Freddy Krueger’s been dormant since the 2010 Nightmare on Elm Street remake. The 13th Friday the 13th film appears to be on hold indefinitely. The upcoming Halloween do-over sounds promising—but that won’t be in theaters for at least a year. But guess which 1980s slasher villain’s got a brand-new movie out? Hint: he’s the shortest one.
Unlike the three series mentioned above—with the exception of some of the later Nightmare movies—the Child’s Play films have always embraced a sense of the ridiculous, going back to the 1988 original, though that one was also supposed to be kinda scary... at least, as scary as a slasher film in which adults (and one scrappy kid) are terrorized by a Good Guy doll. Yes, Chucky is possessed by a serial killer... but he’s also an oversized, overalls-wearing toy come to life. Sick hilarity has rarely found such a perfect, and resilient, vessel.
Over the years, the franchise has gotten more and more bizarre, with the top WTF prize going to the fifth installment, 2004's Seed of Chucky, in which the cursed doll (voiced by Brad Dourif) and his bride (played in both human and doll form by Jennifer Tilly) prove predictably awful parents to a spawn trapped between the good and evil halves of his soul. Fourth film Bride of Chucky also had its moments, but Seed leaned way more into comedy than horror, with celebrity spoofs (“Britney Spears” meets an untimely end) and gleefully in-on-the-joke cameos; John Waters plays a sleazy photographer in what can only be described as the lowbrow high point for the entire Child’s Play series. Equal parts self-aware and snarky (not to mention gruesome as hell), there’ll never be another Chucky movie like Seed of Chucky.
Series creator Don Mancini has written every Child’s Play installment, and he directed Seed of Chucky, as well as 2013's Curse of Chucky, which dialed the campiness back about a million degrees. He’s also behind the wheel for the brand-new Cult of Chucky. It’s not particularly scary, but it does contain some genuine horror. It also makes room for jokes (that Chucky does love to wisecrack!) and makes sure we know that everyone involved also realizes how inherently silly this movie is, even as it treats its core characters with a certain amount of dignity and respect. This perfectly-calibrated tone is probably the film’s greatest achievement.
Cult of Chucky’s story is nothing groundbreaking; it’s a pretty classic “horror movie set in a mental hospital” situation, though the trope of not knowing whether or not the main character (in this case, Nica, played by Fiona Dourif, who just so happens to be Brad’s daughter) is actually insane doesn’t come into play. We know Chucky slaughtered her whole family and pinned it on her; even if you haven’t seen Curse of Chucky, that fact is made abundantly clear over and over. Nica’s ordeal continues—literally nobody believes her killer-doll defense—and inevitably, Chucky infiltrates the asylum and starts slaughtering staff and patients alike in creative new ways.
Cult of Chucky gets its name from the movie’s biggest plot shake-up, which is that Chucky’s somehow Googled a voodoo spell that allows him to split his soul into various pieces. Effectively, he can clone himself via demonic possession—so conveniently, everyone in Cult somehow keeps coming across mint-condition Good Guy dolls. The movie waits until the last act to really dig into this twist, and it’s worth it. Cult also boasts small but crucial supporting turns by Alex Vincent, who makes his fourth appearance as Chucky’s original owner, Andy; and Jennifer Tilly, whose deranged-glamour aesthetic as Tiffany Valentine never ceases to be delightful.
And, of course, the ending is left wide open. One gets the sense that Mancini could keep making these films forever—and as long as he can keep making them this enjoyable, we’ll be eagerly awaiting to see who Chucky disembowels next.
Cult of Chucky is out today on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital.