Child's Play 2 (1990)
Directed by John Lafia
Written by Don Mancini
Starring Christine Elise, Alex Vincent, Jenny Agutter, Brad Dourif, Grace Zabriski
Release Date November 9th 1990
Box Office $35.8 million
Child's Play 2 is an improvement over the original. Where the first Child's Play movie spent a lot of time establishing the Chucky-verse, how he came to be, what he's capable of, why he wants what he wants, Child's Play 2 is unburdened by the need for exposition or backstory. Free to explore the space, Child's Play 2 brings the evil doll back to try and chase down the child that he tried to transfer his soul into in the 1989 original. Poor Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent), reeling from his mother being committed to a mental hospital and the multiple deaths he was forced to witness by Chuckie, now is once again in a struggle for survival with his Lil Buddy doll.
The story picks up with Andy being taken in by a foster family. Joanne and Phil (Jenny Agutter and Gerrit Graham) are good people who have dedicated their lives to taking in troubled children. They've been asked to take in Andy and though they are concerned about his mental stability, given that he's repeatedly stated that he believes a doll try to kill him and his mother, after killing several other people, they nevertheless relent to give Andy a home. There, Andy will have a foster sister, Kyle (Christine Elise) who will prove to be a wonderful ally and protector for young Andy.
So how does Chucky come back after having been destroyed at the end of the original? That's never explained. What we do know is that the company that made the original doll needs to cover up the fact that their bestselling toy is, at the very least, linked to a series of murders. It's an association that the company is eager to cover up. Thus, a slimy executive, played by Gregg German, has Chucky fully reconstructed. The goal is to show that the doll could not possibly be dangerous, he looks like just any other doll in their line of Buddy dolls.
It's a relatively rudimentary plot point, one needed simply to get the sequel up and running, but I wanted to highlight a theme that recurs in media and in horror films specifically, how even as Chucky is pure evil, he can act as a corrective punishment in the right context. In this case, the corrupt executives at Play Pal get a righteous comeuppance. While they are greedily trying to protect their profits, Chucky is able to exact a pound of flesh, a minor amount of karmic justice by having the greediest and shadiest of these corporate goons die at Chucky's hands.
We rarely see justice in the real world, especially when it comes to the punishing of greedy corporate weasels. Thus, there is a catharsis to seeing Chucky exact a little vengeance against the corporate villains who make his existence possible. Chucky is, in this moment, the embodiment of an anti-hero, an archetype wherein a villain stands on the side of the just, even as it is only for his own selfish reasons. Evil getting punished by evil for being evil is a very minor theme in the Child's Play franchise but it gets an explicit rendering in Child's Play 2 and the rebuilding of Chucky.
This backfires immediately when Chucky gets a new pair of eyes and uses his supernatural powers to fry one of the men working on him. This gives Chucky the chance to escape and go looking for Andy. It also provides a chance for Chucky to pad his body count by killing that worker, and then killing the slimy executive, all while making his way to Andy's new suburban home. The movie sloppily attempts to show Chucky finding out where Andy is, but it's clear that the movie isn't interested in verisimilitude. The filmmakers just want to get Chucky to where Andy is so that the plot can fully kick in.
When the plot does kick in, Child's Play 2 keeps moving at a terrific clip. It's awkward at times, especially in the inexplicable way Chucky is brought back to life and how he manages to locate Andy, but I am willing to accept this nonsense because the movie is a great deal of fun once we have the Chuckie-Andy dynamic going back and forth. The best part of the movie however is Christine Elise. This wonderful and deeply underappreciated actress grasps the tone of the movie and locks in on building chemistry with Andy.
It's a relatively simple dynamic, she's a good person who works to protect an innocent child, very easy to root for, but Elise makes more of it than what is on the page. She gives a life to Kyle beyond the simple arc of the character and when she's facing down Chuckie and protecting Andy, she's fierce, determined and a lot of fun to watch. I would love to see more of Elise in this franchise but surprisingly, this is one of four film credits for Elise. The franchise continues on for several more sequels, but Elise's Kyle doesn't recur until 2017's Bride of Chucky and that's a minor cameo.
Regardless, she's terrific and with the energetic and grizzled voice work of horror legend Brad Dourif, Child's Play 2 is way better than it has any right to be. The first film is, for me, quite bad. That film spins its wheels for most of the run time, the characters are barely sketches and young Alex Vincent is desperately overmatched in what is his film debut at a very young age. I certainly don't blame him, he's a child and not at all prepared for the bizarre movie he's at the heart of.
Because of Chucky, and Brad Dourif's memorable voice work, Chucky became a minor icon in late 80s horror but, for me, the sequel is where the Child's Play franchise actually demonstrated the potential that many claimed was there in the original. Child's Play 2 has all of the fun, excitement and scares that are lacking in the original. The direction of the sequel is greatly improved with a tighter edit, a stronger attention to pacing, and better scares. Chuckie is never going to be the most menacing villain, but Child's Play 2 does well to make up for the silliness of the premise by leaning into how comical it is that grown adults cannot contend with a 2-foot-tall doll.
Repeatedly, the script makes a point of having Chucky thrive on the element of surprise. The first film stumbled by having actors trying to sell Chucky as a threat. Here however, Chucky's kills thrive on him catching people off guard. The element of surprise is far more believable, on the loose logic of this franchise, than Chucky being strong enough to take someone down. It's just a more satisfying presentation and I appreciated how these kills were set up and executed versus the clumsy presentation of the original Child's Play.
My surprising appreciation of Child's Play 2 is a serialized portion of my book, Horror in the 90s, an exhaustive history of the horror genre during the 1990s, a pivotal time for the genre. The book is examining the wide release horror genre of the decade and tracking the box office, the cultural impact, the stars and the filmmakers who made the genre what it was in this important decade. I'm close to finishing the first year of the decade and the further I get the more surprises and excitement I find in this project.
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