It isn’t hard to believe that writer-director Kyra Elise Gardner’s Living with Chucky — a feature-length documentary about the venerable horror film series Child’s Play — is debuting on streaming service Screambox; what is decidedly a more difficult pill to swallow is that this glorified DVD bonus feature has been playing at various film festivals for the past year. Are horror fans really that hard up for a little nostalgia? Ever since his debut in the 1988 original, living doll/serial killer Chucky has always been a bit of a mixed bag, delivering the occasional one-liner while dispatching his victims in ways seemingly impossible considering the toy’s size and strength. It was certainly actor Brad Dourif’s commitment to the voice work that often rendered the occasional questioning moot, even as the series flirted — and, in some cases, outright made out — with camp in each subsequent entry, until creator Don Mancini sought to course correct in 2013.
The first hour of Living with Chucky is devoted to a surface-level analysis of each of the films in the series, filled with current-day talking head interviews with various cast and crew members, as well as movie clips and archival footage. It’s all as bland in execution as it sounds, with nary a hint of actual filmmaking artistry on display. It’s also rather humorous that parts two and three get a combined total of five minutes of screen time, leaving audience members to ponder if Mancini and company hated them as much as viewers did at the time of their release. Then again, if you had to choose between dissecting the movie where Chucky invades a military school or the one that was a spoof of a spoof of a spoof and featured not only Jennifer Tilly in multiple roles, including herself, but the first transgender doll/killer ever featured on screen — the one and only Seed of Chucky — you’re probably picking the one that features John Waters getting a vat of acid dropped on his head.
As one of only a handful of openly gay horror filmmakers working within the studio system, Mancini sought to incorporate queer themes into his work, a rather remarkable achievement for a series as mainstream as Child’s Play. In fact, had Gardner chosen to focus on this particular facet, it would have made for a far more enriching documentary. Instead, we only get a bit of lip service, because apparently what this Living with Chucky truly needed were interviews with various random actors and actresses, including Abigail Breslin, Marlon Wayans, Elle Lorraine, and Lin Shaye. Keep in mind, none of these individuals have ever appeared in the Child’s Play series, and aside from Breslin, it’s hard to determine if they are even fans. The end result is simply a lot of needless filler.
This feels especially true when the film’s true focus finally clicks into place in the final half-hour, as it’s revealed that writer-director Gardner is the daughter of Tony Gardner, a special effects designer and puppeteer who worked on the Child’s Play films for over 20 years. Kyra discusses the effect that her father’s absence had on her upbringing, as he was constantly away on film shoots. This in turn caused her to adopt the various Child’s Play casts and crews as her own sort of makeshift family in those rare opportunities she was allowed to visit. Meanwhile, Kyra delves into how these particular individuals have become extended family to one another based on the sheer number of years they have worked together. And in fact, this is one of the only horror series in film history whose original creator has had a hand in each entry — save for the 2019 reboot, which is not even acknowledged here, and which utilized CGI that Mancini and company have steadfastly refused. This kinship is further reinforced by the fact that, in 2013’s Curse of Chucky, Brad Dourif’s daughter, Fiona, was cast in the lead role, and the two are interviewed here while sitting literally side-by-side. So basically what we have is a rather sweet portrait of both literal and metaphorical “family” filtered through the lens of a beloved horror series… but only in the last reel. Viewers would be wise to save themselves 70 minutes and simply fast-forward through the tired film analysis. Only then will you find anything that feels remotely alive in Living with Chucky.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 14.