Frightfest presents Living with Chucky, available to rent or buy now.
In 2020, the daughter of Chucky puppeteer Tony Gardner, Kyra Elise Gardner, released a short Florida State University film exploring the Chucky family. This short would bring together the filmmakers, writers, puppeteers, actors and producers who have dedicated thirty years to a psycho doll born from our childhood nightmares. However, this seven-minute short hardly seemed long enough considering the extensive story of Chucky’s rise to fame. In recent years, the horror movie doc has become something of a must, from Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th to Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy. It is, therefore, surprising that it’s taken so long for Chucky to have his moment in the spotlight. Gardner delightfully builds on her 2020 short while veering away from the standard ‘making-of-documentary’ by exploring the unique creative family born from the pint-sized killer’s movies.
Don Mancini created the now infamous killer doll while studying at UCLA in the mid-80s with a screenplay initially titled Blood Buddy. Mancini was proud of his work but never expected David Kirschner to spot its cinematic potential; after all, this was the guy behind the animated family flick, An American Tale. But over several months, Kirschner fleshed out the screenplay with Mancini, and Child’s Play was born. The rest, as they say, is history. But the story is one hell of a fascinating ride.
Unlike many horror franchises that struggled to maintain public interest in the killer as time went on (I am looking at you, Friday the 13th!) Kirschner and Mancini openly and unapologetically tweaked and adapted Chucky’s character from the start; this meant that the Good Guy/Chucky found in Child’s Play (1988) bore little resemblance to Chucky now on our TV screens. It was a smart move that saw the traditional horror of the first two movies morph into the chaotic bedlam of The Bride of Chucky, Cult of Chucky and the new TV outing. The result was a unique horror franchise built on change, artistic risk and diversity.
Through interviews with Brad Dourif, Tony Gardner, Don Mancini, Alex Vincent, John Waters, Fiona Dourif and more, Living with Chucky is a beautiful celebration of the uniqueness of the franchise. Here Gardner not only explores the legacy of Chucky but the impact of the four-foot ginger-haired killer on family life. Here I was reminded of the 2021 documentary Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies, where Amanda Ladd-Jones created a profoundly personal space to explore the impact of Alan Ladd Jr’s career on his family life and his children. Gardner similarly examines how she grew up resenting the puppet who had kidnapped her father for weeks and months on end.
Meanwhile, Gardner’s discussions on the queer themes that run through the Chucky franchise are equally impressive as she allows Mancini and Co to freely explore the queer roots of the Chucky franchise that grew in its creative confidence over the decades. While it may sometimes skirt some of the more challenging themes in Chucky’s history, including the video nasty debate surrounding Child’s Play 3, Living with Chucky is an utter joy. The result is a fascinating exploration of a character who has been reinvented more times than your average superhero. Living with Chucky is a delightful ode to horror, comedy, puppeteering and the willingness to be bold and innovative on a limited budget. Over thirty years since Child’s Play hit our cinemas screens, a small and ferocious doll in dungarees continues to take us by surprise, and long may he do so.
CHUCKY SEASON ONE
Living with Chucky is a delightful ode to horror, comedy, puppeteering and the willingness to be bold and innovative on a limited budget. Over thirty years since Child’s Play hit our cinemas screens, a small and ferocious doll in dungarees continues to take us by surprise, and long may he do so.