Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #432
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: November 9, 1990
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $35,700,000
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: John Lafia
Producer: David Kirschner
Screenplay: Don Mancini
Based on Characters by Don Mancini & David Kirschner
Special Effects: Mike Reedy
Cinematography: Stefan Czapsky
Score: Graeme Revell
Editing: Edward Warschilka
Studio: Universal Pictures
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Stars: Alex Vincent, Christine Elise, Jenny Agutter, Gerrit Graham, Grace Zabriskie, Brad Dourif, Beth Grant, Peter Haskell, Greg Germann
Suggested Audio Candy
Graeme Revell “Factory Chase, Up the Conveyor”
Poor old Chucky. The Good Guy just can’t seem to catch a break. Often looked upon as little more than a hunk of plastic with no penis, it’s been hard for the infamous Lakeshore Strangler to get any respect over the years. Yet, when you think about it, Charles Lee Ray really has nobody to blame but himself. Had he transferred his soul into something other than a two foot tall children’s plaything then maybe he wouldn’t be considered the laughing-stock of modern slasher. Nevertheless, you have to hand it to the little fella. The Child’s Play franchise has spawned six movies over the years and, as much as I would love to pull down those dungarees and remind the whole world that he has no genitalia to speak of, not a single one of them has been that bad. Granted, they haven’t been that good either, but he seems content to reside within the safe middle ground which keeps him from being bundled with Leprechaun.
At one point, he even managed to court a little controversy. Child’s Play 3 was deemed as a wrong ‘un after the brutal murder of toddler James Bulger at the hands of a pair of ten-year-olds. Consequently, the film was named and shamed by the British media and removed from circulation post-haste while the amateur dramatics played out and everybody pointed a finger. This just highlighted how ridiculous the whole censorship debate really was as it became scapegoat, despite the fact that it was never particularly mean-spirited in the first place. However, there is no such thing as bad press, and Chucky’s popularity, which was in danger of fading fast at that point, continued to rise enough for three more sequels to dribble out onto the marketplace.
Alas, the pint-sized psychopath never stood a chance of being considered alongside the Freddys and Jasons as slasher royalty, and has had to settle for being regarded the runt of its litter. The reason for this is simple and presents the biggest problem for any upstarts looking to resurrect his faltering career. When all is said and done, he just ain’t that scary, and the whole dynamic which kept the original fresh was that the audience spent half their time guessing whether or not he was who he claimed to be. The moment he opens his mouth and spews any customary profanities, we are on the look out for banana skins rather than anything resembling tension and this seems to be why later incantations, Curse of Chucky excluded, have veered more towards slapstick than horror.
The saddest fact is that Brad Dourif, who voices the cantankerous doll, has taken ownership to such an extent that his own personality comes across effortlessly. Through no fault of his own, the moment he flaps those rubber lips, things take a turn for the more infantile and any escalating feeling of foreboding is substituted for wise-cracks and potty humor. However, the first sequel, originally intended for Wes Craven to direct before eventually falling into newcomer John Lafia’s Moses basket, gets by on being a continuation of the first film. Indeed certain elements, including the final head-to-head inside an abandoned Play Pals factory, are actually excess concepts toyed with before which never came to fruition because of budgetary constraints. Chris Sarandon was even slated to make a return as no-nonsense cop Mike Norris but there wasn’t enough pocket-money to go around. Thus the hapless Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) was pushed from pillar to post and a new family unit brought in to terrorize.
Enter safe hands Jenny Agutter (An American Werewolf in London, Walkabout) and Gerrit Graham (Demon Seed, TerrorVision) as foster parents Joanne and Phil Simpson and both exhibit just enough apathy towards Andy’s plight to make waiting for their deaths mildly diverting. More critical to proceedings is the character of Kyle, played by feature-length first-timer Christine Elise. Now, I feel duty bound at this point to divulge a little more about my misspent youth. My first experience of the rebellious and more than faintly alluring Elise was as Emily Valentine in Beverly Hills 90210. So sue me and I’ll pay up in measly monthly installments, Keeper has the odd skeleton in his closet and I’m happy to rattle some bones. Here, she is a little less milk-and-water than the average adolescent tag-along. She smokes cigarettes (then passes the butts to her six-year old foster-brother to stub out), huffs and puffs, and, even if she’s not already engaging in brief, loveless bouts of unprotected sex by this point, she is certainly primed for a poking. I would rather that than a petticoat-wearing alban cherry clutcher seemingly without a vagina.
As for the obligatory surplus characters, they are typically almost caricature and only present to pad out the crib while Chucky is being returned to sender. Once he has infiltrated the Simpson family home, it’s bye-bye Tommy as his do-gooder double is swiftly consigned to the big toy box in the sky (via back yard shallow grave). During this by-the-numbers midsection, we’re expected to jump at every shadow and check his back frequently for that pair of “C” batteries. All of this when we have clearly watched him batter then bury his own brethren. Besides, what were the Simpsons thinking? I know, let’s take in this traumatized child, offer him a home, and throw in another Good Guy doll just to stop him meddling with daddy’s vintage train set. I know, I’m picking nits, but if they’d have just heeded the signs then perhaps we wouldn’t have had Annabelle to contend with.
Lafia replaces the tenebrous tones of the original with a far more garish palette of primary colors, giving Child’s Play 2 an almost toy box playful visual sheen. Meanwhile, the rousing orchestral score by Graeme Revell is a thing of remarkable majesty and belongs to a better film entirely. Tom Holland’s tight script gives way for Don Mancini’s slightly less engaging one, although he does his level best with any limited scope provided.This is essentially more of the very same and it is hard to knock on that basis. Like Scream 2, where we had all gotten over watching Drew Barrymore being gutted like a mackerel by that point, its only real crime is its flagrant familiarity. Judged by certain set-pieces alone, in this case, the colorfully fitting and flurrying finale, it is more than comfortable under achieving, so long as it offers audiences a few good nursery rhymes to hum in unison. They’re all familiar, of course, but it doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy a hearty sing-song before the next scheduled breast-feeding. I wonder how long it takes Agutter to express milk.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: While the grue quota is significantly upped second time around, most of the good stuff is neutered somewhat by the fact that it spurts from our Good Guy himself. The violence is very brief, possibly to keep it in line with children’s woeful attention spans, and not altogether ungodly enough to allow Chucky to earn himself big boy pants. He resorts to suffocation, electrocution, death by yard-stick, trips, slips, and falls, and a standout moment involving a pair of conveyor-placed peepers, in order to make himself appear all grown-up. Having said such, Dourif’s gloriously distressed rejoinder to jamming a makeshift blade into his torn-off wrist stump is authentic enough to forget it’s happening to plastic, just for a moment, while the climactic meltdown is more than icky enough to give the kids a treat.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
© Copyright: Rivers of Grue™ Shadow Spark Publishing™