There is absolutely no reason on God's green earth that a 1990 slasher sequel released to an original from 1988 should end up being a good movie, even less so given that both of the films in question aren't just slashers, they're unwieldy hybrids of slasher, fairy tale, and police procedural (the first one, at least). And yet, I'll freely admit to getting a bit of a kick out of Child's Play 2, which honestly strikes me as preferable to the original Child's Play: it does, yes, lack the novelty of the original, but in embracing its identity as a tacky horror movie, and totally scrapping the murder mystery angle that made the original so wobbly, it manages to be a damn sight more fun to watch. It's tempting to credit this, at least partially, to Don Mancini, who gets a writing credit all to himself this time, without having all the other cooks who helped to push Child's Play towards obvious insipidity at the expense of the ambiguity that is (allegedly) present in the original version of the script, though surely that can't be all of it.

Setting that aside for the moment, CP2 starts a little while after the original film wrapped up, with the murderous "Good Guy" doll Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif), infested with the soul of a serial killer, all burned and shot and dismembered and all. In the aftermath, young Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) finds himself thrown into the arms of Child Protective Services, since his obviously crazy mother has been institutionalised for raving on and on about a murderous toy. The kindly social worker in charge of his case (Grace Zabriskie) sends him to the home of a pair of habitual foster parents, Joanne (Jenny Agutter) and Phil Simpson (Gerrit Graham), who are already taking care of an angry 17-year-old girl named Kyle (Christine Elise). All seems well, despite Phil's concern that Andy just ain't right and can't necessarily be trusted.

But, here's the rub: the chairman (Peter Haskell) of Play Pals, the company that makes Good Guy dolls and accessories, is under a good deal of media attention to prove that the horrible incident just winding down was not the fault of the toy or the manufacturer, and so he has endeavored to bring the blasted-out Chucky to his labs for a good refurbishing. To the shock of, I pray, nobody at all, this process ends up reviving the little ginger bastard, who takes out the chairman's primary lackey (Greg Germann) before calling the social worker's office as Andy's "Uncle Charles", and in no time at all, Andy is watching in horror as that damned doll has insinuated himself into the Simpson home, taking the place of a different - i.e. neither sentient nor psychopathic - Good Guy doll named Tommy. For Chucky, you may recall, needs to transfer his soul into Andy's body, and soon, or he shall be trapped in that lucite prison forever.

Two for two Child's Play pictures at this point, and I am startled to find that they share this quality: they simply don't have much in the way of plot. The sequel can be readily divided into thirds, that go about like this: First, Andy settles in uncomfortably with the Simpsons while Chucky hunts for him; Second, Chucky slowly draws in closer to Andy, causing petty mischief that Andy gets blamed for, and instantly murdering anybody who gets in his way or figures out who he really is; Third, with just about everybody of note dead, Andy and Kyle escape to the remarkably unconvincing factory where the Good Guys are manufactured by a magic, even Wonka-esque unmanned assembly line.

And that's really it: three acts, three basic scenarios that are replayed several times in each of those acts. It ought to be crushingly tedious; the same flaw was already there in the first movie, and it wasn't half so repetitive as this one. Yet, for all the nothing that happens, it happens at a brisk pace: director John Lafia (graduating from co-writer of the original) doesn't do much to improve on Tom Holland's lackadaisical visual sensibility (or what passes for it), although his framing of the bright white Good Guys factory is pretty darn effective, but he proves to be absolutely fantastic at, is nudging the thing forward. It's a movie that feels shorter than it is, and that is never a bad thing. Lord knows Child's Play 2 isn't a supple or vital or living movie, and the film's resolute inability to have any more nuanced plot than, "people think Andy is crazy and Chucky kills them" isn't enough to set it on a pedestal in any other context than "a slasher-influenced horror movie released in 1990". And yet, that is the film's context, and it thrives there.

