Despite its initial box office success, the Child's Play series stagnated far quicker than other 80's slashers. Perhaps it was the film's relatively late debut (1988), or maybe there just wasn't much to the idea of a killer doll. Child's Play and its two sequels are basically the same movie three times. Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif), a child's doll inhabited by the spirit of a serial killer, is taken into an unwitting home and attempts to possess the resident child, while killing a bunch of other people along the way. Clearly audiences found that the films weren't holding up, as the third one seemed to indicate that the franchise was dead in the water.
That all changed in 1998, when director Ronny Yu helmed a brand new entry, Bride of Chucky. Not only was Chucky back (and with a whole new look), but he had a companion, the vicious Tiffany (voiced by Jennifer Tilly). The two slashed and hacked their way through a group of teens, as expected. But more surprisingly, writer and series creator Don Mancini was smart enough to throw a little comedy into the mix. Now, Chucky's always had a ribald sense of humor, but this was something entirely different. Bride of Chucky found the filmmakers unafraid to poke fun at the horror genre, of which Chucky is an integral part. And if Bride of Chucky dabbled outside the confines of the genre, then its sequel, Seed of Chucky, goes positively off the deep end.
The film opens in England, where a strange plastic-looking boy (voice of Billy Boyd), branded with the words "Made In Japan" on his wrist, is looking for the meaning to the strange dreams he has, where he brutally murders a family. A peace-loving little abomination, the boy is shocked to see Chucky and Tiffany on TV, doing a promo for their new movie, Chucky Goes Psycho. Elated, he makes his way out to Hollywood, only to discover that his parents are simply inanimate puppets. But that quickly changes thanks to a mystical voodoo necklace and a quick incantation. Soon Chucky and Tiffany are back to their old selves, except now they have a child. Chucky thinks it's a boy, and calls him Glen. Tiffany says it's a girl, and calls her Glenda. Chucky and Tiffany quickly get up to their old tricks, which seriously dismays Glen. Tiffany spots a good chance to become human when she sees the film's star, Jennifer Tilly (Jennifer Tilly). And so unfolds the latest chapter in the Chucky saga.
Seed of Chucky is a truly bizarre film. A horror film that parodies itself, takes potshots at Hollywood, references a ton of other movies, and has a lead actress who is constantly being abused by a doll with her voice. It would have been alienating if it weren't handled so deftly. Don Mancini finally graduates up to the director's chair, after writing every previous Chucky movie. Right off the bat, you can tell he knows what he's doing, with a lengthy homage to both the opening of Halloween and the infamous shower scene of Psycho. He's equally at home with the horror and the comedy, understanding the mechanics of both, and how to use them to subvert audience expectations. It's an impressive debut and I'm excited to see what he might do for another outing.
In the commentary, Don Mancini says that every critic in town said Jennifer Tilly should win a "Good Sport of the Year" award for Seed of Chucky, and, well, they're right! Tilly puts up with an incredible amount of abuse, both emotionally and physically. As the film starts, her character's career is on the outs. As it progresses, she makes out with a corpse, gets called a slut and fat by Tiffany, and ends up tied to a bed, getting artificially inseminated by a doll. And she plays things in a surprisingly genuine fashion, letting Tiffany be the outlandish one. Of course, she's playing an exaggeration of herself, always wearing push-up bras and getting it on with her driver. But she carries the movie more than any of the dolls.
Oh, those puppets. Chucky is a classic movie monster by now, on the level of Freddy and Jason, and it's nice to see him in a pair of movies where he can play more than one note. Sure, he's still a murdering psychopath, but the humor has really reinvigorated the character. Brad Dourif is brilliant as always, bringing Chucky to life with the sheer power of his voice. That's not to take away from the accomplishments of the puppeteers, who all do a grade A job, even with significantly less money and time than they had on the last picture. Tiffany has gotten a makeover, looking less severe, and with more facial animation. She's the dominant one of the pair, calling the shots. In many ways, she steals the show from Chucky, being a more interesting and varied character.
And then there's Glen/Glenda. His very name a reference to Ed Wood, Glen isn't always successful as a character. He begins interestingly enough, but his main conflict quickly gets boring. Who wants to watch a movie where a main character is trying to stop Chucky from killing people? It's just no fun. On the other hand, there are some moments later in the film where the conception of the character is absolutely brilliant. I don't want to spoil the plot, but he pays off in a very satisfying way.
Mancini made some inspired choices for the supporting cast. Most of the film's crew play themselves, most notably Tony Gardner, head puppeteer. Rapper Redman plays himself as a rapper turned director trying to make the story of Jesus. He was offered the role after Mancini heard him name-check Chucky in one of his songs. John Waters has an amazing cameo as Pete Peters, a sleazy tabloid reporter. Waters, a longtime Chucky fan (he even has his own Chucky doll that he brings with him to events), is hilarious, pelting Tilly with invasive questions. The scene where he spies on her house seems like it could have been something out of one of his own movies, and by that I mean Female Trouble, not Hairspray.
Is Seed of Chucky a great movie? No, but it's a refreshingly funny stab at horror and Hollywood. It's not going to win any awards (except, of course, the "Good Sport of the Year"), but it's too much fun not to watch. Keep it up, Chuck!
The HD DVD:
Universal presents Seed of Chucky in a 1.78:1 VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer. This is slightly opened up from the film's theatrical exhibition ratio of 1.85:1, with virtually no impact on the composition. Don Mancini mentioned in the commentary that the film is intended as a parody of family dramas such as Ordinary People or Kramer Vs. Kramer, and correspondingly, his visual style tends to eschew the shadows and negative space that many horror films use, opting instead for a Dario Argento/Douglas Sirk inspired color pallet. In other words, it's really bright and colorful. There's some nice pop to the image, with the film's bright backdrops looking impressive. Tilly's dresses are another highlight. Some scenes are flatter than others, and the sequence where Tilly and Redman smooch on her couch looks rough compared to the rest. Still, the dolls look fantastic. So good that at times you can almost see the seams. In fact, one thing this title reinforces is how advanced the art of mechanical puppetry has become. Chucky looks incredible, with all sorts of detail. A solid transfer from Universal.
Universal offers a lossless Dolby True HD 5.1 track for Seed of Chucky. While by no means the most advanced sound mix you'll ever hear, Mancini was smart enough to know that a little sound goes a long way. Consequently, almost every movement any of the dolls make has some corresponding noise to help sell the illusion. At times they're also used to help sell the comedy (again, not to spoil anything, but there's a gag with an issue of Fangoria that had me in stitches). Pino Donaggio's score gets a nice boost, filling the audio space and setting the mood. Dialogue is well-mixed, and the lip-sync looks pretty seamless on the dolls. It's a hoot to watch Tilly and Tiffany have scenes together, both thinking the other has the sweetest voice they've ever heard.
All of the extras from the loaded unrated DVD have found their way onto the HD DVD. Most of them are more humorous than informative. None of the features are in high definition.
A truly bizarre twist in the Chucky saga, Seed of Chucky is deliriously self-referential, willing to make fun of itself and just about everything else, including the film's star, Jennifer Tilly. Don Mancini proves to be an able first-time director, bringing a sure hand to the franchise. The picture and sound on this HD DVD are both an upgrade from the previous DVD release, and the copious extras have all been ported over. A must for genre fans. Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.