In Not Guilty, we look at movies and TV shows that the general consensus tells us we should feel bad for liking, but that our hearts tell us we should give a second look — "guilty pleasures" we don’t feel guilty about. This time around, we turn our attention to everyone's favorite murder dolls with Bride of Chucky!
Bride of Chucky currently sports a 46% approval rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes, which is yet again a great example of how wonderful, intelligent people can be horribly, tragically wrong. This film came out in 1998, so we were living in a post-Scream world, and horror-comedy was all the rage. Yet, critics had surprisingly little patience for this classic tale of two murderers trapped in the bodies of dolls rooted in Universal horror trappings of decades gone by.
Those critics might not have loved it, but we’re critics too and we did love it, so we’ve got ourselves a real standoff here. We think it’s high past time to state our case that Bride of Chucky isn’t just a great film — it's one of the great horror comedies of all time.
The Child’s Play franchise was in a pretty weird place in the late ‘90s. Director Don Mancini had worked on all three previous films, having co-scripted the first and written the following two. Mancini had grown dissatisfied with what was rapidly becoming a formulaic arc and decided against another return for the series protagonist, Andy Barclay. Instead, spotting a copy of Bride of Frankenstein at a video store, he came up with a different concept entirely.
Whereas the first three films are straightforward horror, Bride of Chucky flies completely off the rails into absurdity, metatextual references, and dark humor, while still working in a few especially grisly murders along the way. Instead of focusing on the people being terrorized, the story shifts much of the focus to Chucky and Tiffany, the ones doing the killing. This creative choice allows for a much wider world to open up where, instead of a single protagonist, the movie has several funny, bizarre characters and scenarios.
This turned out to be a great new direction for a franchise that had been quickly growing stale. This is the second most financially successful Child’s Play film, and Mancini became the predominant director for the follow-up sequels. The series has gone in countless new directions since, shaking off its brush with possible stagnation in exchange for a franchise that is sometimes funny, sometimes scary, but always in conversation with itself. Having a primary creator who is dedicated to making a potentially limited concept into its own unique legacy has been a godsend for the series.
The story of Bride of Chucky begins when Tiffany murders a worker who steals and delivers her the Chucky doll, disfigured beyond recognition from the events of Child’s Play 3. She resurrects Chucky, believing that he had intended to propose to her while still in his human form. One truly hilarious (if tragically brief) appearance from the great Alexis Arquette later, we discover that Chucky had no interest in marrying Tiffany, and when he mocks her over the matter she imprisons him in a small playpen. Naturally, he escapes, kills her, and traps her soul inside a doll.
Enter: The B Plot. Jesse and Jade are two star-crossed lovers, but unfortunately, Jade’s father is a power-tripping cop who keeps busting up their dreams of romance. Tiffany offers Jesse money to drop off a trunk with a dead body in it, but with Tiffany’s resurrection in doll form, this becomes their ride to get an amulet that was buried with Chucky’s original body in hopes that Tiffany and Chucky might transfer their souls to Jesse and Jade’s bodies.
As with most horror films, the plot only takes us so far and after that, we rely on the vibes. One of the most obvious things about Bride of Chucky is that the people involved love the horror genre. The script includes many references to other scary movies, from a murdered corpse that resembles Pinhead to Jason Voorhees' mask caught in a flash of lightning, giving eagle-eyed viewers something to look out for. Tiffany cries while watching The Bride of Frankenstein early in the film, and quotes the “we belong dead” line Frankenstein’s monster speaks at the end of the original Universal flick. This movie kicked off the more comedic tone of the next few movies, but it also began the franchise’s interest in meta themes.
This was the first appearance of Jennifer Tilly as Tiffany, and she has gone on to become one of the most important elements of the series for many fans. In her first scene, she is committing a ghastly murder, only to reminisce about the power of love in the next, and that pretty much sets the tone for her character. Tilly is the perfect choice for this role, which swings from ponderous to devoted to demented at the drop of a hat. She has returned for all of the follow-up sequels and will be appearing in the pending TV series. Her appearance in Bride of Chucky is a true treat as she wildly vacillates from murderous to sympathetic. It's hard to imagine anyone but Tilly in the role, and her enthusiasm for its fandom is a delight.
It’s true that you can’t win them all, but a lot of people could stand to give Bride of Chucky another chance. Above all, this movie remains scary while being hilarious, which is no easy feat. The banter between Chucky and Tiffany is a complete mockery of the heteronormative values Jesse and Jade espouse, which makes it more subversive than it's given credit for. Featuring a great soundtrack, an incredible script, captivating performances, and a lot of the over-the-top murders that Chucky fans have come to know and tentatively love, this film helped the whole franchise take a turn for the pleasantly weird while giving us some of the most memorable sequences of the late '90s horror canon.