Friday 8 December 2023

The Chucky Collection (1988 - 2022)


Arrow Films are releasing the entire cinematic saga of Chucky as played by Brad Dourif. That's by way of a qualifier, because you won't find Lars Klevberg's 2019 remake in here, nor will you find the TV series that kicked off in 2021 and so far has run to three seasons. But apart from those, it's all here. 

Before we dig in, a word about rights issues. The rights to Tom Holland's original CHILD'S PLAY has a different owner to the next six films in the series. This is also the case with the documentary LIVING WITH CHUCKY which takes up the eighth disc in this eight disc set. Both of those films have only been made available to Arrow on Blu-ray. Consequently, while Arrow have gone the extra mile to give us top notch UHD transfers of the films that they could, this collection is being released in two different versions - one is all Blu-ray, the other with CHILD'S PLAY 2,3 BRIDE OF CHUCKY, SEED OF CHUCKY, CURSE OF CHUCKY all in UHD but with the other two films included on Blu-ray.

Right, that's the boring (but worth spelling out bit) sorted. Let's take a look at the films!

Disc One: Child's Play

        Not provided for review, and only available on Blu-ray in both sets. Even though it was a film that helped rock the world of the average 1980s horror fan it was impossible to think at the time that the character of Chucky would become so enduring. Now, in retrospect, perhaps it's not so difficult. A combination of Don Mancini's script, Tom Holland's direction and perhaps above all the design of the Chucky doll (for which producer David Kirschner takes prominent credit in a number of these films but special effects wizard Kevin Yagher must take some of the credit, along with Mancini) combined with Brad Dourif's performance led to the creation of a horror icon. 

        The secret is that when Chucky isn't stabbing, crushing or pushing people out of windows, he looks like an actual child's toy. Contrast that with more recent doll movie characters like ANNABELLE, M3GAN, or even the Chucky of the remake, which are dolls no sane child (or adult) would want in their homes. There's a quote about the greatest feat the devil managed was to get people not to believe in him. CHILD'S PLAY, and it's sequels, works because Chucky is an entirely believable toy. Who's possessed by the soul of a serial killer who swears and kills people and wants to possess the body of a little boy.

Extras are (presumably) archival, with a commentary track from stars Catherine Hicks and Alex Vincent, as well as Kevin Yagher, another from Kirschner & Mancini, four featurettes and an image gallery.

Disc Two: Child's Play 2 (1990)

After being burned to a crisp (almost) in the previous movie Chucky's back in a film that's a slight step down from the first. However, there are three very good reasons to watch Arrow's disc:

1 The UHD transfer is absolutely sparkling and very impressive indeed for a 1990s film.

2 The climax in the toy factory is still cracking. Chucky's 'resurrection' at the same factory at the beginning isn't bad, either.

3 Jenny Agutter. Although admittedly she's rather wasted in this and really should have been the one to accompany Andy to the toy factory at the end. But it's still Jenny Agutter, even if they get her to wear some dreadful sleeping attire.

Extras include an archival commentary from director John Lafia, plus a whole collection of stuff ported over from the 2022 Scream Factory Region A release. These include interviews with screenwriter Don Mancini (13 minutes), stars Alex Vincent (8 minutes), Beth Grant (5 minutes) and Christine Elise (10 minutes), producer David Kirschner (8 minutes) and Robert Latham Brown (4 minutes). There are also 11 minutes of extra scenes taken from an off-air recording from the Sci Fi channel (surely the vault elements for these would be available, but then again perhaps not), 9 minutes of original promotional featurettes, trailers and an image gallery. 

Disc Three: Child's Play 3 (1991)

Eight years after the events of the previous film, Chucky is improbably resurrected (would fans have it any other way?) and sets off in search of Andy Barclay (now played by Justin Whalen) who is now at one of those uniquely American educational establishments known as Military Academies. 

This one's a definite low point of the series, with a script that feels as if it was thrown together grudgingly over a weekend. The result is a film that stumbles along, never builds up a head of steam, and has a fairground climax that comes out of left field. Surprisingly, things would get substantially better as the series went on.

