Seed of Chucky

Connoisseurs of self-reflexive trash could probably do worse than Seed of Chucky, a gutbucket farce that works better as a lampoon of Hollywood than as a horror movie. This is number five in the Child’s Play series, which began in 1988 with the premise that your kid’s curiously lifelike doll (seemingly patterned on a Cabbage Patch Kid) could be possessed by the spirit of a serial killer. Brad Dourif has been cashing easy checks for the past fourteen years as the voice of Charles Lee Ray, a.k.a. Chucky, the homicidal doll whose third film purportedly inspired two British boys to murder a three-year-old, and whose fourth outing, 1998’s Bride of Chucky, found him fixed up with a gothy doll, Tiffany, inhabited by the spirit of his former girlfriend (Jennifer Tilly).

The result of the dolls’ passion in Bride turns up in Seed of Chucky as a rather forlorn, sharp-toothed doll (voice by Billy Boyd of The Lord of the Rings — the hobbit who isn’t on Lost) with a gender-identity crisis. The spawn, self-named Glen or Glenda depending on his/her mood (in a probable nod to Ed Wood’s anti-masterpiece of the same name), reunites with Chucky and Tiffany, who are quite busy these days in Hollywood, where they’re employed as “actors” in the horror movie Chucky Goes Psycho. The star of this epic is none other than Jennifer Tilly, playing herself as a sarcastic zaftig has-been who’s not above sleeping with a rapper-turned-director (the rapper-turned-actor Redman) for a shot at the role of the Virgin Mary in his upcoming Biblical flick.

Writer-director Don Mancini (who has written all the Chucky films) paints his Hollywood satire in broad, crude strokes, but not everyone would have the wit to cast notorious director John Waters as a sleazy paparazzo — a role Waters probably relished, and it shows, right down to his over-the-top death scene. An early movie-within-the-movie murder is outrageously gory, and I assumed the MPAA went easy on it because it’s “fake” in context. But then make-up wiz Tony Gardner appears as a, well, make-up wiz whose head is graphically, lingeringly divorced from his body, and we also get to see the caliber of Redman’s intestinal fortitude (he’s just eaten a hot dinner, so his innards steam on the floor). As Terry Jones, the director of the gore-drenched, PG-rated Monty Python and the Holy Grail, can tell you, a spoonful of comedy helps the splatter go down.

Seed of Chucky is lowbrow junk with a pulse, stuffed plump with references to its ancestors, from Halloween to Psycho to The Shining. Chucky himself, despite the vocal exertions of the amused-sounding Brad Dourif, is as monotonously nihilistic as usual, a cackling doll-face with an appetite for destruction. The cleverly designed Tiffany is another story; she’s the best thing to happen to this franchise, and with Tilly speaking her lines she’s a demented mix of hell-raising and nurturing. In the flesh, Tilly has fun sending herself up, bemoaning her career choices, taking a couple of shots at Julia Roberts, and winking at fans of what’s likely to be her headstone movie, Bound (there’s a wonderfully crass Gina Gershon joke, too).

Curiously, this fifth installment is the first to be distributed by Rogue Pictures (who earlier gave us Shaun of the Dead), the action-horror wing of Focus Features, which in turn is the artsy division of Universal, who put out the previous Chucky films under its general banner. That accounts for the film’s slick yet scrappily independent tone; if Julia Roberts gets miffed at Universal over the movie’s jokes at her expense, the studio can always pin the blame on its twice-removed distributor. More importantly, an indie horror division with major-studio dollars behind it (Seed of Chucky got a 2,000-screen launch) can risk more while still staying under the radar (the cultural watchdogs are more concerned about insufficiently patriotic films these days than about Child’s Play 5). With new movies by Wes Craven and George Romero in the pipeline, the horror genre is starting to be fun again, and Rogue Pictures can take some of the credit.

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