Part of it is the second film's clarity of purpose: wisely recognising that the first film, did all the heavy lifting of explaining the concept and setting up the characters, Mancini and Lafia and series producer David Kirschner jump right into the action. We walk into the theater knowing Chucky kills, he needs Andy for blah blah MacGuffin, and anyway it's always a good way to ramp the tension up fast by putting a kid in peril, though as before Andy isn't really the protagonist after the mid-way point (although Vincent gives a far better performance than he did last time); in fact, Child's Play 2 solidifies its transition into slasher territory by anointing Kyle as a textbook Final Girl (too textbook, even: the Final Girl tradition of androgynous names does not usually require giving the girl an name that would only ever in any situation be given to a boy), of the sub-breed that must also protect a child in addition to herself.

But the greater point: the filmmakers seem to grasp this time around that their audience doesn't actually care about all that fluff with the voodoo and the not-romance between the mom and the cop; the people who would pay to see this movie want to see a doll with a knife. Done.

In addition to being clearer and more direct, the film is thus also a better horror movie, though still not a very good one (you could count the good films that are slasher films on the fingers of a bomb-maker's hands), owing mostly to cinematographer Stefan Czapsky's infinitely subtler use of shadow and darkness than his predecessor - in which context, it's worth pointing out that in the same year, he shot Edward Scissorhands* - and to the remarkable improvements made in the Chucky puppet, a marvelous achievement of craftsmanship and the technician's art that boasts a genuinely uncanny range of emotion for a special effect in what is not, when all is said and done, a very high budget movie (there's a moment in which Chucky, pretending to be a normal doll, briefly forgets that his alias is "Tommy"; the doll's brief flicker of doubt is such a perfect blend of broad humor and wit that I really would speak of it in terms of performance as we might of an actor). As much as the doll's design was the best part of the first movie, the sequel knocks it out of the park, and maybe that is the reason I prefer it.

If I'm not focusing on the film's significant problems, it's at least partially because they're so damn obvious that I don't know why I'd need to. The script isn't just littered with weird holes and jumps of logic and contrivances and plain ol stupidities: it's more like it has been wholly constructed out of them, and anything that accidentally makes sense was a terrible oversight. Certainly, the film's broken understanding of the foster care system is mind-blowing: I can't begin to imagine that anyone would freely tell "Uncle Charles" where Andy lives over the phone, nor do I believe it possible that a kid with such fresh trauma in his life would be tossed into a new school with a teacher so obviously hellbent on making things hard for him. So on, so forth, et cetera, et al.

The biggest problem of them all, though, is probably that the movie does nothing at all to combat the silliness of the premise. It's hard to sell a doll as a credible antagonist, that's just the reality of the situation, and the original film already had some problems on that front; but it reaches somewhat absurd levels in this film right around the point that the, what, 6-pound Chuck is able to leverage himself enough to pull a grown man through wooden basement stairs. It pains me to say that Dourif's performance adds to this - he was such a marvel in the first one - but there's a strange quality in his performance that isn't as much threatning as it is showboating: at times it sounds like a Jack Nicholson impersonation, at others like an evil Danny DeVito, and never like the edgy psycho of the original movie.

For all that, I can't help myself: the movie has its own zestiness; it is punchy and energetic throughout, and that counts for quite a bit. Put it a different way, even when it's bad, it's never boring, and in a genre this bound by convention and formula, "not boring" is quite a hell of a compliment. That it flirts with actual quality at points - Chucky's "death" has a nice Cronenbergian body-horror tinge to it, for example - is nice, but that it stay away from banality is far more precious.

Body Count: 6, a fantastically appropriate number for a second entry in a body count franchise: higher than the first, but not so high that it seems distasteful, nor leaves the future movies without wiggle room.

Reviews in this series
Child's Play (Holland, 1988)
Child's Play 2 (Lafia, 1990)
Child's Play 3 (Bender, 1991)
Bride of Chucky (Yu, 1998)
Seed of Chucky (Mancini, 2004)
Curse of Chucky (Mancini, 2013)
Cult of Chucky (Mancini, 2017)

*Also of note: when the fuck did Edward Scissorhands get to be 21 years old?