A heartfelt doc that explores the world of “Chucky” and sheds new light on why this beloved franchise is about more than a killer doll.
Living With Chucky is the feature debut from Kyra Elise Gardner, who has a special connection to the killer doll franchise: her father was the lead puppeteer for Chucky in Seed Of Chucky, its sequels, and more recently, for the Chucky television series.
It’s a shame then that when production began on the documentary, the Chucky TV series was extremely fresh in development; therefore, it is only given a brief mention in the film.
Living With Chucky is very much a love letter to the enduring appeal of the franchise as well as a doting tribute to the cast and crew.
Kyra discusses the surreal experience of growing up with a homicidal doll as an adopted brother of sorts and of being surrounded by the actors, puppeteers, and the special FX teams who have all become extended family to the young director.
The documentary opens with a cool intro: a Chucky doll is molded and built from scratch as the opening credits begin.
All the minute details — from airbrushing on his little freckles to stitching together his iconic onesie before completing the process by adding his instantly recognizable shock of red hair — are all lit with moody bisexual lighting while Synthwave plays.
The intro feels like an 80’s B-Movie trailer for an adaptation of Frankenstein.
It works because Chucky himself is a Frankenstein’s Monster sort of anti-hero: he is encompassed of the worst parts of humanity. In spite of this, audiences adore him.
The opening sequence is also a neat reversal of how Chucky meets his fate during the climax of Child’s Play 2.
The documentary itself is delightful as we are treated to interviews with everyone from Tony Gardner, Brad Dourif, and Alex Vincent (who played the original andy Barclay) to newer franchise icons such as Jennifer Tilly and Brad’s daughter Fiona.
Famous fans of the franchise also chime in: Lin Shaye and John Waters discuss the impact Chucky has made upon themselves and within the Horror community at large.
The mastermind himself, Don Mancini, seems to be held in high regard by everyone who knows him. And this engaging documentary only seeks to reinforce his beloved status. Every actor, puppeteer, special FX artist, and producer reveres the man who gave them a job, a creative outlet, and their film family gained from working on the Child’s Play series.
Mancini never anticipated the impact which his movie would make, and he is still grateful for all the opportunities which a red-haired, maniacal killer doll has granted him.
This is where the documentary begins to meander a little.
The focus shifts from how the franchise once enriched people’s life to how it has negatively impacted the partners, children, and siblings of those involved.
It feels a bit self-indulgent to spend so long dwelling on how tough it was for actors to be separated from their families back home. The experience of temporary separation from loved ones is depicted as more traumatic than need be for the purpose of dramatic effect.
At this point, the documentary spills into soapy Hallmark Television Drama. It feels somewhat forced, given that everyone has previously described how much Child’s Play has enriched their lives and brought them closer together.
The documentary itself is very stylized. We are treated to a creepy-cute animation for the cast and crew list introductions, and each segment is split into different parts for each movie. A well-manicured hand is seen loading VHS tapes and DVDs into players: each Child’s Play movie is played, and this sets up a discussed segment pertaining to that movie.
As each movie is introduced, Chucky as a character is explored, and we are given glimpses into his evolution over the years and how he was adapted to reflect the current climate of the time.
The crew discusses the dwindling movie budgets over the years: another reason for choosing practical effects over CG as well as how their own insights and ideas helped inform the character or the script.
There is also refreshing discussion around the LGBTQ+ representation of the series.
Jennifer Tilly has long been a gay icon thanks to her earlier role in Queer Thriller Unbound.
The inclusion of a Transgender Chucky character was ahead of its time when Seed Of Chucky first premiered back in 2004.
Chucky and Tiff’s child Glen/ Glenda sensitively illustrates the struggles which many Trans and Non-Binary people experience within their own gender identity, and John Waters discusses his role in Seed and how Chucky’s enduring queer representation solidified his involvement in the franchise.
Seed is a campy horror-comedy, but Glen/Glenda’s gender identity is treated with respect and empathy.
This is a possessed doll who is grappling with conflicting identity struggles in a body that feels alien to them; what a beautiful way to symbolize the inner turmoil and the strength required to accept one’s identity.
This is why Chucky has enduring love from his fans. He may be a monster, but he’s a human monster fiercely protecting those he considers family.
There is a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes segments, which include Brad and Tilly slipping back into character, and it is pure magic.
Fiona Dourif and her dad clearly dote on one another. The pair discuss their roles within this universe, and it is lovely when Brad compliments his daughter, and she responds with a shy, childlike ‘’Oh, Daddy’’ with tears in her eyes.
Child’s Play does feel like home to many of us in the Horror community.
I watched the first movie when I was around seven years old in the early nineties, and I now enjoy the television series as an adult some thirty years later.
Living With Chucky is a sweet, insightful look into one of Horror’s most influential Baddies.
It may benefit from having some fifteen minutes of forced melodrama shaved off its running time. However, it showcases a strong voice and style from Kyra Gardner.
At its core, Living With Chucky is a film about Family: the family we lose to focus on our professional endeavors and the family we gain through a shared creative passion.
Chucky feels like an extended family member to many of us, and Living With Chucky grants fans a thorough and unique insight into this much-beloved Horror franchise.