A midlife crisis can affect anyone, particularly those who transferred their soul into a popular children’s doll and then promptly ‘died’ twice over in plastic form. Franchises can suffer the same confidence and identity issues in their middles, just as I’ve found with the refreshing delight of Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986). At seven features, plus an upcoming television series, that middle-age of the Child’s Play saga could be the fantastic injection of camp sensibilities and meta-awareness that Bride of Chucky (1998) so amply provided… or it could be the near early demise of the franchise, Child’s Play 3.
Before losing the original title, the first three Child’s Play films followed a strict formula: serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), in his newly acquired doll body, would enjoy killing everyone around young Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) before attempting to shift his soul into him. First, he was defeated by Andy’s mother Karen (Catherine Hicks), and then by Andy’s foster sister Kyle (Christine Elise), and sadly the years of brutal trauma and unexplained violence have been hard on the growing kid, who’s now a teenager played by Justin Whalin (Lois & Clark). Andy’s been booted off to military academy, where he befriends young cadet Tyler (Jeremy Sylvers), who inevitably makes a terrifying new best friend in Chucky…
Despite Andy not actually being Chucky’s primary target this time, everything else feels painfully familiar, which is what horror fans generally want, just better. Chucky is back in almost the same way as the first (or second?) time, being remade in a doll factory, and this leads to an admittedly promising prologue in which the Play Pals CEO is gifted the first doll off the production line… who then murders him with a range of his own toys. Sadly, a quick computer search leads Chucky to military school, which is one of the dullest locations for a fun horror film. The boredom spent here is especially disappointing knowing that series creator Don Mancini only had nine months to write this sequel. I don’t mean months until production started, I mean nine months since the release of Child’s Play 2 (1990).
Mancini even had reserve ideas unsued in the earlier entries, including Chucky spreading his evil across multiple dolls for even greater chances to murder! But once again the studio offered a tight budget, which only allowed him and director Jack Bender to play in the limited sandpit as the last two. The actors are therefore a mixed bag in bringing what they can to a stifled screenplay: Whalin’s fine taking over as Andy but, even as a child actor, Alex Vincent brought far more personality and adorableness to making Andy believable. It just doesn’t help that most of his experiences in this setting are being continually bullied by the older teenagers, which is never engaging or interesting to sit through. Love interest Kristen (Perry Reeves) is just a watered-down Kyle, and Tyler does share that same likeability of Vincent, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. One of the overarching issues found with these characters is that there’s no unified impression of the military experience. Andy finds himself thrust into an adult Hell, Kristen plays it off like nothing with her cool demeanour, and Tyler simply treats the place like his own house as he runs around with dolls with little to no consequence.
However, as the later sequels would learn, the audience is here for Chucky. Dourif delivers the same great performance as always, but he’s a little more laid back as it feels like the doll has nothing better to do than kill. He’s good at what he does, of course, and there are some entertaining enough murders to see us through yet another svelte runtime. The dump-truck sequence shows how someone of his stature can use his environment to his advantage, while the heart attack gag reveals that Mancini still has a finger on the horror-comedy pulse. The third act event of Chucky manipulating a friendly paintball game into actual warfare really shows an element of creativity and difference from other slashers, though even an amateur marksman could shoot clean through the plot holes. These adults in charge load the rifles with paintball rounds days in advance of Chucky swapping them out for live ammunition, and then on the day not a single person involved checks their weapon once?
These contrivances aggravate only because they could’ve been ironed out with respectable pre-production time. Chucky seems surprisingly eager to live out his life in the body of a young black child—or as he so elegantly puts it, “Chucky’s gonna be a bro”—and that line of thinking is never addressed again. And why focus your entire film in the setting of a military academy when the finale spontaneously finds itself in a nearby carnival? Just because it’s an exciting and colourful backdrop? If Bender acknowledged that then why couldn’t the rest of the film be just as exciting and colourful?
This line of questioning probably got shortened down to ‘why make Child’s Play 3?’ It’s because the first two films did so well, and Universal figured that abandoning all creativity, drive, and passion (the elements that generally produce most good films), they could still make a profit on a bad low-budget horror. With $13M going in, Child’s Play 3 grossed just over $20M, but in doing such a cheap job it cost Mancini the next seven years before Bride of Chucky was made–which truly showcased what a proper extension of a franchise could deliver. As the tagline to that movie promised, Chucky Gets Lucky, but sometimes he can also be unlucky, as this movie proved.
UK • USA | 1991 | 90 MINUTES | 1.85:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Cast & Crew
director: Jack Bender.
writer: Don Mancini (based on characters by Don Mancini).
starring: Justin Whalin, Perrey Reeves, Jeremy Sylvers, Brad Dourif (voice), Travis Fine, Andrew Robinson, Dakin Matthews & Burke Byrnes.