ReelReviews #116: Cult of Chucky (2017)

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OCTOBER 19, 2017: Cult of Chucky

 

“Sorry Jack, Chuck’s Back!” was the famous catchphrase from the first Chuck sequel. We’re now up to the seventh movie in the series, and a horror franchise about a doll possessed by the soul of a serial killer has lasted nearly 30 years. For most film franchises, that would probably mean the series has really gotten tired and stale at this point. But for Child’s Play, it’s still in full gear. I have to agree with the professional critics on this one. “Cult of Chucky” may be a low-budget direct-to-video afraid, but you won’t be sorry Chucky’s Back.

The vast majority of the film takes place in a mental hospital and it also features the return of Alex Vincent as Andy Barclay. The now adult actor had been the child star of the first two films, and did a brief cameo in the sixth movie. Here, he doesn’t seem to be used to his full potential, but he does kick off an intriguing premise where are multiple Chucky dolls seemingly going on “killing” sprees at the mental hospital, while Andy still has the served (and still very much alive) head of the “original” Chucky doll locked in his closet – which means the “Chucky” we all know couldn’t have committed those crimes. So who’s the true culprit? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.

If there’s any flaw to be found in Cult of Chucky, its that the ending is pretty much just an obvious setup for yet another sequel, and without giving away what happens, it might be the only Child’s Play film where Chucky actually “wins” at the end. The only other issue with Cult of Chucky is thru no fault of its own – the sixth installment in the franchise, Curse of Chucky, was a clever “in-universe reboot” that tricked the audience into thinking it was a straight up remake of the first movie – until gradually revealing it was actually another sequel! Cult of Chucky follows up from that movie and just doesn’t have the same surprise factor. Many alumni from all six of the previous movies return, the mental hospital setting works well for the story, and aside from some rather blatant attempts to “update” things for 2017 (we just gotta mention some character is gay and married to another man, for example) the film stays remarkably fresh and true to its origins. Let’s hope the inevitable sequel to THIS movie is just as compelling.

 

*** out of ****

 

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ReelReviews #108: It’s Alive (2009)

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MARCH 16, 2017 SCREENING: IT’S ALIVE (2009)

It’s Remade! Most people complain about endless Hollywood remakes. The odd thing here is that there’s an entire valid case to made for remaking It’s Alive. The original film is not any sort of beloved classic and while it got a good response, the style of filmmaking doesn’t work in the 21st century and the story could be entirely updated 35 years later. The first thing many modern audiences said about the 1974 movie upon seeing it is “This movie could use a remake”, and they have a valid point. And thus, I can’t bash this movie for being a remake. I can, however, bash how they decided to do the remake.

The biggest change (and a strange choice, IMO) is that the killer baby in this version looks just like a normal human baby (except for some bizarre reveal in the third act where it inexplicably has sharp pointed teeth to make it look “scary”) The “normal” looking baby is still capable of somehow massacring multiple full grown adults with its bare hands, so the result is some very unrealistic looking CGI to create a fake “normal” looking human infant in 99% of the scenes. This turns out to the biggest flaw in the movie, and one that wouldn’t have been an issue if the premise of the movies were reversed (a “normal” looking baby played a real baby in the 1974 movie because the special effects technology was primitive, but a fully mutated deformed monstrosity in the 2009 remake)

Most of the bad reviews of this movie couldn’t get past the obviously-fake CGI “normal” baby, and I believe the film does indeed deserve to be blasted for that problem. However, other aspects of the movie also really hurt the film, with a weak script, and short running time that didn’t allow the story to be fully fleshed out, or effective.

On the other hand, this movie does not deserve the across-the-board “ZERO STARS! IT SUCKS!” scathing reviews that it got. The remake of Its Alive is very flawed, but it does have some good things going for it. Strangely, the best part of the movie was Bijou Philips, the model-turned-actress daughter of singer John Philips (of “The Mamas and the Papas”) fame. Philips is basically the lead in this movie and has to ensure all the emotional gravitas as the mother of the evil baby. The film requires her to slowly realize her baby is murdering people and that she is shocked and horrified by this fact, but tolerates it because of the love she feels for the newborn as its mother. Philips put in an amazing performance here (which surprised me since I didn’t consider her to be a real “actress”) and could have rightfully won a prize for the role if she weren’t in such a weak movie overall. Likewise, the last scene and final moment of the movie deserves to be up there with classic horror films like “Psycho” and “The Shining”. Yes, I’m serious! Without giving it away, I spent the entire movie wondering how they would resolve the story, and the film’s ending is truly heartbreaking and haunting, leaving the viewer feeling anguished at what’s happened. It’s a tragedy this brilliant ending couldn’t be part of an actual GOOD movie. Many horror films resort to one last cheap “scare” to end the movie (usually “he’s not REALLY dead!”) , others come up with more clever twists, but very few manage to “scare” you in a way that truly makes the audience feel unnerved and creeped out by what they’ve just seen. It’s Alive manages to do that, and to top the nicely chilling of the original 1974 movie! Despite being a really lousy movie overall, I’m actually awarding it an extra half a star for the great ending. The only downside is you have to see the rest of this crappy movie for the ending to be effective.

For the record, original It’s Alive producer/writer/director Larry Cohen absolutely loathed the remake of his movie. I don’t loathe it, but I do feel it was a big missed opportunity.

* 1/2 out of ****