Chucky the killer doll is equal parts celebrity, iconic movie prop, and for many, something close to a childhood friend. This is why I found myself with a strange blend of star-struck, reverence, and familiarity as I posed for a photo with the Chucky doll that this film’s director, Kyra Elise Gardner, brought with her to Fantastic Fest. The Child’s Play series has been a gateway to horror for countless young film fans, myself included. I share a birth year with the franchise, and a first name with the child protagonist played by Alex Vincent. It fit perfectly into the Kids Vs Monsters genre that I became obsessed with, and as a child of the 80s whose mother went to great lengths to secure the must-have toy of the holidays, I could not identify with this series more. But it is still a little strange to become giddy to see the plastic doll of a serial killer. This new documentary Living with Chucky highlights these phenomena and the unique connections and history with the doll for the franchises growing cast, crew, and families.
Reverential interstitials play during the open credits and between segments that show the complete creation of a Chucky prop, from the plastic molding and painting, the knitting, printing, and sewing of the costume, to the final assembly, eyes, and all. Two-thirds of the documentary’s run time serves as a behind-the-scenes history of the Chucky series, including the 7 feature films and leading up to the TV series, as well as the cultural impact they have had. Starting from the inspiration of the writer, Don Mancini, and the producer, David Kirschner, (Twilight Zone’s Talking Tina, the current Cabbage Patch Dolls craze, and Brian De Palma). Even Chuckey’s name, Charles Lee Ray, is an amalgamation of the infamous killers Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald, and James Earl Ray. We visit the production and reception of each entry as the VHS (or DVD) is played to mark the progression. While this is obviously intended for fans of the series, the archival footage and interviews provide all the required knowledge even for viewers completely new to the character.
The Chucky series follows an arc that is familiar to many horror franchise fans, from scary, to humorous / meta, back to more grounded and fear-focused. What is unusual with this series, is that it never changes writers, producers, voice actors, or continuities. No reboots (We don’t talk about 2019’s unconnected Child’s Play), and no legacy sequels that skip entries (See the many timelines in the Halloween Franchise). I cannot think of another example that pulls this off. Midway through the franchise, a new animation effects supervisor and lead puppeteer, Tony Gardner, is brought on to give life to Chucky. This is where the final third of the movie connects.
This documentary is being made by Kyra Elise Gardner, the daughter of Tony Gardner. Because of the uniquely unbroken continuity of Chucky, a large part of the cast and crew have continued to return to each entry and have become something of an extended family. In the 6th film, even Fiona Dourif (the daughter of the voice of Chucky) joins the franchise. Kyra has grown up with Chucky playing a large role in her life, as a physical presence with the props in her home, as well as taking her father away for weeks to months at a time during production. This movie is documenting her efforts to learn the full story of this 2nd family her father has, like someone trying to find out about their lost extended family or adopted sibling. It also served to highlight the strains the movie industry can place on family life, with long periods away in other countries and time zones.
Horror fans are passionate about our chosen genre. We love to be surprised, shocked, and disgusted by the magic tricks we see on screen. We love to learn how the tricks are performed, and we love the magicians that make it possible. I pride myself in knowing the names of those behind the camera, but I rarely think about their families. This provides a unique point of view that was surprisingly touching. I think I’m going to go buy my own Chucky doll and watch Child’s Play with my family this weekend. What could be better? Living With Chucky is Highly Recommended!