Scraping the bottom of the barrel with more determination than inspiration, writer-director Don Mancini offers a slapdash mix of camp and carnage in "Seed of Chucky," fifth installment of the killer-doll horror franchise that began with cult-fave "Child's Play" (1988). Latest episode, which opened Nov. 12 without press previews, likely will attract only diehard devotees of the on-again, off-again series.

Scraping the bottom of the barrel with more determination than inspiration, writer-director Don Mancini offers a slapdash mix of camp and carnage in “Seed of Chucky,” fifth installment of the killer-doll horror franchise that began with cult-fave “Child’s Play” (1988). Latest episode, which opened Nov. 12 without press previews, likely will attract only diehard devotees of the on-again, off-again series. Pic simply isn’t funny or frightening enough to expand its appeal beyond core fan base. On the other hand, fleeting theatrical exposure should serve as prelude to extended vidstore shelf-life.

Original “Child’s Play” — co-scripted by Mancini from his original story — established basic gimmick of a two-foot-tall plastic doll, nicknamed Chucky, who slices and dices human supporting players after being possessed by the spirit of a dying serial killer played by Brad Dourif. (Just as Mancini has written all five pix, Dourif has voiced Chucky throughout entire series.)

Initial pic and two sequels were relatively serious slasher thrillers. Seven years after “Child’s Play 3″ (1991), however, series was revived with greater emphasis on grisly humor and macabre wisecracks. Tonally reconfigured “Bride of Chucky” (1998) matched Chucky with another diminutive psycho — Tiffany, a femme homicidal doll possessed by the spirit of the original serial killer’s girlfriend (Jennifer Tilly).

Latest pic, Mancini’s debut effort as feature helmer, recycles self-referential elements from “Scream” series.

As “Seed of Chucky” begins, aud sees pic-within-pic production proceeding apace for “Chucky Goes Psycho,” a horror thriller loosely based on the “urban legend” of knife-wielding killer dolls. Jennifer Tilly — played, in a bold stroke of casting, by Jennifer Tilly — is the human star of the piece. (Tilly also provides the voice for Tiffany, as she did in previous installment.)

More importantly, however, the two dolls used as pic-within-pic’s chief props just happen to be the real Chucky and Tiffany. The fun couple is revived by their long-lost offspring, Glen (Billy Boyd), whose anatomical incorrectness triggers a serious identity crisis. Sometimes he’s Glen and sometimes she’s Glenda, presumably as a tribute to a notorious film maudit by Ed Wood.

Glen/Glenda claims to be a nonviolent doll, which greatly pleases Tiffany. But it doesn’t please Chucky, who more or less insists that that the family that slays together, stays together. And speaking of family: Chucky wants to expand his clan by impregnating Tilly with … well, take another look at the title.

Despite frantic efforts to punch up the action with cheap shocks and nasty yocks, “Seed of Chucky” never generates much narrative momentum. Indeed, pic moves at a herky-jerky, start-and-stop pace that suggests Mancini simply made up the scenario on a day-to-day basis during production.

Scenes of blood-splattered excess are too obviously fake to be shocking. But that doesn’t make them any less stomach-turning. Kidding allusions to “Psycho” and other classic shockers mostly fall flat.

Credit Tilly for earning a few good laughs by allowing herself to be the butt of many snarky in-jokes. Pic abounds with wink-wink, nudge-nudge references to her fluctuating weight, her sexpot image, her girl-on-girl action in “Bound” — and, most hilariously, her less-than-stellar status in the Hollywood firmament. “Look at me!” she wails (in character, of course) during a lull in the “Chucky Goes Psycho” filming. “I’m an Oscar nominee, and now I’m bleeping a puppet!”

Rapper-actor Redman has a couple of funny moments as himself — or, to be more precise, a comically exaggerated version of himself. (He’s producing a Biblical epic, and Tilly will stop at nothing to be cast as the Virgin Mary.) But casting of camp maven John Waters as a scandal-seeking paparazzo doesn’t pay off with expected laughs.

Animatronic dolls are persuasively lifelike, but other production values are spotty. Drab lensing is particularly unimpressive. For the record: Pic may be first Hollywood-set horror opus to be filmed largely in Romania.

Seed of Chucky

Production

A Rogue Pictures release of a David Kirschner production in association with La Sienega Prods. Produced by David Kirschner, Corey Sienega. Executive producer, Guy J. Louthan. Co-producer, Laura Moskowitz. Directed, written by Don Mancini, based on characters created by Mancini.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Vernon Layton; editor, Chris Dickens; music, Pino Donaggio; production designers, Peter James Russell, Cristian Niculescu; art director, Judy Farr; set decorator, Dan Toader; costume designer, Oana Paunescu; sound (Dolby SR/SRD/DTS), Simon Okin; animatronic characters and effects, Tony Gardner; visual consultant, Richard Holland; assistant director, Anthony George Every; Chucky, Tiffany, and Glen Dolls created by David Kirschner. Reviewed at Cinemark Tinseltown at Westchase, Houston, Nov. 12, 2004. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Jennifer Tilly - Herself Voice of Tiffany - Jennifer Tilly Voice of Chucky - Brad Dourif Voice of Glen/Glenda - Billy Boyd Redman - Himself Joan - Hannah Spearritt Pete Peters - John Waters Psychs - Keith-Lee Castle Stan - Steve Lawton Tony Gardner - Himself Santa - Jason Flemyng

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