Shocktober 1: Chucky’s now a ’smart’ robot

By Tom Von Malder | Oct 18, 2019
Photo by: Orion/20th Centrury Fox Home Entertainment How many teenagers would actually want an AI robot if it looked like Buddi in the "Child's Play" reboot?

Owls Head — Child’s Play (Orion/20th Century Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 90 min.). In this reimaging of 1988’s “Child’s Play,” which spawned six sequels and made the doll Chucky a semi-lovable villain, Chucky starts out as a Buddi robot with “smart” capabilities so it can run one’s home, call for an automated ride etc. Zed Mart worker Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza of “Dirty Grandpa”) brings a returned, damaged Buddi home as an early birthday present for her son (Gabriel Bateman, brother of actor Justin Bateman, as Andy Barclay) and the erratic “toy” decides it likes the name Chucky.

The original Chucky was a doll that contained the soul of a serial killer. Here, director Lars Klevberg (“Polaroid”) and writer Tyler Burton Smith present Chucky as a corrupted artificial intelligence – think an Alexa that can walk and has gone bad -- that is not at all lovable, especially with its occasionally glowing red eyes. The result is Chucky is creepy and usually up to no good. However, Chucky is not the only creepy character here; there also is apartment building handyman Gabe (Trent Redekop). Veering into George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” territory, the screaming and body-mutilating climax takes place in the Zed Mart, where customers anxiously await their chance to buy one of the five versions of Buddi 2.

After a TV ad for the Buddi doll that shows its “smart” capabilities, we see a just-fired worker in the Kaslan factory in Vietnam take a bit of revenge by turning off all the safety features in one Buddi doll. Of course, that is the doll that Andy receives. Chucky is prone to repeating swear words, acts out the stabbings in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” takes care of the aggressive family cat (named Mickey Rooney) and gives Karen’s no-good boyfriend (David Lewis as Shane) some of his own medicine. Chucky is voiced by Mark Hamill of the “Star Wars” films.

From a clever beginning, the film soon turns all-slasher, with a bad visual gnome joke and rather gory deaths. The second death in particular is bad, yet at the same time funny. Andy picks up two friends who are turned on by Chucky’s misdeeds – Beatrice Kitsos as Falyn and Ty Consiglio as Pugg – and makes friends with a kindly neighbor (Carlease Burke as Doreen), who just happens to be the mother of police Det. Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry). One of the pluses is Bear McCreary’s score, which includes a Hamill-sung “Buddi Song.”

Extras include audio commentary by Klevberg; a making-of featurette (5:05); a look at how Chucky was brought to life through nine versions, animatronics and even a bit of CGI (3:16); a photo gallery; and two short Lee Hardcastle Claymation cartoons (48 secs. Each). Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.75 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Annabelle Comes Home (Warner Bros., Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 106 min.). This is the third Annabelle film set in the Conjuring Universe and it is the least compelling, despite the bookend presence of regulars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, who play real-life occult investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. (The film is dedicated to Lorraine, who died this year.) The haunted doll Annabelle first was introduced with the opening words of James Wan’s 2013 film, “The Conjuring.” A couple of young nurses were discussing the doll, which is inhabited by a sinister presence that wants to possess a human spirit.

The Warrens, of course, brought the doll home to add to their collection of cursed possessions, seeking to contain its evil. The film picks up exactly where the opening scene of “The Conjuring” ended. We see the Warrens place the doll behind lock and key in a box made of sacred glass. On their way home with the doll, their car stalls out and they see lots of dead people, as the doll “is a beacon for other spirits.”

The film jumps forward a year, to just before their daughter Judy’s 11th birthday. Ed and Lorraine have to go on an overnight trip, so Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman of the two recent “Jumanji” films) is hired to babysit Judy (Mckenna Grace). Unfortunately, Mary Ellen’s unregulated friend (Katie Sarife as Danielle) invites herself over, as she has been intrigued by an article on the Warrens in the newspaper. Daniella goes poking where she shouldn’t and soon Annabelle is out of her box and spirits start attacked the three young woman. A shy boy (Michael Cimino as Bob) who likes Mary Ellen also gets involved in the supernatural goings on.

The film is more suspense than horror for the longest – too long – time, as it has a slow, steady buildup. This is the third “Annabelle” script by Gary Dauberman, but his first time directing. The best of the extras is a look at the four main supernatural beings: Alexander Ward as the Demon, whom one can barely make out in the film, and the Ferryman (5:18); Natalie Safran as the Bloody Bride (2:57); and Douglas Tait as the Werewolf (3:07). The latter two are both new to the Conjuring Universe. Additionally, there are seven deleted scenes (11:28), including the girls discussing ghosts and an alternate ending that is not as good; a look at Wilson and Farmiga’s portrayal of the Warrens through the film series (4:26); and a fine look at what is in the artifact room, including a prop from “Aquaman” (5:07). Wan, who wrote the story here, directed “Aquaman.” Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 2.75 stars

The Lingering (China, Well Go USA, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 87 min.). First-time directors Ho Pong Mak and Derrick Taoby present a story of a mother and young son who are haunted by a spiteful ghost, possibly the spirit of one of the men who were killed in a workplace disaster, allegedly caused by her late husband. During this night of terror, the woman had not yet learned of the disaster and her husband’s death, but the young boys sees “a strange Uncle” outside and later plays marbles with him. The entity then turns more aggressive.

