Living with Chucky, 2022.
Directed by Kyra Elise Gardner.
Starring Don Mancini, Brad Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, and Fiona Dourif.
A filmmaker who grew up alongside Chucky the killer doll seeks out the other families surrounding the Child’s Play films as they recount their experiences working on the ongoing franchise and what it means to be a part of the “Chucky family.”
Kyra Gardner, daughter of the Child’s Play series’ head puppeteer Tony Gardner, helms this passionately made if certainly-not-comprehensive docu-travelogue through the franchise from inception to present. Refreshingly free of structural complications, Gardner’s film sifts through the series’ first seven films in chronological order, chronicling the ups and downs – but mostly the ups – of each shoot.
As part of the “Chucky family,” Gardner has gained access to most prominent figures involved with the franchise, including creator Don Mancini, stars Brad Dourif, Fiona Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Alex Vincent, Christine Elise, and Billy Boyd, and wider genre figures such as Lin Shaye, Abigail Breslin, John Waters, and Marlon Wayans.
Living with Chucky succinctly contextualises how the series got its start, carving out a niche for itself when several other prominent horror franchises were running out of steam, while also noting how Mancini’s original concepts were workshopped into something more mainstream-friendly.
Yet what Gardner best conveys while revisiting each film’s production is the enormous technical complexity of realising Chucky (Dourif) himself, due to the predominant focus on practical effects. Even as the more recent direct-to-VOD entries have slashed the budgets to tricky-low levels, the series has maintained a practical emphasis, as continues to be a cornerstone of its appeal. Between the fine work of Tony Gardner and original Chucky designer and puppeteer Kevin Yagher, Chucky has retained a primal thrall that simply couldn’t be replicated digitally.
Gardner also cannily considers the series’ campier divergences, particularly in Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky, where Tiffany (Tilly) helped breathe fresh life into the IP, before Seed broke new ground by introducing Chucky and Tiffany’s genderfluid child, Glen/Glenda (Boyd) – even if the latter film failed to connect at the box office. Yet today, the series is arguably in better health than it’s ever been; Cult and Curse scored the series’ best-ever reviews despite foregoing theatrical releases, and the current TV series has managed to successfully tie the various Chucky “eras” together while proving a hit with fans and critics.
It’s fair to say, however, that the doc doesn’t divide itself between films anywhere near equally; Child’s Play 3, for instance – easily the most maligned entry in the series – gets basically a passing mention for all of a few minutes, and perhaps unsurprisingly there’s not a single reference made to the existence of 2019’s remake.
This is nevertheless an editorially fluid piece of work which bounces between cast and crew interviews, rarely-seen behind-the-scenes footage – such as a killer glimpse of Brad Dourif and Jennifer Tilly recording their lines together – and cute bespoke B-roll footage of a Chucky doll being assembled (reminiscent of the opening titles to Child’s Play 3).
The final third peels back to insert Gardner herself into the documentary, a decision which might feel self-serving were Gardner’s formative years not so clearly defined by the Chucky franchise and her father’s work on it. Though this segment shifts the focus away from the film’s more pointed examination of the series as a whole, it’s still an earnest tribute to both Gardner’s father and the familial nature of the series’ principle cast and crew.
Coming away from Living with Chucky, it’s easy to see how this could’ve been expanded into a longer-form mega-doc project along the lines of Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy or Crystal Lake Memories, and while it’s left wanting for more meat on its bones, it’s still a worthy endeavour that lends intriguing context to the legendary horror franchise.
If far from authoritative, this concise and consistently entertaining retrospective should prove an easy proposition for Chucky fans.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.