Years worth of in-depth horror documentaries (including but not limited to Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, Scream: The Inside Story, etc.) have set my expectations high for this genre of film. Especially when it comes to a long-running series, the fans deserve to dive deep. With Living with Chucky, I wouldn’t exactly call this far-reaching; however, there is enough love and heart behind the camera and ample interviews with the tight-knit Chucky family that I nevertheless fell in love with the doc. Chucky is my second-favorite horror franchise after Scream, and for good reason. The attention to detail and Don Mancini constantly introducing new elements to the mythology mark a film franchise that is consistent, yet wildly varied. Toss in VHS and DVD interludes between films controlled by a cute-nailed unseen woman clearly meant to be Tiffany, and Living with Chucky is one highly entertaining documentary not to be missed.
Naturally, we begin with a montage of Chucky highlights that spans all seven movies in the series—an ideal table-setter for what is to follow. Young filmmaker Kyra Elise Gardner then takes us straight into the origins, beginning with 1988’s surprise smash hit, Child’s Play. Don Mancini happily chats about the script’s inceptions—the first movie was written during his time at UCLA, and was originally titled Blood Buddy. It lacked a true Frankenstein moment with the doll, but thanks to producer David Kirschner’s obsession with Victorian Dollhouse Murders, David became involved with this fresh idea to inject into the script. Tom Holland was responsible for casting Brad Dourif, and the rest is history! My favorite aspect of this segment is the friendship born between Alex Vincent and Don Mancini—at the time, Alex was just 6 while Mancini was 25, and yet they managed to eventually connect as true adults much later in life. Their bond is tangible as the series goes into the latter installments, and Alex’s character Andy makes a triumphant return.
As this doc steamrolls through entries one after the next, it provides intriguing insights and ample commentary. For Child’s Play 2, nine puppeteers worked on various parts of Chucky’s movement, adding to the fluidity of his character and personality along with the help of Dourif’s voice. Another new addition came in the form of Christine Elise’s Kyle, whose bond with young Vincent endures even to this day. There is quite a bit of commentary about what it means to grow up as a child actor—Scream Queens and Little Miss Sunshine actress Abigail Breslin gives her two cents on the topic in an admirable way. Child’s Play 2 is definitely one of the best in the series, doll factory finale included!
To this day, Child’s Play 3 for me is the weakest of the series, and it is clear that Gardner thinks so too judging by the sparse depth it receives before the VHS is promptly ejected. It still features a spectacularly epic death for Chucky, but the absence of Alex Vincent as Andy still leaves a sour taste in the mouth of many longtime fans. Filmed back to back with 2, Andy was aged up and sent to military camp. Mancini himself is not too fond of this one either, having stated in the past that he simply felt he was running out of ideas.
Being bereft of ideas is certainly not the case with the next two entries in the series. Bride of Chucky, my personal favorite, is when Chucky “started getting gay.” Iconic actress Jennifer Tilly signed on as Tiffany, Chucky’s psychotic ex-girlfriend, and the Frankenstein motif returned full-force. Mancini made this entry more meta and complex, filled with one-liners and gory action buoyed by excellent direction from Ronny Yu (who would go on to direct 2003’s epic Freddy vs. Jason). I loved seeing behind the scenes snippets of Jennifer in the recording studio with Brad as the two ran their lines together. Clearly a fan and crew favorite, nearly everyone speaks of their experience with Bride fondly, including Jennifer Tilly, whose anecdotes are a highlight of the documentary.
Seed of Chucky brought Billy Boyd’s Glen/Glenda into the mix—the transgender offspring of Chucky and Tiffany born at the conclusion of Bride. Sadly, they were forced to part ways with puppeteer Kevin Yagher, as Universal did not want to pay him to return. Tony Gardner fills in nicely on a very tight shooting schedule, and even gets a brutal death! I found it surprising that Billy Boyd recorded his lines alone, but his reverence and love for the series is tangible. Insight from John Waters about his death scene proves he was gleefully excited to be killed onscreen in such a nasty fashion. Various designs for Glen/Glenda are really interesting to see considering all they had to go off from the baby form was that they had sharp teeth.
Personally, I love Seed, but many fans view it as a weak point due to the emphasis on comedy. It was neither a critic nor financial success, resulting in a long (and very depressing) Chucky hiatus. Mancini’s budget was slashed in a major way in the nearly ten years between Seed and Curse of Chucky, but he does wonders with returning Chucky back to his evil roots, even in direct-to-video format. Finally, Fiona Dourif is brought into the fray, real-life daughter of Brad, as wheelchair-bound Nica. Ushering in this newer iteration of Chucky, I recall so much speculation about Curse finally breaking the decades-long continuity. Thankfully, Mancini does not follow this path, disguising it as a stealth-sequel that leads right into Cult of Chucky. Fiona in particular says she had great fun on this one, with the part now written specifically for her going forward. A story about the big kiss between Tiffany and Nica that resulted in swaths of smeared lipstick is a hilarious memory that Tilly and Dourif both seem to relish. An addition of multiple Chuckys and soul-splitting takes the mythology into a bold new direction, marking Cult of Chucky one of my favorite installments.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this whole endeavor is that as a queer creative, Mancini remains the sole voice behind decades of Chucky. That he still has total control over his creation from 1988 is worth of a standing ovation. Between Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky, Mancini began stringing together the series into a magnum opus, one that would eventually be further fulfilled by SyFy’s excellent Chucky (on which Mancini is also showrunner). He continues working with a sort of actor’s troupe, surrounding himself with a Chucky family. Keeping Chucky a practical, on-set puppet effect versus centering on CGI is a constantly mentioned plus of these gateway-horror doll movies. Coverage on the Chucky show is sadly missed, but this documentary was completed just as the team was headed out to film in Canada.
Living with Chucky does not skimp on interviews, which is great when one has heavyweights like Don Mancini, Jennifer Tilly, and Brad Dourif involved. Lin Shaye and Marlon Wayans are interviewed too, which both thrilled and surprised me as they have their own share of horror knowledge to contribute. Some of the best moments come in the latter portion of this documentary; just over an hour in, Living with Chucky shifts gears from series retrospective to personally reflective. Kyra Elise Gardner, the daughter of series puppeteer Tony Gardner (who took control from Seed of Chucky on), asks hard-hitting, fascinating questions that provide an entirely new perspective. I never thought about how lonely it would be to record all of Chucky’s lines alone in a booth, but Brad Dourif opens up about it in a surprising way. Overall, this is an incredibly endearing and meaningful doc. The “Chucky family” has nothing but nice things to say about Don Mancini, and about the horror community at large, mixed with the love they have felt from fans. In Kyra’s own words, “the family that slays together, stays together!”
Living with Chucky screened at 2022’s Popcorn Frights Film Festival.