Bride Of Chucky
Trailblazing self-referential neo-slasher that ends up stuck between a comedy rock and horror hard place.
Scream was widely lauded as a fine piece of knockabout horror movie fun that poked fun at the genre in the all-too-obvious ways. It's exactly because of this that I found it so annoying, dodgy actors aside. The entire premise for the eventual franchise was that a bunch of low-rent celebrities tell you exactly how predicable and boring horror movies are then proceed to make a predictable and boring horror movie strictly following the stereotypes that they've been insulting. If you listen closely while it's playing you can faintly make out Wes Craven laughing. "Ha ha! Suckers! Look how we charge you money to see a crappy movie about how crappy the movies you like are!". It's problem was trying to be a parody while at the same time using precisely the techniques it was trying to parody in order to be scary, a sort of have cake / eat it thing that rang hollow.
Child's Play beat it to the punch in terms of mucking around with the slasher genre eight years previously. The soul of a notorious serial killer is transplanted into the body of a doll to continue his reign of terror, for some reason. If that's not a parody I don't know what is. Central plot bizarreness aside, it progressed along conventional slasher routes with a few knowing winks over another two movies before ducking under the radar. Presumably the success of 1996's Scream convinced the beancounters at Universal that the time was right for another cheeky horror.
From the initial slow pan around a police evidence repository taking in a hockey goalkeepers mask so beloved of Jason Voorhees and the Phantom Of The Opera-ish mask sported by Mr. Meyers it ought to be obvious that writer Don Mancini has decided to apply an even lighter hand to this instalment than his previous affairs. The results end up being mixed at best, but worthy of investigation for anyone with a passing interest in the genre.
Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) has finally tracked down the location of the doll harbouring the soul of her long lost serial slaughtering boyfriend and uses her wiles to get a hapless cop to drag the listless toy to her luxurious trailer home. The copper is then disposed of in a fatal way, as we realise that Tiffany is every bit as nutty and bloodthirsty as Chucky. She plans to get Chucky back to life and back into a human body using the handy "Voodoo For Dummies" guide. The first part of this works and Chucky's quick to get back into the swing of things, smothering Tiffany's pathetic pseudo-goth hanger-on of a boyfriend / patsy after ripping off his silly lip-ring.
The second part will require more work. Aside from the new bodies, they also need a mystical voodoo amulet of some description that Chucky had around his neck before being gunned down and killed for the first time. Their roadmap takes a wrong turn when Chucky reveals that he hadn't intended to marry Tiffany by leaving a ring for her, he's just nicked it from one of his victims. Tiffany takes umbrage and imprisons the little fella in a playpen. How Chucky feels about this is made abundantly clear by his spelling out of "Kill Tiffany Slowly" in alphabet bricks. She takes little heed of this only to be gruesomely electrocuted by an untimely Chucky perpetrated T.V. / bath interface scenario while Tiffany is soaking taking in Bride Of Frankenstein. She also takes in a few hundred volts and dies, Chucky using his mad voodoo skillz to resurrect Tiffany's soul into a doll she'd bought for the express purpose of mocking Chucky. Tsk, tsk, hoist by her own petard.
Now they both need the amulet but have no way of travelling to New Jersey to dig it up. Careless. An phoned offer of 500 bucks is enough to convince Jesse (Nick Stabile) to take the dolls while eloping with his sweetheart Jade (Katherine Heigl). The poor kids love lives are being spoiled by Jade's uncle and legal guardian Warren Kincaid (John Ritter, now sadly deceased), who has taken a dislike to Jesse and uses his position as Chief Of Police to make the teenager's lives as difficult as possible. Seeing that this may hinder their chances of getting across the country, Chucky and Tiffany take matters into their own hands. This is one of the situations where the film has a little fun with the genre while still staying within it's confines. Chucky's plan to dispatch Kincaid with his omni-present knife is pooh-poohed by Tiffany, dismissing it as unimaginative. Just as horror movies generally strive for the most contrived and spectacular deaths, Chucky and Tiffany end up having a rivalry over the course of the movie to find the most...cinematic ways to deal with the problems at hand. Kincaid eventually receives a faceful of nails propelled by a airbag in a suitably daft moment.
This continues as Jade and Jesse head onwards, and with a trail of deaths following them it's not long before the police suspect them of being guilty, and Jesse and Jade suspect each other of being guilty. While a fairly inexplicable and sudden reappearance of their friend David sorts out that little lovers tiff, Chucky and Tiffany make their influence felt again to drive them on to their goal. The last twenty minutes or so fall back more or less into standard slasher fare, and suffers from the usual slasher pitfall of not being particularly shocking or scary. While it's this section that's the weakest there is still a very interesting dynamic between the characters in the final(?) showdown, and it's only the wide-open-for-a-sequel ending that spoils the effect by going a little too far into joke territory for its own good.
