There’s a life-size cardboard stand-up display in the theate lobby that looks like one of those things at an amusement part, where you stick your head through the hole so that your face can be photographed on top of a body standing next to a celebrity. Only here, the celebrity is Chucky, the demented doll from the CHILD’S PLAY slasher movie series. The display advertises the upcoming film SEED OF CHUCKY. And the advertising tagline is — listen to this —
“Get a load of Chucky.”
In the Los Angeles Times, there’s a full-page ad from Rogue Pictures, the company distributing the excellent horror-drama-comedy SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Tucked down in the lower left corner is a tiny ad for Rogue’s upcoming release SEED OF CHUCKY. And the advertising tag line is — listen to this —
“Coming everywhere November 12th.”
The double entendres seem so blatant that you don’t need to be Sigmund Freud to figure out the crude sexual innuendo. Yet so far I havent’ heard a peep or protest anywhere. (Compare this to the reaction to AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME, which had some sensitive souls upset that a euphemism for the sex act could find its way into the title of a nationwide release.)
Now, part of the point of the horror genre is to tweak sensibilities, to cross borders and step over the line, so I don’t want to object to the ad campaign for SEED OF CHUCKY on moral grounds. But my feeling is that, if you’re going for an “in your face” campaign based on tasteless innuendo, it’s kind of pointless if there’s no moral outrage from conservative quarters. I’m sure Rogue Pictures would love it if they were denounced by Jerry Falwell and/or George W. Bush on national television — the free publicity would be an absolute bonanza — so I’m writing this editorial to alert those conservative commentators who have apparently allowed the sexually suggestive ad phrases to fly under their radar.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I have never found the Chucky movies to be the least bit interesting. The devil doll/ventriloquist dummy genre is a pretty limited one; it has yielded some wonderful movies and TV episodes (e.g., the Michael Redgrave sequence of the 1945 British horror film DEAD OF NIGHT; the TWILIGHT ZONE episode “The Dummy,” starring Cliff Robertson), but it was pretty well used up by the time CHILD’S PLAY came along. The only thing that film did was to take the old cliche and use it as ane excuse for another slasher franchise. Chucky isn’t scary because he’s a doll come to life; he’s scary because he bashes and slashes his victims, just like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers.
What’s also interesting is that the Chucky movies were never blockbusters. They turned a profit because they were modestly budgeted and they attracted a big enough teen audience to turn a profit. The premise was limited, in terms of establishing a viable franchise, so the sequels saw rapidly diminishing returns. Things picked up a bit with BRIDE OF CHUCKY, which sold itself more as spoof than a horror film. Now SEED OF CHUCKY tries to cash in on this approach, but the result, judging from the trailer, looks a trifle lame.
You see, stealing a plot point from SCREAM 3 (and come to think of it, that film was retreading territory that director Wes Craven had already explored in WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE), the new Chucky film deals with Chucky crashing a Hollywood set where they a filming a Chucky movie. You may imagne this should be a laugh riot, but the trailer’s jokes elicit groans rather than guffaws. (“She came on to me,” says Chucky to his Bride, when she catches him next to a pregnant actress,played by Jennifer Tilly. “No wonder here career’s in such a mess,” replies the doll bride, who’s voiced by Jennifer Tilly. Get it? Tilly’s voice is trashing her own career! Isn’t that a laugh riot? Are you falling off your chair yet? No?)
There is one undoubtedly hilarious moment in the trailer, when Chucky is driving a car at night and rapidly approaching a vehicle ahead of him. The driver in the other car turns to look back at Chucky, and we see that it is Brittany Spears. Cut to a wider angle, and we see the car going off the road and bursting into a flaming explosion. The audience waiting to see SHAUN OF THE DEAD erupted into grateful applause at this point, and who can blame them? (One hopes this is how the scene plays in the actual movie, but it wouldn’t be the first time that a trailer edited together shots to create a misleading impression. We’ll have to wait and see.)
The irony of the Chucky advertising campaign is that it is being tied to Rogue Pictures release of SHUAN OF THE DEAD, a film that avoids the camp approach of the Chucky films. American horror films do not have a very impressive track record lately,f or this very reason: too off, the approach is to assume that cheap jokes and jolts are enough, and forget about making a movie that is genuinely engrossing — just try to make it gross.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD points in a direction that could lead to a revivification for the genre: make it funny and fun, but also make it good, instead of stupid. You won’t lose the horror audience (they’ll sitll come for the scares), but you will reach a broader audience, who wants something in a film besides a wisecracking serial killer offing moronic victms.