Most franchise horror sequels are creative voids. They either simply remake the original film, or succumb to an ever-more-desperate series of gimmicks in hopes of wringing a few more bucks out of a stale premise. For that reason alone, I have to hand it to the Chucky films -- nearly twenty years since the original 'Child's Play' in 1988, they've managed to stay surprisingly fresh, witty and inventive. Never was that more the case than with 1998's 'Bride of Chucky' (the fourth film in the series), which brought the franchise completely into the realm of parody, yet was so stylishly satiric that even the genre's harshest critics were forced to begrudgingly admire its cleverness and audacity. 'Bride' was also a big hit at the box office, which of course almost guaranteed another follow-up.
Ironically, the only folks not laughing all the way to the bank after 'Bride of Chucky' was Universal itself. 1998 was a dismal year for the studio, so much so that even with 'Bride's fairly meager gross of $32 million (meager by blockbuster standards, anyway), it was their biggest hit of the season. The fact that a film called 'Bride of Chucky' had been the studio's biggest hit apparently caused Universal so much embarrassment, that -- as Chucky creators Don Mancini and Don Kirshner would loudly complain to the press -- Universal sat on a sequel to 'Bride' for years. That is, until finally in 2004, 'Seed of Chucky' was dropped on the doorsteps of theaters like a bastard stepchild.
Which, thank god, it is. The one good thing about the traditional indifference of the major studios to genre projects is that they usually leave their filmmakers alone. In this case it would seem to be the only explanation for how Kirshner and Mancini were able to spawn such a thoroughly demented, utterly twisted cinematic creation. While the first three 'Child's Play' flicks were straight-ahead horror yarns, and 'Bride' a send-up of classic Universal monster flicks like 'Bride of Frankenstein,' 'Seed' is a motion picture first -- a homage to the Douglas Sirk melodramas of the '50s, masquerading as a slasher-comedy. Throw in a huge heaping of self-referential in-jokes, a dash of post-modern irony, and one fearless performance by a returning Jennifer Tilly, and you have a largely unsuccessful yet utterly fascinating abortion of a movie.
'Seed of Chucky' is certainly the first movie to base its entire premise around doll sperm. Seems Chucky and Tiffany, after the events in 'Bride,' have given birth to their own little bouncing bundle of joy. But when their androgynous spawn doesn't seem to have either boy or girl doll parts, Chucky dubs him "Shitface," and tosses him off to a traveling carnival freakshow. Once the little tyke grows into an adolescent and begins questioning his gender, he/she renames himself/herself Glen/Glenda (just like the Ed Wood movie, get it?). The confusion continues when little Glen(da) escapes, hustles back to Hollywood, and discovers his parents on the set of their own hit slasher movie.
If this sounds complicated, writer-director Mancini tosses off all the exposition in a matter of minutes. His real goal in 'Seed of Chucky' seems to be sending up Hollywood self-importance, and ripping a page right out of 'Wes Craven's New Nightmare,' he has much of his cast playing themselves. Jennifer Tilly returns as... Jennifer Tilly, playing a washed-up B-movie actress stuck playing second fiddle to a puppet. There is also a turn by rapper Redmon playing... a rapper casting his latest opus, a horror flick to star Tilly. And Mancini even has the gumption to have schlock icon John Waters playing an unscrupulous tabloid reporter who will stop at nothing to catch his celebrity prey. (Okay, so it isn't an exactly case of art imitating life, but it's brilliant casting nonetheless.)
Somehow through all of this, Mancini manages to weave all his wildly disparate influences to create a linear, mostly comprehensible film. Tonally, however, 'Seed' does not flow nearly as effortlessly as 'Bride' did, in part because Mancini seems to overestimate the appeal of Glen/Glenda. The creepy looking doll is the real star of the show, not Chucky or Tiffany, both of whom are forced to take back seat during much of the film's first half. It is only when Glen/Glenda's murderous genetic lineage begins to surface -- and Chucky's paternal impulses finally awaken -- that the film gets back on track. Unfortunately, by this point, the whole post-modern thing with Tilly and Redmon feels like a distraction, and the ending, though resolute, isn't particularly satisfying. Although I quite admired Mancini's ambition with this film, ultimately he piles on too many complexities and the whole thing collapses like a house of cards.
Still, despite its considerable flaws, 'Seed of Chucky' remains fun -- especially for film buffs. Mancini's pastiche may be wholly obvious, it's so far-ranging and obscure at times that it's a kick to try to spot the myriad of pop culture references. His clear love for his puppets is also endearing, and the combination of witty dialogue and expert mechanical effects transform Chucky, Tiffany and Glen/Glenda into surprisingly memorable, fully three-dimensional flesh-and-blood characters (sorry, couldn't resist). And while a little Jennifer Tilly goes a long way for most people, she is so game to parody herself (the level of humiliation Mancini gleefully puts her through would certainly make most other celebrities blanche) that it's hard not to admire her gutsiness. 'Seed of Chucky' is no match for 'Bride,' but in today's current horror climate of endless remakes and unimaginative sequels, at least it's a breath of fresh air.
Odd for horror flick (even a satirical one), 'Seed of Chucky' bucks just about every visual convention of the genre and is lit like a '50s melodrama. Rather than being bathed in darkness, 'Seed of Chucky' is bright and bold, which may not offer much in the way of the heebie-jeebies, but does deliver a punchy high-def image.
