A writer on all seven movies, director of three, and set to helm the upcoming Chucky television series, Don Mancini is the undisputed father of the Child’s Play franchise. But he had help. Two men co-wrote the 1988 original with him; cult filmmaker Tom Holland (Fright Night) and writer-director John Lafia. The latter’s modest filmography includes The Blue Iguana (1988), Man’s Best Friend (1993), and Freddy’s Nightmares (1988-89), but he’s best known for developing Child’s Play and directing this 1990 sequel while Mancini concentrated on the writing.
Sadly, John Lafia passed away in April 2020 from suicide. More tragic is watching Child’s Play 2 again and recognising how significant his hand was in cementing the foundations of one of horror’s best modern franchises.
United Artists had an unexpected hit with Child’s Play, the horror film about a single mom terrorised by her son’s new ‘Good Guy’ doll after it’s been possessed by notorious serial killer Charles ‘Chucky’ Lee Ray (Brad Dourif). But immediately after a sequel was commissioned, producer David Kirschner received troubling news: UA were being bought by an Australian company, Qintex, who didn’t like horror films!
Having never dabbled in the genre too much, aside from Pumpkinhead (1988), UA simply dropped Child’s Play 2 from their schedule. Lucky for Kirschner, he quickly received alternative offers from Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and many more, while Steven Spielberg personally helped secure Universal as distributors. Unlucky for Qintex, their deal with UA floundered and they went bankrupt the following year.
Likely wanting to deliver a guaranteed hit for their new paymasters, Child’s Play 2 doesn’t fuck around with its 84-minute runtime. Mancini gutted his own screenplay by jettisoning the two adult stars of the original, Chris Sarandon and Catherine Hicks. A planned court room opening with Andy’s mother (Hicks) accusing a doll of murder was abandoned, in exchange for a one-minute catch-up on unseen events: Andy’s mom has been committed, Sarandon’s cop has denied all knowledge of a possessed doll, and little Andy’s (Alex Vincent) now living foster parents Phil (Gerrit Graham) and Joanne (Jenny Agutter).
Chucky himself is rebuilt in the Good Guys doll factory and starts electrifying and suffocating victims in the first few scenes. Mancini’s skills have come a long way since he wrote Child’s Play 2, but the cat-and-mouse relationship done so well with Nica (Fiona Dourif) and Chucky in later sequels is done surprisingly well back here with Andy. Vincent plays the part perfectly, like a kid who’s fallen out with his naughty best friend, while getting to be a little smarter and a more paranoid than before.
However, Andy again gets sidelined for another protagonist who actually fights Chucky. Last time it was his mother and now it’s jaded teenager Kyle (Christine Elise McCarthy), who proves herself a badass when Andy’s claims of a killer doll back from the dead proves true. And unlike a reluctant mother trapped in her own home and having to contend with a murderous doll, Kyle’s a character who actively chases after a kidnapped Andy by speeding through traffic and commando-rolling under shutter doors.
Now out for revenge, Chucky’s given far more life without having to keep his nature a secret from Andy. It’s hugely enjoyable when Chucky tries to persuade Andy to help him, with promises like “I won’t kill anyone else!”, despite being so uncontrollable furious he immediately explodes with “let me the fuck out, you little dick!” Brad Dourif perfectly calibrates the horror and ridiculousness of Chucky’s character.
The little doll is also more impressive in Child’s Play 2, as SFX artist Kevin Yagher stopped using children and small actors as body-doubles and instead built a fully animatronic Chucky. With killer dolls it’s hard not to picture an arm up their backside, but when Chucky emerges from a closet walking on his own two legs, brandishing a weapon in moving arms, and dishing out threats with a fully expressive face, the effect is astonishing! Also, the tiny detail of giving him a sense of life when wrestling people as his tiny legs kick like a paddling dog is adorable.
The entertaining showdown in the Good Guys factory is a key factor in recent reappraisals of this sequel, too. Kyle and Andy flee through a disorientating maze of hundreds of creepy dolls still in their boxes, dodging machinery spewing hot plastic with eyeball puncturing gizmos. It’s a crazy finale! The physical damage Chucky suffers is also truly horrendous, as now now his hand tears off to reveal flesh and blood instead of metal and plastic, making it far more gruesome as he plunges a knife into his gory stump.
This mix of scares and silliness is what makes Lafia’s approach work compared to its predecessor. Kevin Thomas of the L.A Times described Child’s Play as “a terrific one-of-a-kind thriller […] not so the sequel. It’s an all-out horror film”.
A therapist dubs Andy’s experiences a fairy tale and Stefan Czapsky’s excellent cinematography plays on that, as he films things using a wide-angle lens that slightly warps the scope of Andy’s environment. In a strange new house with a strange new family, the walls appear spaciously pushed out and the furnishings seem to loom over him. It’s clear Andy has lost the comfort of his mother and is now alone in the big wide world.
It’s no surprise to learn Czapsky later collaborated with Tim Burton many times and was hired for Matilda (1996) after impressing director Danny DeVito on the set of Batman Returns (1992). If you’ve seen Matilida, you’ll know exactly the distorted child’s-eye perspective that’s also prevalent here.
With a budget of $13M, Child’s Play 2 was a little more expensive than its predecessor, but it only grossed $35.8M (a little less than the $44M last time), and wasn’t as warmly received. But time’s been kind and many fans of Chucky now consider it a worthy sequel—if not superior. It also helps that it’s clearly better than the bitter disappointment of Child’s Play 3 (1991), which only grossed $20M and nearly killed the franchise until Scream (1997) inspired the meta-comedy reboot Bride of Chucky (1998). Still, it’s a shame we never got to see John Lafia work on this franchise again, as it was his Child’s Play 2 that proved Chucky could come back from the dead time and time again.
USA | 1990 |84 MINUTES • 90 MINUTES (EXTENDED CUT) | 1.85:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Cast & Crew
director: John Lafia.
writer: Don Mancini.
starring: Alex Vincent, Jenny Agutter, Gerrit Graham, Christine Elise, Grace Zabriskie & Brad Dourif (voice).