Extras on Arrow's disk include two commentary tracks, one from TV movie veteran director Jack Bender, the other from producer Robert Latham Brown. Most of the other extras have been ported over from the Scream Factory Region A release including brief interviews with Brown (4 minutes), Mancini (13 minutes, who agrees this is probably the worst Chucky film), Kirschner (7 minutes), actors Perrey Reeves (6 minutes) and Michael Chieffo (4 minutes), production designer Richard Sawyer (& minutes) and makeup artist Craig Reardon (8 minutes). There are also five minutes of extra scenes from the TV version, a trailer and an image gallery. 

Disc Four: Bride of Chucky (1998)

Things become far more entertaining with the fourth entry in the series, in which Chucky gets rescued from a crime evidence locker and stitched back together by Charles Lee Ray's girlfriend Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly). However, Chucky and Tiffany end up having an argument, the result of which is Tiffany being electrocuted in the bath. But a little bit of voodoo later and BRIDE OF CHUCKY is born.

There's a definite move towards the comedic with this one, and judging from the previous film it wasn't a moment too soon. There are plenty of sight gags related to popular horror films of the time (you might want to freeze frame on the police evidence room at the start) and the leads are definitely in on the joke.

Extras include a suitably over the top archival introduction from Tilly, and there are two commentary tracks, one from director Ronny Yu and the other, which is one of the must-listen of the set if you've not already heard it (it's archival) is with Tilly, Dourif and Don Mancini. There's also a piece on the locations, a making of, trailer, and scenes from the TV version.

Disc Five: Seed of Chucky (2004)

The comedy and crudeness is upped for the fifth entry in the series, which some believe is the worst but I agree with writer-director Don Mancini (from his extra on CHILD'S PLAY 3) that they're all wrong. SEED OF CHUCKY is the unsung classic of the series, a film that channels John Waters, William Castle, is way ahead of its time about gender identity issues and has a fearless and utterly winning performance from Jennifer Tilly, who gets to play both 'herself' and Tiffany.

And as well as her, is this the most bizarre cast for a horror sequel? Pope of Trash himself John Waters, S Club 7's Hannah Spearrit, Jason (son of Gordon DALEKS INVASION EARTH 2150AD) Flemyng, Billy Boyd as well as, of course Brad Dourif. It's set in Glastobury and Los Angeles but was actually filmed in Romania and yes, if you like John Waters-style humour (Tilly's role could almost have been written for Divine) you'll have a blast with this.

Extras include two commentary tracks, one with Mancini and Tilly,  the other with Mancini and FX wiz Tony Gardner. There are also interviews with Gardner (19 minutes), John Waters (6 minutes), and Chucky himself (2 minutes) as well as a 'Family Slide Show' (3 minutes), storyboard to film sequences (14 minutes) and an archival making of (19 minutes). If you don't watch anything else Jennifer Tilly In Romania is a two minute must-see that cements her reputation as someone with a great sense of humour. There are also trailers, an image gallery, and a deleted scene with commentary. 

Disc Six: Curse of Chucky (2013)

The longest period between Chucky films also resulted in one of the best. In fact one could go so far as to say CURSE OF CHUCKY is the best in the franchise since the first film. 

In a creepy old house in the middle of nowhere lives wheelchair-bound Nica (Fiona Dourif, daughter of Brad) with her mother. A large box mysteriously arrives in the mail and, to no-one’s surprise except those on the screen, is revealed to contain Chucky (voiced once again by Brad Dourif). Chucky kills mum, who is found dead from a presumed self-inflicted stab wound. In the wake of her mother’s death, Nica’s sister Barb (Danielle Bisutti) arrives with her husband, daughter, live-in nanny and a priest, all of whom are going to come in handy to up the ensuing body count. 

It’s obvious writer-director Don Mancini still loves his creation, and this love comes through with this thoroughly enjoyable old school horror romp. Brad Dourif is excellent as always and the real revelation here is his daughter Fiona who does an excellent job of making Nica a three-dimensional character that you’ll be rooting for by the end.

Extras include a commentary track with Mancini, Fiona Dourif and Tony Gardner, interviews with Alex Vincent and Danielle Bisutti, three making of featurettes, deleted scenes, storyboard comparisons and a brief gag reel.