Universal presents 'Seed of Chucky' in a matted 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and the studio's standard 1080p/VC-1 encode. I thought the previous standard-def DVD looked a bit muted and bland, but this HD DVD bumps up the colors nicely. They're more vibrant yet still solid, particularly in the more garish scenes (Santa with his throat slashed never looked so... red). The bright lighting also helps the illusion of depth, with detail generally excellent even in the shadows despite some heavy grain. Granted, all things are not perfect -- there's some softness evident, and Universal's tendency to over-enhance their transfers remains a bummer, with edge halos and some shimmering during pans visible. Still, all in all, this is a four-star presentation. Chucky is certainly ready for his close-up.
No, it doesn't make sense -- Universal routinely disses their big A-list titles like 'Knocked Up' and 'Evan Almighty' with no high-res audio, but a title like 'Seed of Chucky' gets a Dolby TrueHD track? Steve Carell should fire his agent (it's sad when you're upstaged by a puppet), but in the meantime, Chucky fans will just have to enjoy the fruits of Universal's bizarre decisions.
More a parody of a horror film than it is a horror itself, 'Seed of Chucky' allows the filmmakers to have a lot of fun with the usual sonic cliches of the genre. The film's intentions are made clear right up front during the gothic, 'Psycho'-inspired prologue. As the lightning crashes and the wind howls, the surrounds are nice and alive with discrete effects. Pino Donaggio's baroque score is also nicely bled throughout the soundfield, swelling up in the rears at the most appropriate moments. The non-action moments are a bit more subdued, but there's still a nice sense of spaciousness to the stereo effect throughout, making 'Seed of Chucky' feel more expansive than it actually is. Dialogue is handled nicely as well, and is balanced appropriately with the rest of the mix.
'Seed of Chucky' comes to HD DVD with the same extensive smorgasbord of extras that graced the previous DVD edition. In fact, there are more bonus features here than you're likely to find on the discs for most Oscar winners, which is either a testament to the iconic pop culture status of Chucky, or another sign of the downfall of our civilization. In any case, the cheeky and self-referential tone of the movie is carried over to the supplements, and it's a most entertaining package.
The tone is set by the first of two audio commentaries, with writer-director Don Mancini and star Jennifer Tilly. You know you're in for a ride when, only seconds in, Tilly comments that the film's opening credits "look like the inside of my vagina." She doesn't let up for the next 86 minutes, riffing on everything from an embarrassing on-set slip in a pool of blood to an off-screen spat with Brad Dourif that forced a complete rewrite of a monologue for Chucky. By comparison, the second commentary with Mancini and puppeteer Tony Gardener is a bit staid. As you would expect, the art of animatronic puppets is outlined in excruciating detail, although the moment where Mancini and Gardener discuss the scene where Chucky, um, perfects the art of self-pleasure is priceless.
Just as humorous is "Chucky's Insider Facts on Demand," a pop-up trivia track filled with production nuggets, casting tidbits and notations on the various homages and in-jokes scattered about the film. Simply put, this is one of the best tracks of its sort that I've ever seen.
Next up are a series of publicity vignettes, all of which are entirely tongue-in-cheek. "Heeeere's Chucky" (4 minutes) is a one-on-one interview with the Chuckster, who apparently thinks he's a big star. "Chucky Unsheathed" (2 minutes) confronts him with fake screen tests for all of the big roles he missed out on, including parts in 'American Pie' and 'Scarface' (Chucky as Tony Montana? Now that I would pay to see.)
"Family Hell-Iday Slideshow" (3 minutes) features Chucky, Tiffany and Glen/Glenda reminiscing over a slideshow of a recent family vacation, complete with many corpses. "FuZion" (6 minutes) features an interview with Tilly, Tiffany and Chucky during the film's press junket. Their insightful and probing chat is presented here in full, but it's not as funny as it may sound.
By far the best of this material is Tilly's appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" to promote the film's release. The mock 2-minute "video diary" she presents is hysterical, documenting her stay in "luxurious" Romania, where she arrives by broken-down cargo plane. The actress details her experience on 'Seed of Chucky' in even greater detail in the entirely text-based "Jennifer Tilly's Diary." These extensive pages recall Mancini's arduous, six-year fight to get 'Seed' to screen, including extensive detail on who everyone was sleeping with on the set. Of course, the fact that most of this is likely completely fabricated only adds to the fun.
Rounding things out is some excised footage. There is a single Deleted Scene, the first part of a self-referential subplot involving Debbie Carrington (the little person who played the part of the Tiffany doll) and a plot by Tilly to kill her. Unfortunately, the bloody payoff to the storyline was never filmed. Finally, there are Storyboard-to-Screen Comparisons of five different sequences, totaling 13 minutes.
Alas, seeing as the trailers for the Chucky movies are often funnier than the flicks themselves, it's a shame that Universal hasn't included any of them on this disc.
(Note that all of the video-based supplementary material list above is presented in 480p/i/MPEG-2 video only.)
At last -- a Chucky film in 1080p! Although it's criminal that Universal decided to release 'Seed' before the superior 'Bride of Chucky,' at least they're getting the killer doll party started. This HD DVD is a strong overall package, with the video, audio and supplements each delivering plenty of bang for your high buck. Yes, I realize that a film about doll semen (even in high-def) is probably not everyone's cup of tea, but Chucky fans won't be disappointed with this release.