The film then jumps forward 30 years and the boy, Xin Zhong, has grown up to be a successful chef and owner of his own restaurant, which an acquaintance is offering to turn into a five-restaurant franchise if Xin Zhong can raise 20 percent of the cost. Frankly, this grown-up version of the boy is not at all likable, despite having a likable girlfriend in Lily (Yao Tong). He receives two calls from the village chief of the town where he grew up: the first says his mother is missing; the second is that she possibly has been found dead, drowned with the body too bloated to make a positive identification. The son must return to make the identification and settle her affairs.

A very aggressive real estate agent tries to convince Xin Zhong to sell his mother’s house – he even follows them to the house and uses a loud hailer to try to convince a sale. The real estate agent notices some strange things in the house and Lily is later attacked by an entity in their hotel room. The hotel attack scene is the only standout moment in the film. The reason for the entity going after Lily, even at the hospital, is never explained, and the film turns from horror to sentimentality. There are no bonus features. Grade: 2 stars

Malevolence (2004, Mena Films, Blu-ray + DVD, R, 85 min.). This was the first in a trilogy of films by producer-writer-director, and even composer, Stevan Mena, to be followed by a prequel and then a sequel. This first film is more a homage to other slasher films, although Mena also says he was inspired by “Psycho” as well, in that the story shifts a half-hour in. While this film is serviceable, the prequel is a masterpiece, but the third film is a bit directionless. It is amazing that with three films on the same subject, there are such different quality results.

The subject is a 6-year-old boy, Martin Bristol, who is kidnapped from the swing set outside his home by a serial killer. That serial killer, Graham Sutter, then raises the boy in his family’s rundown, former slaughterhouse, forcing the boy, in effect, to become his accomplice as Martin has to clean up after Sutter mutilates his female victims. Much of that backstory, which is set to illustrate the question of whether nurture or nature, environment or genetics dominates during upbringing, comes in the second film, though.

This first film starts with a bank heist that becomes a shootout. Julian (Brandon Johnson of TV’s “One Life to Live”) is an unwilling participant, egged into it by his girlfriend (Heather Magee as Marylin) and the fact that he owes a lot of money to some apparently unsavory people. Marylin’s brother (Keith Chambers as Max) has planned the robbery and the fourth member of the gang is Kurt (Richard Glover of “Into the Woods” in only his second film). The time is 10 years after the abduction of Martin.

Kurt has chosen an abandoned house out in the country for meeting afterwards and sharing the loot. His car suffers a flat tire, though, and he hijacks a van at a gas station, taking Samantha Harrison (Samantha Dark) and her daughter Courtney (Courtney Bertolone, Mena’s niece) as hostages. When Courtney manages to escape, she ends up at the nearby Sutter slaughterhouse, looking for help – obviously the wrong place to go. Meanwhile, Max dies of a gunshot wound and, when Julian and Marylin arrive, they only find a bound Samantha.

The bank robbers are a bit dumb. For example, they near search Samantha’s van for the “missing” cash. The killer, of course, traces Courtney back to the house and more mayhem ensues. While we do not see the killer’s face until near the very end, it is obvious throughout that it is Martin, now 16. Mena also stoops to a dream sequence that seems like reality at first.

There are quite a few extras, including a strong making-of feature (31:27), with Mena explaining his history and efforts to have the film made. Due to running out of funds repeatedly, it took two years to film, and he even had to ransom the film negative at one point. Mena also does audio commentary with actor Johnson. Other featurettes include an interview with Dark (12:12); an interview with Gunnar Hansen, famous for playing Leatherface in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (5:16); Mena’s fundraising trailer (1:24); four deleted scenes, an alternate scene and four outtakes (total 9:59); some rehearsal footage (1:20): and a photo gallery (5:23). Grade: film. 2.5 stars; extras 3 stars

Malevolence 2: Bereavement (2011, Mena Films, Blu-ray + DVD, R, 109 min.). For his second film and the prequel to “Malevolence,” producer-writer-director Stevan Mena gets everything right and creates a true masterpiece of horror. The film is helped by the presence of some name actors, but even more so by creating characters that we care about, even though their fates are grim.

At the start, we learn a little more about Martin Bristol, just before he is kidnapped (see “Malevolence” above). His mother explains to a potential babysitter that Martin has CIPA (Congenital insensitivity to pain) which puts him at risk for infections and not being aware when he is cut or injured.