Disc Seven: Cult of Chucky (2017)

The final Mancini feature before he and his creation moved to television. This time Chucky's in an asylum, where he has followed Mica (Fiona Dourif) who is now incarcerated having been found guilty of the murders in 2013's CURSE OF CHUCKY. But is it really him? Because surely that's the remnant of his talking head that Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) has in a safe? Who is delivering all the other Good Guy dolls to the asylum? And more importantly, who is responsible for the spate of new murders? Don Mancini's latest Chucky sequel isn't perfect, and it isn't as riotously entertaining as CURSE, but there's some good stuff in here, and a climax that's absolutely worth waiting for as everything goes quite nuts. Not at all bad for what is essentially CHILD'S PLAY VII, especially as they've had the sense to let Jennifer Tilly out of her box again. 

Don Mancini & Tony Gardner provide the commentary this time, with Gardner also profiled in a featurette, and his daughter Kyra provides another in which she talks about working with her father. There's an interview with Alex Vincent (and a piece on his recording studio), two short making of featurettes, deleted scenes, trailers, and an image gallery.

Disc Eight: Living With Chucky (2022)

Not provided for review, and not in UHD in either set, this is Kyra Gardner's documentary on the CHILD'S PLAY franchise, very much concentrating (unsurprisingly) on the work contributed by her father Tony, but there are also interviews with other cast and crew, including Brad and Fiona Dourif. Extras include a commentary track from Kyra Gardner, plus three featurettes - candid conversations, favourite death scenes and strange families.

The Chucky Collection is out in an eight disc Blu-ray or six disc UHD and two disc Blu-ray set on Monday 18th December 2023

Thursday 23 November 2023

Inside the Mind of Coffin Joe (1964 - 2008)

"Excellent Box Set That's a Fine Tribute to a Unique Film-Maker"

You can't help but admire José Mojica Marins, the one-man Brazilian horror film industry who started off by making more mainstream fare, but when he was criticised for being too violent he decided to just go even further in that direction. With nothing to live up (or down) to, Marins created a body of work that thoroughly deserves the description 'extreme'. Arrow has put together a box set of ten of his films, many of them from new 4K transfers. These films are all low budget, most are over the top, and a couple may threaten to drive you insane. Overall, though, I came away from these films not just admiring but actually having some degree of affection for Mr Marins, who, as well as starring in all the films on here, gets to appear as his 'real' self in a couple of the extras on these discs. So let's take a look at what's in Arrow's set:

Disc One: 

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964)

This is where it all took off - both the iconic Brazilian horror character of Ze do Caixao aka Coffin Joe and the career of charismatic / visionary / raving mad writer-director-star José Mojica Marins. Coffin Joe is the local undertaker in a small Brazilian town. He deliberately flouts religious convention, believes himself to be superior to most men, and his one over-riding obsession is to continue his bloodline. Unfortunately his wife is unable to bear children so he kills her (kudos to actress Valeria Vasquez who allows a massive spider to crawl all over her) and pursues the girlfriend of his best friend Antonio, bashing Antonio's head in in the process. Joe gets his comeuppance for being such a complete and utter bastard but not before he's done in more victims, delivered a few raving monologues to camera, and gurned for Brazil as he beats people senseless.

There's no denying the vigour of Marins' film, which is professionally shot and edited, features some horrible murders, and an impressive, fully-formed 'villain you love to hate' in Coffin Joe with his top hat and murderous pointed fingernails. The film only runs 84 minutes but there's so much in it that's intense and delirious that it's actually quite enough, and that final shot is a winner in the annals of horror cinema.

Arrow's transfer is a 4K restoration and looks fantastic, and there's an archival commentary track from Marins in Portuguese with English subtitles. Extras kick off with Lindsay Hallam's 12 minute piece on Coffin Joe's Sadean Underworld in which she discusses the character in terms of being both Sadean libertine and Nietzschean superman. 'Damned - The Strange World of Coffin Joe' is a 65 minute documentary in which Marins himself discusses his life and career. As such it's a fascinating insight into the man himself and his career. Other members of his cast and crew join in as we go on and eventually the whole thing goes in a rather strange direction. Animal lovers be warned that this film contains both bullfighting and dog bestiality and yes, I was wondering quite why this stuff was in there too.