The most notable aspect of Bride Of Chucky is perhaps the choice of director, a certain Ronny Yu. Yu is a fairly respected Hong Kong action flick director with titles such as The Bride with White Hair, its sequel and the Chow Yun Fat starring The Postman Strikes Back. He also wins bonus points for having directed a film with the literal translation of Rumbling Sky Dragon Tiger Meeting (aka China White notable mainly for having the god-like Infernal Affairs and Fulltime Killer's Andy Lau in a bit part role and giving the lead role to Billy Drago. Yeesh.) Yu of course would go on to direct the very fun Freddy Vs. Jason. He directs a largely unknown cast of actors (Tilly and Dourif aside) in the main roles and it's a credit to him and the actors that they never come across with the rookie air of inexperience that so often appears in films of this ilk. While none of the performances would have worried the Oscar panel, they're more than acceptable for the film. It's odd to think that by far the most expressive and well, human of the range of psycho slashers that inhabit the genre is a three foot plastic doll. Much credit goes to the puppeteering team for the creation of the dolls which have a great range of facial animations and for their deft handling of the puppets.
Where it's at it's best is when it pokes fun at itself and its genre buddies in subtle ways, where it's at it's worst it's bludgeoning you over the head with it. Tiffany's decrying of Chucky's continual knife based killing techniques as boring and not sufficiently elaborate is a lovely touch in a genre that strives to find the most convoluted ways of disposing with all these teenagers that clutter up the film (Final Destination 2, take a bow). Less subtle is Chucky's blowing off of an explanation of their current doll status to Jesse as a long story that if it were a film would take several sequels to do it justice, which seems a terribly forced way to shoehorn the gag in. The mixture of comedic elements and standard slasher bloodletting is almost right, it almost works. It's main failing is that neither of the two aspects are quite strong enough to carry the film on their own and the slightly uncomfortable meshing of them doesn't make it greater than the sum of its parts.
Not funny enough to be considered a comedy, not scary enough to be considered a horror. Strangely I'm being a little harsh on this because it's had the temerity to be more than a bog standard slasher. While throwaway trash like Darkness Falls, Jeepers Creepers 2 and Dreamcatcher set their targets low and even then fail to meet them, Bride Of Chucky wants to be something more. It almost makes it. As it stands it's an adequate way to while away a few hours without being offended by the awfulness of it all, and I've take into account the excellent extras collection on the DVD in doling out the final mark. It's worth seeing as a historical lesson if nothing else, and it's far better than the abject teen horror pish that has been dribbling our way of late.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.
DVD Notes:- Regardless of what you think of the film, there's an undeniably good set of extras. Aside from the usual trailers/TV spots there's a strange mock investigation into an alleged stay of the murderous dolls in London featuring many bemused set-upon member of the public to accompany the usual cast bios and whatnot, but the real meat of this lies in the commentaries.
Ronnie Yu provides a director's commentary that shows well the depth of though he's put into a film that wouldn't ordinarily deserve it. There's also discussion on the fairly unique difficulties encountered in shooting a film so reliant on puppetry, which is interesting by dint of it being so different from the oft-heard CG challenges, and some discussion on the differences between Hollywood and Hong Kong's ideas of filmmaking. He clearly has respect for the genre and the care with which he's thought about and planned the film's performances and set-pieces adds greatly to a film that could so easily have turned out to be trash. Yu also refreshingly stays clear of the habit that some have on audio commentaries to talk even when they aren't saying anything. If there's little of interest to be said he keeps shtum, which I ultimately find more amenable than reams of useless natter.
But wait, that's not all! A second commentary track is provided by writer Don Mancini, and the voices of the dolls Jennifer Tilly and Brad Dourif. This is largely filled with Tilly talking ten to the dozen although in fairness she's rarely blathering. As is usually the case it's the writer who has the most interesting things to say regarding alternate versions and the things they didn't have time for on their tight shooting schedule. Dourif takes a strange role, generally asking Tilly various and insightful questions on what it's like working with puppets. These commentaries are actually useful for once, and it brings out a new level of appreciation of the techniques used in the filming
To see this level of attention lavished on a lower budget disk is heartening, and it's a real treat for anyone regarding this as a cult classic. While they aren't shouted about on the DVD cover it really ought to, as along with the low price it elevates this disk to a more than worthwhile status for anyone who has ever had a passing interest in the horror genre, either U.S. or HK based. When you can pick this up for a fiver from places like Cdwow there's few reasons not to. The only minor irritation is that no subtitles are provided, which makes watching the film with the commentaries on a little more challenging.
Brad Dourif (Chucky)
Katherine Heigl (Jade)
Nick Stabile (Jesse)
Alexis Arquette (Damien)
Gordon Michael Woolvett (David)