“Living with Chucky”: A Surprisingly Heartfelt Documentary About a Killer Doll [Review]

Very few horror franchises maintain their continuity quite like Chucky.  His slasher compatriots have all been rebooted, remade, recast, and whatnot.  And while we did a remake of Child’s Play in 2019, the original franchise (and continuity) remains intact since 1988.

We of course of franchise creator Don Mancini to thank for this! He’s written every single movie, directed 3 of them, and is the showrunner of the current TV series.

Screambox’s latest original documentary delves deeply into this continuity from the POV of someone very close to the movies.  Living With Chucky is as informative as it is poignant and heartfelt.  And coming from such a bloody subject matter, it’s equally interesting and compelling.

Series Retrospective
Directed by Kyra Gardner (more on her later), Living With Chucky begins as your typical behind the scenes documentary.  We’re treated to a creative setup of a TV set while VHS/DVDs of all 7 Chucky movies, sit atop.  As we move through the movies, we see a hand take that physical media out to “put it on”.

People like Don Mancini, David Kirschner, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif, Fiona Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Christine Elise and many others share behind the scenes stories, going back to the very inception of Chucky himself.  We hear amusing anecdotes about how the movies were made and the antics that went on while we the audience were none the wiser.

Both on and off screen, Jennifer Tilly continues to prove that she’s the best addition to this franchise since its beginning.

We also get a larger look at horror itself, as other actors not necessarily connected to Chucky, but connected to the genre give their two cents about why the killer doll is so iconic.  Actors like Lin Shaye (Insidious, Nightmare on Elm Street), Marlon Wayans (Scary Movie), and Abigail Breslin (Signs, Zombieland), help to paint a larger more objective picture of what this franchise has meant, for everyone, even those not directly involved with it.

Amidst the interesting tidbits, we learn about earlier drafts of Don Mancini’s script, Alex Vincent responds to the elephant in the room of being recast for the third movie, Don Mancini discusses his transition in roles from writer to writer/director, and much much more.

Alex Vincent could also make a very strong case for “growing up” with Chucky.

Legacy Franchise
Roughly, halfway through the documentary, director Kyra Gardner introduces herself to the audience, cluing us in that she’s the daughter of Tony Gardner; the special effects/makeup expert that’s been leading the team bringing Chucky to life since Seed of Chucky.

Following the departure of Kevin Yagher (which David Kirschner candidly addresses, blaming the studio), who had worked on the first four films, Tony Gardner has taken over, and still works on the TV show today.  He even had a cameo as himself in Seed of Chucky, where Chucky and Tiffany brutally decapitate him.

Kyra recounts what it was like growing up around this series and the work her father did on it. Everything from being terrified of the prop Chucky dolls left around the house when she was a kid, to eventually growing up and being inspired to enter the film industry herself.  Her story may be very personal and unique, but it speaks volumes to every horror that also “grew up” with Chucky, watching these movies when they were way too young.

She’s both the film’s director and also the audience’s surrogate.

Kyra’s own story also shares a fascinating parallel with that of Fiona Dourif.  She was just a small child when her dad played Charles Lee Ray for the very first time.  The two of them are interviewed together and share a story of when he was recording Chucky’s blood curdling scream and young Fiona was terrified by it.  She would of course grow up to join the franchise her father was apart of, much like Kyra making this film.

The Dourifs interview segments are some of the best. Beneath all the talk of acting, it’s just a father and daughter who love each other and are so proud of each other’s work.

Why It Spoke to Me
On a more personal note, I too am one of those people.  Growing up in the 90’s, my introduction to Chucky was seeing a VHS copy of Child’s Play 2 on a Blockbuster shelf, and being absolutely terrified of the image of Chucky decapitating a jack-in-the-box with a comically large pair of scissors.  This led to me being terrified of my “My Buddy” doll, which I thought would come to life and try to kill me.

Eventually however, this fear turned into a fascination which led me to becoming the diehard horror fan I am today.  I wouldn’t be who I am, and I definitely wouldn’t have founded a website called Halloween Year-Round without Chucky.  And there’s many more out there like me.  Even those who weren’t specifically inspired by Chucky can relate to Kyra’s story with whatever horror icon made them into a fan.

For the rest of my life as a horror fan, Chucky and I will also be linked.

While I (and others I’m sure) related to Kyra in terms of growing up around horror, I found myself relating more and more to Tony Gardner as he spoke more about his own experiences and the “blending” of his two families.  Like any other professional in the film industry, Tony is no stranger to the long hours and weeks/months away from home during location shooting.

He laments as he wonders how much time he missed with his wife and children while working, but celebrates how this documentary has brought his creative work family together with his own family.  Speaking as the father of two young daughters, it spoke to me in a way that I never thought this documentary ever would.

As a horror content creator, I know the struggle of trying to find time to work on creative projects, but also spend quality time with children.  Granted, I’m not going away for location shoots, but spending a whole weekend at a horror convention while my daughters are with their grandparents makes me miss them dearly, even if I’m doing something amazing.

This is why we’ll often try to bring both our kids to horror conventions. Pictured here is us meeting Amie Donald (the girl who played M3GAN) at Monster Mania!

Living With Chucky works so brilliantly because it starts off like any other retrospective documentary, but takes a hard and welcome turn into heartfelt poignancy that we weren’t expecting.  Hidden among the behind the scenes tidbits about a killer doll is a relatable story of how one woman grew up around horror, missing her dad when he was a way, but found a way to meld the two as she came of age.

Come for the killer dolls, stay for the heartfelt, tear jerking moments!

Living With Chucky is streaming exclusively on Screambox on April 4, 2023!  It will also be available on Bluray April 18

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