When it comes to toy-based sequels surpassing their predecessors, the family-friendly adventures of Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and co. inevitably first spring to mind. But how about the slightly less wholesome 1990 horror, Child's Play 2, in which a murderous doll beats a middle-aged teacher to death with a yardstick?
The eight chapters and counting of the Child's Play franchise are so different in tone that they're hard to compare. Do you prefer the nastier slasher vibes of the 1988 original, the post-Scream wink-wink nudges of 1998 revival Bride of Chucky, or the cartoonish comedy of 2004's Seed of Chucky? Perhaps a mix of all three as in 2017's underrated, cinema-bypassing Cult of Chucky.
Each has its merits. Well, apart from Child's Play 3 — a rush-released rehash that even series creator Don Mancini has disowned ("We didn't really think about it that deeply"). However, boasting a surprisingly touching relationship and by far the series’ wildest ride of a finale, there's a particularly strong case to be made for Chucky's first big-screen return.
Child's Play 2 — which takes place two years after the demonic cherub looked to have been consigned to that great big toy box in Hell — doesn't have to waste valuable minutes setting up a backstory, for one thing. By the time the opening credits have rolled, Chucky has been painstakingly reassembled by the most negligent toymakers in town. And within the first five minutes, he's been let loose to terrorize the poor, traumatized Andy (Alex Vincent) once again.
For the majority of the film's slim 84-minute running time, we get to enjoy Chucky at his pure unadulterated best (or worst?). Brad Dourif, whose voice is so integral to selling all the madness, undeniably appears to be having more fun. As well as channeling his old One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest co-star Jack Nicholson while firing off zippy one-liners ("This is it, world! From now on, no more Mr. Good Guy"), he also debuts the sinister cackle that would become one of the doll's trademarks.
With the original's writer John Lafia directing some of the series' most satisfying kills, it's little wonder Dourif chose to go all-out. Sure, Miss Kettlewell (Beth Grant) probably didn't deserve to be fatally bludgeoned by a plastic, two-foot-tall serial killer. Yet seeing as how she locked up an emotionally-scarred foster kid on his first day in class, you can't help but revel in her demise.
Likewise, the deadly fall that Chucky inflicts on foster father Phil (Gerrit Graham), an inpatient jerk who, when asked what to get Andy for a present, answers "Valium." The sheer lack of empathy displayed by those responsible for looking after the kid is perhaps even more terrifying than the doll's determination to possess him.
The pièce de résistance, of course, is the Willy Wonka-meets-Terminator showdown that concludes the film in a brilliantly deranged style. The Play Pals toy factory scene isn't just the most entertaining set piece in a Child's Play movie. It also stands up as one of the most eye-popping — figuratively and literally thanks to the poor security guard's death via doll-making machine — climaxes in '90s horror.
It takes 20 chaotic minutes for Chucky's reign of terror to end, by which point he's been mangled beyond all recognition by a conveyor belt of doom, melted with molten plastic, and blown to smithereens by an air pressure hose. It's a spectacular sequence, made all the crazier by the bright lights and candy-colored palette of the labyrinthian surroundings. Midsommar looks like a neo-noir in comparison.
Unlike many of the films that followed, Child's Play 2 still holds interest when the near-indestructible redhead isn't taking center stage. With his mother holed up in a mental institution, Andy's only ally this time around is his foster sister. Kyle (Christine Elise) initially appears to be the kind of snarky, bratty teenager whose comeuppance you'd take considerable glee in. Yet gradually she develops a close bond with the other unfortunate soul to have been placed with Chicago's most fickle foster parents.
Kyle and Andy's big sis/lil bro relationship provides a sense of heart that went notably AWOL in the franchise until 2018's reboot. It's certainly more fleshed out than the similar age-gap friendship between Andy and Tyler in Child’s Play 3. And Kyle is just as engaging a character when she's one on one with Chucky, too — see how cleverly she handles her diminutive kidnapper during their night-time drive to the foster center.
Props must also go to Elise, who despite being in her mid-20s at the time, convinces as a sassy 17-year-old in attitude, if not in looks. In fact, the caliber of acting is surprisingly strong for a horror sequel that wears its inherent goofiness on its dungareed sleeves. BAFTA and Emmy Award winner Jenny Agutter (An American Werewolf in London, The Railway Children) adds some gravitas with her performance as the warmer-hearted foster parent Joanne. Graham, meanwhile, had been a Brian De Palma regular during the legendary filmmaker's early '70s climb up the Hollywood ladder. Even Vincent, something of a blank canvas first time around, managed to add a few more expressions to his limited repertoire.
Not that this was at all appreciated during its 1990 release. The legendary Gene Siskel described the movie as a "vicious, ugly little thriller" in his no-star review. His regular partner-in-crime Roger Ebert was just as scathing ("sick and unwholesome, a completely malignant exercise"). And although Child's Play 2 pushed the slightly more cerebral horror Jacob's Ladder out of the U.S. box office No. 1 spot, it grossed nearly $10 million less worldwide than its predecessor.
But the years have been kind to the film whose production was bizarrely spearheaded by none other than Steven Spielberg. The current crop of bloated horrors (2 hours and 49 minutes for It Chapter 2??) could learn from its all killer, no filler approach, while the cool, calm, and collected Kyle feels like a very modern spin on the final girl.
And perhaps most significantly, has any movie since made more effective use of a copy machine?
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.