Living With Chucky
Dir. Kyra Elise Gardner (2022)
A filmmaker, whose father was the original puppeteer for the Chucky doll in the Child’s Play series, talks about what it was like to grow up around the pivotal slasher series.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
I’m a huge fan of the Child’s Play series, despite having never actually reviewed them for my site believe it or not. The first horror movie I ever watched was Child’s Play 3. I was about ten years old, it was brand new on VHS, and my little cousin rented it for his birthday sleepover. He and his friends were so excited to watch, despite being 3-4 years younger than me, and I was, in a word, terrified. I literally called my mother to take me home, because I didn’t want to have to relegate myself to another room while my younger friends watched something that I was too chickenshit to partake in. My mom convinced me to give it a shot, and, in spite of my better judgment, I did. After that, horror and I were inseparable, the unlikeliest BFFs that ever BFF’ed, and I watched as many horror movies as I could get my grubby little paws on, including the rest of the Child’s Play films and pretty all but the remake since. To say that I owe the film series a debt of gratitude is an understatement, and I’ve dedicated a large portion of the entire rest of my life to seeing every horror movie that I possibly can.
Kyra Elise Gardner, who directed this film, is the daughter of Tony Gardner, the lead Chucky puppeteer for the later entries in the Child’s Play series and has done makeup, special effects, and puppetry in legendary films like Evil Dead II, Hocus Pocus, and The Lost Boys. Like me, she grew up in the shadow of the killer doll that is one of the Big 4 slasher villains, though always the one that was considered “lesser” than the other. It’s an interesting documentary largely because of this fact, a documentary that tells the backstory of the “one that they didn’t get to yet.” Being made by someone so close to the series rather than just a regular fan gives a level of access that is almost unprecedented for a horror documentary, because it’s not one facilitated by the studios as much as it is a picture from inside a family, a true inside look.
One of the things that struck me the most about the doc was the conversations about how important it was to use only practical effects when dealing with the Chucky doll itself. Despite my love of the franchise, it never really occurred to me how important that particular aspect of the films were, how much more unsettling his jerky, discombobulated movements are than if he had just been a fluid, computer-generated doll. The film spends a lot of time talking about how the actors were better able to relate to the doll because he was an actual doll and not some CGI effect, but the effect on the audience is perhaps even more important. I would argue that this, along with Brad Dourif’s immortal performance, are the two biggest reasons why the original film was successful and why the series itself has lasted four decades at this point.
Horror documentaries tend to do really well simply because they give fans who are already dedicated to a movie an inside look that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Living With Chucky is no different, of course, and it’s going to find hopefully the same audience that Crystal Lake Memories, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, and In Search of Darkness have reached. When these people that we idolize all come together to talk about something we love, there’s a certain sort of magic that occurs, perhaps that same magic that drew us to the films in the first place. One of the great things about Living With Chucky, as opposed to a documentary on a specific period like In Search of Darkness or a doc that deals with a specific movie like Beware the Moon: Remembering An American Werewolf in London, is that it deals with an ongoing series. The movies are still being made, if you consider the Mark Hamill-led remake from 2019, and the television show that is streaming on Shudder. It’s an inside look at something that is still making new fans, something that a lot of older horror films don’t achieve on a consistent basis. This makes Living With Chucky even more appealing, a doc that not only stands the test of time but will continue to be relevant far after it was made.
Another thing I loved about the doc is actually being able to catch up with all of the folks from around the series, which is yet another thing to love about the series itself as well. Rather than a loosely connected bunch of actors, many of whom may have gone on to be famous stars, like the other slashers, Child’s Play has always sort of been an insular family, and series creator Don Mancini has done his best throughout the series to continually bring back stars from the other films. It’s not even fan service at this point, it’s literally people who just love to work together and love to come together and tell stories about their work. That, more than anything, makes this documentary one you don’t want to sleep on. It’s awful nice to watch people having a good time talking about the genre you love, and it definitely helped to make me more connected to the series than I already was.
Who this movie is for: Horror documentary fans, Killer doll lovers, Fans of documentaries about horror and killer dolls
Bottom line: As someone who loves documentaries, horror, and the Child’s Play series, this one was right up my alley. Yellow Veil, who produced (and may release?) the film are awesome, and they’ve got some really cool stuff distributing through Vinegar Syndrome. If you love the movie series, I can’t recommend this one enough. If you don’t love the movie series, what the fuck is wrong with you? Check out all the films and then come back and watch this one. It’s a staple of horror, and the documentary is showing it all of the love it deserves. It’s streaming on Screambox on April 4th, and you owe it to yourself to check it out