victims before physically doing so, since here they are less likable and more deserving of mockery. I tend to think you can pinpoint the downward slide of any horror franchise by the point at which a majority of the victim pool stops being sympathetic innocents, and is instead filled with jerks who you mostly want to see gutted or stabbed. The last movie came pretty close, but this one goes over the edge, particularly with the maniacal barber, which I was saddened to remember was played by the incredibly underrated Andrew Robinson, in yet another cheesy horror movie role that doesn't showcase his talent.

Sorry, that was a bit of the Star Trek nerd in me coming out, but for the record, if you don't know who Andrew Robinson is, you should definitely start watching Deep Space Nine on Netflix Instant right now. Go on, I'll wait. Anyway, on the mythology front, we actually get a somewhat interesting twist when Chucky realizes that his technically new body has given him another chance to find a human host. He found out in the last film that he'd spent too long inside the Chucky doll to transfer himself into Andy, who was at the time the only one he could transfer into since he was the first one to know of Chucky's true identity. Now in a new body, he reveals himself to a new child who doesn't know enough not to trust him, with the grown up Andy being the only one around who knows the truth, but now even the intended victim doesn't believe him. For a series that by necessity completely destroys its main villain at the end of every movie, Child's Play is actually a little better than most at making the inexplicable return make some kind of sense.

Child's Play 3 definitely does drag a bit in the middle, and feels like the least well thought out and cohesive installment in the series, but even with my nostalgia surrounding it put aside, I still think there's more to enjoy than not. If you were on board with the first and second movies about a killer doll come to life, this isn't so far a leap away from that to be completely irredeemable, and the highlights are at least as fun as the last one, even if there are slightly fewer of them all told. Overall, I'd say its a solid entry in the franchise and a fitting end to the classic style that would later pave the way for its own self-parody, which we'll talk about next time when we get into Bride of Chucky, a detailed and through analysis of Jennifer Tilly's boobs. I mean the movie. A detailed and through analysis of the movie. Sorry.

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