Otherwise we get some fragments of movies - BLODDY KINGDOM (1958) for which the sound has been lost but with a Marins commentary, ADVENTURERS' FATE (1958) a virtually unwatchable (in terms of print quality) Western and MY DESTINY IS IN YOUR HANDS (1963) which again is really rough in terms of print quality. There are also two trailers for AT MIDNIGHT I'LL TAKE YOUR SOUL. 

Disc Two: 

This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1967)

A direct sequel to AT MIDNIGHT which kicks off showing us that Coffin Joe actually survived the climax of that film, although he did need a prolonged stay in hospital, over which the distorted and frankly weird opening credits play. Once out he is now very much a figure of fear in the small Brazilian town where he lives, and Marins parades along the main street like the horror star he had very much become by this stage. Joe still wants the perfect son and kidnaps six women to torture with spiders and snakes, the plan being that the one who can withstand all this abuse is best suited to sire his offspring. However, one of his victims is already pregnant and before she dies she curses him with the title of the film.

The highlight of THIS NIGHT is undoubtedly Joe's kidnapping by a stick-thin Dr Freudstein-like figure that drags him down to hell. While most of the film is shot in black and white the hell sequences are in colour and, as if we were in any doubt, feel very much like that creation of a lunatic Bosch-inspired imagination. Like AT MIDNIGHT it's a bit old and bit creaky but if you can suspend your disbelief this is weird, disturbing stuff from a unique talent who deserved his horror star status, both as actor and writer-director.

The Strange World of Coffin Joe (1968)

Coffin Joe doesn't actually appear in this one, unless you include the opening title sequence that's accompanied by the 'Coffin Joe Song', a piece of music that sounds more like a communist party marching anthem. Instead STRANGE WORLD is an anthology picture consisting of three very good short stories. The Dollmaker tells the tale of four men who attempt to rob the title character and get up to no good with his four daughters, with horrific results, Obsession is about a balloon seller whose obsession with a young woman goes beyond her death, and finally there's Ideology which stars Marins himself and is a piece of nasty conte-cruele-style horror that could have been taken from the most lurid of the shudder pulps. In other words it's excellent. Marins plays a professor with some daft theories that result in his taking a couple on a tour of his own personal cannibal sex orgy torture dungeon. Frequently eye-opening, it would be shame to spoil the horrors Marins presents to the audience here.

Extras on disc two include archival commentaries by the director on the two films, as well as trailers for both. You also get an alternate ending for STRANGE WORLD. Miranda Corcoran provides a 17 minute video essay that attempts to link the character of Coffin Joe to both Freddy Krueger and US TV horror hosts of the 1950s. But by far the highlight of the disc, and indeed one of the highlights of the entire set, is Stephen Thrower's 88 minute 'Eccentric of Cinema', the main body of which looks at the life and career of Jose Mojica Marins up to and including THIS NIGHT I'LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE, with his subsequent work added as a footnote. It's fascinating stuff, well presented as always, and a must watch. 

Disc Three:

Awakening of the Beast (1969)

Four drug addicts are given LSD as part of an experiment and experience a journey into the very strange world of Coffin Joe. That's about it for plot with this one. There's a lengthy black and white build up to the colour hallucinatory sequence which features things never seen before (and possibly afterwards) in cinema. The buildup itself features the addicts, involved in a number of bizarre situations. Because AWAKENING is essentially a series of whacked-out vignettes some may find it hard going and you may want to have another, more 'normal' film lined up for afterwards to bend your brain back into shape. But if you fancy watching it again there's an archival director's commentary to keep you company.

Finis Hominis / The End of Man (1971)

Jose Mojica Marins plays the title character (of course he does) in yet another  oddity. A naked man emerges from the sea and, once someone has given him a trippy costume complete with turban, begins to perform magnanimous acts. A priest dubs him 'Finis Hominis' (though I'm still not quite sure why) and soon his acts of benevolence are known nationwide and are inspiring a cult. There are some asides into the lives of people who are up to no good, which Mr Finis then sorts out, and the by now familiar ranting monologues from Mr Marins. As with AWAKENING there's an archival commentary to go along with this one, too.

Other extras include the irrepressible Guy Adams discussing the work of Marins from a neurodivergent point of view (18 minutes), Alexander Heller-Nicholas discussing the gender politics of Marins' work (18 minutes), trailers, and alternate opening titles for AWAKENING that includes a different song. 

