Rules are made to be broken and the rule that says "Sequels are always worse than originals" is the one that just got smashed by "Child's Play 2."
The sequel, in this case, is much better than the original, and one of the best B-horror flicks to come along since "Tremors," also a modestly budgeted but clever Universal production.
The premise of the original was stupid; repeated, it seems less irritatingly so. It was that the Lakeside Strangler, psycho killer and devil worshiper, shot by the Chicago police when he was taking refuge in a North Side toy store, managed through voodoo-hoodoo mumbo-jumbo to pass his infernal soul onto the nearest object at hand, which happened to be an elaborate boy-doll named Chucky.
When Chucky was purchased by a single mom for her son, all hell was loosed on earth, most of it directed at Alex Vincent, who played the boy in movie one and is still gamely around to absorb more abuse in movie two.
What constantly undercut the first film was the patent falsity of the illusion; up close, Chucky was a marginally acceptable gimmick, but in mid-shot he was a real doll, inert and lifeless, and in long shot he was clearly a little person, moving with human grace. None of the images fit together; in a movie like this, you have to believe and you couldn't believe.
Now, you can believe. The Chucky-thing has been technically upgraded: His face, clearly plastic, has been made agile and vivid of expression with eyes that actually focus or fall quickly into doll-like opaqueness, for camouflage. As for those magic-murdering long shots, the director, John Lafia, who co-wrote the original, simply and wisely avoids them.
The plot is simple but efficient -- in fact, the whole film might be described as "efficient." Young Andy Barclay (the excellent Vincent), his mother now undergoing psychological treatment, is placed in a temporary foster home. Meanwhile, the devil-doll has been rescued by the giant toy conglomerate that manufactured it and restored; it soon escapes, finds out where Andy is, and moves in.
From there, it's one lurid shock after another. The script adroitly plays with that particular childhood fear of knowing something but being unable to convince adults, as Andy tries to tell foster folks Jenny Agutter and Gerrit Graham of Chucky's malevolence. Meanwhile, people keep dying, usually in the quasi-witty, quasi-grisly way of the modern horror movie.
The director builds nicely toward the climactic sequence, played out in the robot plant where the Chucky-dolls are produced. As it turns out, this is an almost straight steal from the conclusion of "The Terminator," as it finishes amid dangerously grinding industrial machinery. It's not original, but it's nevertheless convincing -- and scary.
'Child's Play 2'
Starring Alex Vincent.
Directed by John Lafia.
Released by Universal.