2020s

Review: Kyra Elise Gardner’s ‘Living with Chucky’

Living with Chucky Review - 2022 Kyra Elise Gardner Screamhouse Documentary

Vague Visages’ Living with Chucky review contains minor spoilers. Kyra Elise Gardner’s 2022 documentary features Lin Shaye, Marlon Wayans and Brad Dourif. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.

*

Growing up in the Chucky franchise can’t have been an easy or by any means normal experience, but for filmmaker Kyra Elise Gardner, it’s all she knew. The Living with Chucky director is the daughter of legendary SFX maestro Tony Gardner, who’s worked on the beloved franchise since 2004’s fan-favorite entry Seed of Chucky. Prior to that, he had credits on everything from The Return of the Living Dead (1985) to Evil Dead II (1987) and Hocus Pocus (1993). Thus, the theme of this lovely yet low-stakes documentary is family. Aside from the filmmaker’s dad, Fiona Dourif joined as the lead of 2013’s Curse of Chucky (her own father, Brad Dourif, has voiced Chucky since the very beginning). Clearly, Gardner has her reasons for tackling this subject, and they’re so sweet that it doesn’t really matter that she doesn’t uncover much new ground in the process. 

Gardner’s list of Living with Chucky interviewees is hugely impressive, and it’s striking that everybody agreed to take part and share their love of horror, including icons like Lin Shaye. They’re all clearly fans and have massive respect for the genre, but it’s tough for anybody to make their mark when the likes of John Waters — who’s easily the most entertaining interviewee, revealing without any prodding that he’d happily date Glen/Glenda if they were a real person — and Jennifer Tilly are offering their input. Series creator Don Mancini wrote the role of Tiffany with Tilly in mind, and if there’s one thing Living with Chucky does without question, it’s showcasing the actress’ professionalism. It’s almost a shame that Gardner didn’t narrow her focus to just the Chucky family, even if it makes sense why she’d want to include color commentary from people like Abigail Breslin.  

Living with Chucky Review: Related — Know the Cast & Characters: ‘M3GAN’

Living with Chucky Review - 2022 Kyra Elise Gardner Screamhouse Documentary

Living with Chucky serves as both a history of the series — charting it from Child’s Play (1988) all the way up to the TV adaptation that’s currently running on FX, for which an additional interview with the Gardners is included right at the end — and an encapsulation of what it took, and continues to take, to get it over the line. As Tony Gardner quips at one point, “There isn’t a day that Chucky doesn’t work.” Everybody has to band together to make the killer doll feel real onscreen, from the actors who interact with him to Brad Dourif doing the voice in the booth and finally the team of puppeteers at the helm. Child’s Play 2 (1990) had nine, but this was cut down to five by the time Cult of Chucky (2017) was in production, emphasizing that despite the franchise’s demonstrably high standing with fans, it’s still tough for the filmmakers to convince the money men to invest in it, hence why the familial element is so strong. Aside from the FX heads, it’s been the same people for three decades, which is no small feat, particularly on projects like this with lower budgets and considerably more moving parts. 

As a result, it makes complete sense that everybody involved with Chucky, as well as the millions of fans around the world, are so vehemently anti-CGI. The doll moves imperfectly, but that’s the charm and beauty of it. The franchise collaborators were so smart to use animatronics, and to continue insisting on them, since the FX have aged so beautifully. At one point in Living with Chucky, Gardner includes footage of CG Yoda juxtaposed against the puppet that fans have loved since their childhoods to demonstrate just how special practical effects truly are. Mancini explains how he was inspired by Gremlins (1984), another movie which has aged wonderfully thanks to how cool the featured monsters still look to this day. Living with Chucky winningly details the painstaking process of creating the Chucky dolls, from making the plastic mold to sewing his dungarees, to again emphasize just how much love goes into bringing this character to life. Dolls sit in the background of several interviews except for one featuring Alex Vincent, who naturally places Chucky on the chair next to him since they’ve been foes for so long.  

Living with Chucky Review: Related — Soundtracks of Cinema: ‘Knock at the Cabin’

Living with Chucky Review - 2022 Kyra Elise Gardner Screamhouse Documentary

Aside from the lively and dark stories — many of which, unfortunately, will be familiar to longtime fans — Gardner pores over original sketches, storyboards and scripts after a smash cut of Chucky’s greatest hits solidifies just how far he’s come. By establishing that the character was in the right place at the right time, given the increasing popularity of antiheroes/villains like Freddy Krueger, the director demonstrates how that gave rise to the franchise figure and also helps contextualize everything further. Going through each film in chronological order makes a certain amount of sense, but it also leaves Living with Chucky feeling truncated. The documentary doesn’t flow as well as it could have because Gardner continuously stops to show someone insert a VHS tape and later a DVD (all unrated, naturally). Living with Chucky also drags ever so slightly at the end, almost as though the director was unsure how to wrap everything up, perhaps because the story is ongoing. Still, the meat of the documentary is fantastic, and everybody’s enthusiasm is infectious, whether it’s Tilly reminiscing about how Tiffany changed her life or Mancini seemingly wearing Chucky shirts constantly, including during his interview. This is a real family, and they’re all just as committed to Chucky as longtime fans — a choice they’ve been making for over 30 years and continue to make today. The impact on those they leave at home, including the director herself, is keenly felt too. 

Living with Chucky Review: Related — Soundtracks of Television: ‘Swarm’

Living with Chucky Review - 2022 Kyra Elise Gardner Screamhouse Documentary

Clearly, a lot of care has gone into showcasing how and why the various collaborators work together, which is to Gardner’s immense credit. Likewise, reiterating how strong the queer element is in the horror franchise, and how it grew as the series did, is hugely important, especially given everything that’s going on right now. Living with Chucky isn’t exactly life-changing, but it’s enormously life-affirming, particularly for diehard horror fans. There’s not much new to be gleaned from watching Gardner’s documentary, but it’s entertaining, put together well and its very existence will likely make the film essential viewing for completists. After all, who are we to argue with a killer doll who has dominated the industry for most of our lives?

Screambox premiered Living with Chucky on April 3, 2023.

Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.

Living with Chucky Review: Related — Soundtracks of Cinema: ‘Triangle of Sadness’