By SHAWN MACOMBER
“Hi, I’m Chucky! And I’m your friend to the end!”
It is incredible that more than thirty-five years after the release of the original Child’s Play film that not only has the end still not arrived for the not-so-friendly Charles Lee Ray, but that his rubber-faced vessel, Chucky, would remain the sun at the center of such a fascinating, continually evolving universe.
Of course, there have been false notes along the way. Really, how could there not be, considering the scope and breadth? Yet, at this point, Chucky—currently marauding through a television series that is as bold inventive, and subversive as anything out there right now—is the last great 80s franchise villain standing: The only one, at the very least, who hasn’t had his soul completely exorcised by retreads or turned into the equivalent of a half-baked Sociology 101 term paper by indulgent and ill-advised “re-imaginings.”
And because that kind of success and vitality cannot be gamed or contrived, Child’s Play is ripe to be explored—which it is, brilliantly, in Living with Chucky, a new documentary by Kyra Elise Gardner, daughter of legendary special effects artist Tony Gardner, who has helped bring Chucky to life, to one degree or another, for a quarter century.
Though modern horror cinema has been down to reflect and celebrate at least since 1984’s Terror in the Aisles—and we have been in a veritable golden age of horror documentaries since 2010’s Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy—it is Gardner’s outsider-with-a-very-big-in perspective that helps elevate Living with Chucky into something unique and special.
Which is to say, on one level the film provides a lively contextualizing history of the franchise through an amazing cast of characters. Yes, there is Child’s Play creator Don Mancini and Chucky himself Brad Dourif. But, also, Lin Shaye and John Water; Alex Vincent and Abigail Breslin; Jennifer Tilly and Marlon Wayans; Christine Elise and ex-longtime Fangoria Editor in Chief Tony Timpone; Fiona Dourif and David Kirschner.
But then, by virtue of her own experience and deft narrative hand, to weave in a deeper, more personal element. Specifically, how does a cultural phenomenon that becomes bigger than any one person involved in its creation reverberate throughout on individual lives? The delving into the multilayered personal relationships of Brad and Fiona Dourif, Tony and Kyra Elise, and Mancini and…well, everyone is fascinating and affecting stuff. (Incidentally, Rue caught Living with Chucky at the amazing South Florida Popcorn Frights Film Festival, which featured an in-person Q&A with the Gardners and the interplay between the two was absolutely beautiful.)
Efforts such as this are almost reflectively described as “a love letter to…” But that’s not quite what Living with Chucky is. It is more like a collective debrief on a voodoo ceremony not unlike the one in the first film that sets all of this in motion. Only it is the participants slowly coming to the realization, with Gardner’s help, that all of their souls have ended up in this one diabolical killer doll that has so captivated the world.
It never really is the end, is it, friend?
Living With Chucky will be available to own or rent in the UK & Ireland from April 24 via Amazon, AppleTV, Sky Store, Virgin Media and Google Play. Also available on Blu-ray.