Disc Four:

When the Gods Fall Asleep (1972)

Or, Finis Hominis Rides Again! Did anyone really need a sequel to FINIS HOMINIS? Well here it is anyway, as our messiah-like figure escapes from his mental institution (admittedly they don't seem to be trying to hard to keep him there) and wanders Sao Paulo bringing harmony to gang warfare, resolving gypsy fights, and doing what Marins does, if not best, then certainly an awful lot, delivering long pontifications on the nature of life and death. No commentary this time, but if you manage to get through this one without using the fast forward button give yourself a pat on the back.

The Strange Hostel of Naked Pleasures (1976)

The best thing about this one is the title (and it really is a great title). Otherwise this is a supremely disappointing affair given the plot and the fact it's from the same man who gave us THE STRANGE WORLD OF COFFIN JOE. People turn up at Coffin Joe's boarding house and indulge in acts of decadence that are considerably duller than in Marins' previous films. If you can stick with the film you'll soon guess where it's going, which is fun but it's really lacking the distinct oomph of those earlier movies.

Extras-wise run, don't walk, to Raymond Castile's short film THE BLIND DATE OF COFFIN JOE. It only lasts eight minutes but if you've watched the set in order so far this is very funny, with a spot-on performance of the title character by Castile. Otherwise you bet Virginie Sélavy on Marins and the surrealist movement (25 minutes), Jack Sargeant on Marins' filmography, talking about eyeball violence and more (13 minutes), Brazilian film-maker Dennison Ramahlo on his olife with Coffin Joe (11 minutes) and finally, a warm and touching portrayal of Marins at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, with special guest appearance by Michael Stipe of REM.

Disc Five:

Hellish Flesh (1977)

One of my personal favourite Marins films, INFERNO CARNAL eschews rambling philosophising and random happenings for a tightly plotted conte cruele in the Pan Books of Horror style. I covered the plot of this one in much greater detail eleven years ago here. Suffice to say Arrow's transfer is sparkling and the subtitle translation is rather better this time around. 

Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind (1978)

There are a lot of clips from previous Coffin Joe movies in this one, which serve not so much as padding as a lunatic odyssey through the hell dimension of the mind of Jose Mojica Marins. The minimal but fun plot has a man believing the character of Coffin Joe is real and is after his wife. Marins, playing himself, is called in by psychiatrists to help, which he does. Or does he? 

Because of the amount of repetition from previous movies this is either the film to watch last (and possibly on fast forward) or first but with something psychologically therapeutic on hand for after. It's actually a lot of fun and the final shot had me smiling, but I've watched this box set through in just a few days so perhaps the spirit of Coffin Joe was affecting me a bit by this time.

Extras include an archival commentary track. Film-maker Andrew Leavoid on Marins' filmography (31 minutes), and a 15 minute piece from Kat Ellinger linking Marins' films to both Nietzsche and the gothic.

Disc Six:

Embodiment of Evil (2008)

The Coffin Joe trilogy concludes with this final entry, made 40 years after part 2. It's best watched after the first two films and has call backs to them. Coffin Joe is released from prison after forty years (we get a flashback to see how he survived the end of part 2) and sets about his usual business, looking for a woman to sire his child and proving in the process (as if it were needed) that Jose Mojica Marins was still the reigning king of torture porn in 2008. If you can stand the extremity of some of this (and why are you here if you can't?) then EMBODIMENT OF EVIL is actually a pretty good film and provides a very satisfactory end to the saga, and to the box set.

Extras include a commentary track with co-writer Dennison Ramalho and producer Paula Sacramento. Ramalho also features on two interviews, one recorded especially for this disc and which is about the film (37 minutes) and another from the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, conducted by Zoom, which runs to a whopping 85 minutes and discusses his career relationship with Marins.

There's also a 32 minute 'official' making of and a 13 minute sanity-wrecking 'experimental' making of - you have been warned. Add to that 12 minutes of deleted scenes (with commentary), VFX and storyboard footage and footage of the premiere at Fantasia and this disc is a fitting tribute to Marins' final Coffin Joe movie.

INSIDE THE MIND OF COFFIN JOE is a six-disc Blu-ray box set that has now had its release date pushed back to Monday 15th January 2024