In the late ‘80s, writer Don Mancini came up with a strange script about a friendly-looking doll coming to life and terrorizing a family. That story would be used by director Tom Holland to create Child’s Play, one of history’s most influential horror movies. Over three decades, Mancini helped release six sequels and a successful TV show that’s getting a third season this year. After all this time, Chucky became more than a horror icon as the killer turned into a highly recognizable pop culture symbol that crossed the boundaries of genre cinema to inhabit our nightmares forever. Love it or hate it, it’s hard to argue that Chucky has touched the lives of millions of fans worldwide. But what about the people who made the franchise? How did Chucky shape their personal experiences? Written and directed by Kyra Elise Gardner, daughter of special effects legend Tony Gardner, Living with Chucky offers a touching tribute to the franchise that reveals how filmmaking can help people connect and expand their families.

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Filmed before Chucky took the Child’s Play story into uncharted territory, Living with Chucky mixes archival footage and exclusive interviews to explore the franchise’s history. Through the eyes of creator Mancini, producer David Kirschner, and recurring cast members of the Child’s Play films, Gardner uses the documentary to analyze the slasher scene of the era and the technological advancements in animatronics that allowed Chucky to rise and stand apart from other killers. Moving from movie to movie, Gardner also investigates what turned Chucky into a global sensation and how the Child’s Play franchise still amasses a legion of fans eager to see what the killer doll will do next.

Image via Screambox


RELATED: ‘Living With Chucky’ Sets Blu-ray Release Date

Fans of Child’s Play already know how Mancini constantly played with the franchise, going from full-blown horror to comedy, testing new grounds to see Chucky metamorphosize into something new in each movie. We also know how the franchise suffered severe budget cuts after the initial trilogy, eventually leading Universal to dismiss original puppeteer Kevin Yagher and hire Tony Gardner to recreate all the work done up until 1998’s Bride of Chucky. However, instead of just retelling the facts, Living with Chucky allows the people in front of and behind the cameras to share anecdotes and personal opinions about each franchise installment. This approach results in a unique historical exploration filled with curious remarks about a franchise that helped convert thousands of horror fans and has stood the test of time to reinforce its importance over and over again.

In Living with Chucky, Gardner is also interested in looking at Chucky’s slow but steady rise as a queer icon, thanks mostly to the inclusion of Jennifer Tilly’s Tiffany and Glen/Glenda (voiced by Billy Boyd). Horror has always been a haven for anyone who feels excluded, as the genre explored queer themes long before Hollywood started to care about diversity – or at least pretend to. So, of course, any documentary about the Child’s Play franchise wouldn’t be complete without an honest look at Chucky, Tiffany, and Glen/Glenda’s status as queer icons, thanks to Mancini’s conscientious effort to make the franchise more openly queer with each new installment. And while it was shot before the first season of Chucky aired, the documentary helps to map the path Mancini would take with the TV show, which only continues the franchise’s long tradition of experimentation and reinvention.

On the surface, Living with Chucky may sound like a documentary tailored to people exclusively interested in the Child’s Play franchise and horror fiends. Nevertheless, as we dive deeper into Gardner’s historical examination of the franchise, it becomes clear the documentary is about family, found or otherwise, much like the beloved horror franchise. As the daughter of Tony Gardner, Kyra Gardner grew up surrounded by dolls of Chucky and Tiffany since there was no clear separation between the puppeteer’s work and real life. She was also a child when she saw her father “die” on 2004’s Seed of Chucky when Mancini went full meta with the franchise and brought the cast and crew to the fantasy universe. So, from her childhood forward, Chucky became a cornerstone of Kyra Gardner’s personality.

The Child’s Play franchise marked both Gardners’ lives. And as a precocious fan of Chucky, Kyra Gardner wanted to meet the people who made the franchise over the past three decades. This personal component helps Living with Chucky explore the behind-the-scenes stories of underbudgeted crews coming together to create a movie, living through too many hours of work and not enough time for loved ones, and finding hope and support in each other. By telling the world how Chucky affected her life in many different ways, Kyra Gardner also invites the cast and crew of every Child’s Play movie to share their unique experiences flying to other countries and feeling lonely at work. At the same time, since the franchise has remained in the same hands since its inception, Living with Chucky shows how filmmaking forges new kinds of friendship and familial bonds.

The intercutting of Living with Chucky shows how all these people, connected by a horror franchise, genuinely care about each other. For instance, while each interview was conducted separately, the cast and crew of the Child’s Play franchise shared the same stories with smiles on their faces. They also use the exact wording to describe events, like old friends who are all reminiscing about the past. It’s through this beautiful documentation of found family that Living with Chucky becomes universal.

Of course, Gardner’s documentary will please horror fans above anyone else. Still, Living with Chucky is a thoughtful study of how filmmaking, especially independent filmmaking, brings people together. Both on set or in dim movie theaters, the Child’s Play franchise has helped many of us to find support in people equally passionate about the quirky – and queer – universe of horror.

Rating: B+

Living with Chucky comes to SCREAMBOX and VOD on April 4.

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