All hail the slasher revival. Just look at the recent box office success of Scream Six. Meanwhile, long-running franchises, like Friday the 13th, are getting TV shows (“Crystal Lake” on Peacock). The foul-mouthed Chucky is at the center of this renewed interest in slice-and-dice icons. The pint-sized killer has several movies and now his own TV show, renewed for a third season.
Don Mancini’s creation has evolved from a late-80s slasher to a symbol for the LGBTQ community. The franchise has stayed relevant for 30-odd years, during the highs and lows of the subgenre, by reinventing itself. However, compared to A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, the franchise lacked an impressive documentary. Well, Chucky fans, eat your heart out. The redhead finally has a noteworthy doc, Living with Chucky, directed by Kyra Elise Gardner, daughter of head puppeteer Tony Gardner. The film comes to Screambox on April 4 and it’s a must-see for Child’s Play fans.
Much of the runtime examines each specific film and features exclusive interviews with series mainstays, including Alex Vincent (Andy), Jennifer Tilly (Tiffany), Billy Boyd (Glen), father and daughter horror icons Brad and Fiona Dourif, among others. It also includes several behind-the-scenes looks at the impressive effects and puppeteer work that went into each film. Just from a filmmaking and horror perspective, these sequences are fascinating. Kudos to the doc for giving credit to all the effects folks who consistently bring these killer dolls to life. Say what you want about the franchise’s highs and lows, but the creators have committed to using practical effects over the years as opposed to CGI.
Fan favorites like the OG film and Bride of Chucky are given plenty of time in the spotlight. If I have one gripe, it’s that Child’s Play 2 is barely covered. It’s one of the strongest entries in the long-running series. Meanwhile, Seed of Chucky is addressed through a contemporary lens, considering the trans character of Glen. The doc questions if the film didn’t earn big box office bucks because it was overly campy, or if it was slightly ahead of its time. Mancini comments that he wanted to turn the franchise on its head by Seed, while making the franchise an “ambassador” for gay horror. Genre critic Anthony Timpone, meanwhile, thinks the film was simply too much of a spoof. Considering the attack on trans rights lately, this attention on Seed feels incredibly relevant and warranted right now.
The doc’s premise also centers on family. The director wanted to make this film because she’s been living with this series for most of her life, due to her dad. She set out on a mission to meet other cast members and SFX artists. You get a sense from Mancini, the Dourfis, and others that the cast and crew feel like a family, too. It’s a touching aspect for a doc about a killer doll.
The documentary could have spent more time interviewing fans of the franchise. Why do characters like Chucky, Tiffany, Glen, and Andy mean so much to so many people? Why has this franchise endured for so long? Fandom is reduced to the waning few minutes of the documentary and mostly includes limited convention footage. That’s the only aspect that’s lacking here. Otherwise, this is a riveting film about one of the most popular horror icons of the last 30 years. Finally, Chucky gets his own documentary. It’s long overdue.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.