Child’s Play 2 (1990)
Dir. John Lafia
Written by Don Mancini
Starring Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif, Jenny Agutter
We resume our adventures with Chucky extremely unpromisingly, as the filmmakers construct a dispiritingly convoluted rationale to bring the killer doll back after having been burned, dismembered, beheaded, and shot through the heart in the previous film (bringing him to only one murder short of Rasputin). Turns out, the toy company that constructed Chucky to begin with had him painstakingly rebuilt (just to be absolutely sure the murderous little lad wasn’t the result of a manufacturing error) and after a convenient electricity-related accident (or possibly Chucky exercising his heretofore seldom-used lighting powers*, obviously this movie is open to a lot of interpretation) the Chuck is back, and again looking for poor Andy Barclay, his one ticket out of a doll’s body and... into a 10-year-old boy’s.
The movie then busily gets down to the business of discarding everything that was unusual and interesting about part one, starting with the basic scenario. Rather than living with his working-class single mother in the urban hell of Chicago, Andy now lives with two parents (albeit not his own) along with his (sexy?) teenage sister in a John Hughes black hole suburb somewhere undefined in middle America. As before, for whatever reason no one believes Andy when he tells them that a living doll with the soul of a voodoo-enhanced serial killer is trying to steal his body. But this time Chucky makes little or no effort to disguise himself, so rather than having a tense story of a child being taken advantage of by forces he can’t understand, you just have the same old story of authority figures refusing to heed warnings of a terrible danger, just like every movie. Not only that, but Chucky doesn’t help much himself, killing only a few people in not-especially-imaginative ways, mostly off-screen.
Gimmicky gore scenes were not particularly the province of the first movie, either, but that one compensated by having disturbing subtext and a relatable, real-world grit to make the murders seem more impactful. Here, you don’t have any of that and so the effect is that everything feels like a much less memorable rehash of the same thing with most of the good parts taken out. In fact, with almost no gore on-screen for pretty much the first 75% of the movie, it plays weirdly PG (maybe in response to the hysterical reaction to the original, which was protested for allegedly inciting kids to violence, though presumably not kids who had seen the actual movie which is clearly in favor of stopping Chucky’s violent ways). Even Brad Dourif doesn’t get to cut loose and really freak out the way he did in the original. He’s still an evil little git, but doesn’t really get the chance to do those freaky inhuman screams or thrash around like someone’s putting a thousand volts into him. He just says menacing things in Jack Nicholson’s voice and lurks around. The whole movie just seems a little tepid, a little unwilling to go for broke on any of this stuff.
Until. The last act. After the few side characters have been summarily dispatched, for some reason Andy, sis, and Chucky end up at the Good Guy Doll factory for the final showdown. And they must have saved their entire budget for this sequence, because the movie abruptly shifts from idle to fifth gear, going from tame suburban slasher to over-the-top set-piece chase scene in an enormous, elaborate factory chock full of dangerous moving pieces. Before it got to the this point, I was ready to write off the entire movie as an utterly meritless retread of the least interesting aspects of its precursor, but the factory sequence seems to shake the filmmakers from their stupor and infuse the whole thing with an enormous out-of-the-blue burst of energy and creativity. Mountains of identical Chucky Dolls, half-assembled eyeless heads, conveyor belts with choppy parts, molten plastic, bloody doll dismemberment… basically every possible idea for a chase between two kids and a killer doll through a giant Willy-Wonka-esque doll factory gets used, one after another. Even Chucky finally gets to stop pussyfooting around and step up his game, going so far as to embed a knife into his bloody arm stump (and yes, he does one of his patented next-level screams). This sequence takes up the entire final quarter of the movie, and is so much fun it actually managed to push the whole enterprise back into positive territory. Now, a brightly lit, colorful factory set isn’t gonna be able to capture the grim urban menace of the original, but that’s OK because it successfully stakes out its own territory as a gimmicky, high-energy spectacle.
|The expression says it all.|
There is one aspect of the original film’s dark subtext which remains; remember how the last one put Andy in a mental institution for telling the truth about Chucky? Well, the ending made it seem like it would work out OK, but I guess not because it turns out his life has gotten a lot worse since then, his mom is locked in the looney bin** and he’s being shuffled between disinterested foster homes because despite being adoptably white, he keeps trying to tell people about this killer doll and it weirds them out. The movie is oddly ambivalent about the foster parents; Mom seems nice but Dad seems to be a dickhole who is against the whole set-up (“this house is full of valuable, fragile things that you must not touch,” he helpfully tells the mentally-ill 10-year-old) and then after Dad bites it, Mom starts acting like a total bitch too. The situation is a big enough bummer already, it seems weird to add shitty parenting to Andy’s litany of problems, so I’m not really sure what writer Don Mancini thought he was going for, here. And forget Mancini, what about Chucky? Considering that his ultimate plan is to steal Andy’s body and identity, you’d think he’d be more careful not to fuck up his life so bad, but I guess that’s the problem with sociopathic murderous voodoo psychos, they never think these things through.
Anyway, most of the film isn’t actively awful but sure doesn’t have much to recommend it. If you can stick it out to the finale, though, you’re bound to leave with a smile on your face, and that’s worth some recognition. Making a decent Chucky movie isn’t child’s play, after all.
* A third possibility, of course, is that Chucky is actually a Sith lord and is busting out that magic lighting that they used to take down Mace Windu.
**Which means that that asshole Chris Sarandon from part I didn’t back up her story, what a total fucking douchebag. Unless he’s locked up in the nuthouse too, I guess, that might be more forgivable.