The film then jumps forward five years, with newly-orphaned Allison Miller (Alexandra Daddario of “Baywatch,” two “Percy Jackson” films) arriving to live with her Uncle Jonathan Miller (Michael Biehn of “The Terminator,” “Aliens,” “Tombstone”), his wife (Kathryn Meisle as Karen) and young daughter (Peyton List of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” films as Wendy). Allison had been living in Chicago, where she ran track for her high school team. Thus, Allison takes to running along the nearby roads, one of which runs right in front of the Sutter slaughterhouse (in the previous film it was much more remote) and on a couple of occasions, she sees a young boy (Martin Bristol) in the broken windows.

Meanwhile, we see Graham Sutter (Brett Rickaby of Hulu’s “Castle Rock”) continuing his abduction of young women and then torturing them in front of young Martin (Spencer List, Payton’s twin brother). Allison makes a new friend in William (Nolan Gerard Funk of TV’s “Glee” and “Awkward”), who helps her when she is nearly run over by a passing truck. They become friends to the dislike of both parents, with Jonathan thinking he is trouble and William’s dad (John Savage of “The Deer Hunter,” “Hair” as Ted) hurt by his own wife’s suicide and down on all women. After a construction accident in Chicago, Ted is confined to a wheelchair.

On one fateful day, Allison sees Martin in the window and enters the Sutter place and a whole bunch of deaths – many gruesome – follow. While inside, Allison finds Sutter’s notebooks, which were referenced at the end of the first film. After their end credits, a brief scene also ties in to the first film.

Mena makes the nurture versus nature question more obvious here, as it is part of a lecture in one of Allison’s classes. Again, Mena does an audio commentary and there is an interesting behind-the-scenes feature (34:36. There also are three deleted scenes (3:57), including an argument William has with his father); a photo gallery (4:52); and a first look on the set, which is plot heavy (7:04). Grade: film 4 stars; extras 3 stars

Malevolence 3: Killer (2018, Mena Films, Blu-ray + DVD, R, 88 min.). With the final film of the trilogy, which opens with a 3-minute repeat of the ending of the first film, it seems writer-director-producer-composer Mena ran out of inspiration. This is a strictly by-the-numbers slasher film, with questionable or unexplained motivations. Martin (now Jay Cohen) steals a van and escapes, the goes and terrorizing three female roommates in one house and a woman and her daughter next door for no apparent reason. (A flim-flam excuse is given 58 minutes into the film.)

FBI Special Agent Perkins (Kevin McKelvey) is assigned to the case and seems really inept. Trying to find the missing money from the first film, he and his partner stumble on the dead bodies of two of that film’s survivors. Of the three roommates who become threatened, and more, Ellie (Katie Gibson) is the only partially sympathetic one. She is saddled with a pushy, would-be boyfriend in John (Scott Kay) and is studying the violin in college. Meanwhile, in another town, we are introduced to Martin’s mother (Ashley Wolfe as Katherine Bristol) and his grandmother (Adrienne Barbeau of “Escape from New York,” “The Fog,” TV’s “Maude”), who apparently are just more fodder for the killer Martin has become.

We do not see Martin’s face for the first 48 minutes. The film, essentially, has one good scare. Mena again resorts to a scene that turns out to be a dream and, worse, has an open-ended close. However, this time the viewer really does not care about any of the victims.

Again, there is an audio commentary by Mena, who added director of photography and editor to his many roles this time, as well as a making-of/behind-the-scenes featurette (7:54), with some rehearsal footage: a photo gallery (2:23); and a look at his scoring of the film (7:12). It I s not a surprise that he loved all John Carpenter’s scores for his horror films. Grade: film 2 stars; extras 2.5 stars

Kung Fu Monster (China, Well Go USA, Blu-ray, NR, 104 min.). The film opens with colorful credits and upbeat 1960s-ish British music, but it soon devolves into a mess with uneven tone and some really, really dumb moments. Nature versus nurture again raises its head in this story that is partially about a cute little furball that was trained to be a devastating monster by Sun Yuho, aka Crane (Alex Fong). However, Feng Feng, aka Ocean (Louis Kuo), lets it escape.

A 30,000 taels bounty is put on return of the creature and a group of misfit thieves, down-on-their-luck soldiers and an old man or two end up together, trying to steal the reward instead of winning it. They turn a derelict inn into a “honey trap” for the soldiers they believe to be transporting the reward. There is a song and a montage of the many, many battling groups who are seeking the reward – many of whom get bowled over when one man is entangled in vines that create an ever-growing ball that tramples many of the reward seekers.

One of the fight sequences is mostly a shadow play, which is an unusual choice, and then there is a special effects-crazy battle sequence towards the end. There is one additional scene after the end credits, which also work in some behind-the-scenes stuff and acting flubs. The only extras are a brief interview of director Andrew Lau (“Internal Affairs” trilogy) that lasts 1:39; and an even briefer making-of tease (1:26). Grade: film 1.75 stars; extras dog

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