Living With Chucky begins as a familiar horror documentary that assembles a variety of notable genre veterans to examine a prominent horror franchise. This one celebrates the iconic killer doll and the Child’s Play franchise. But Living With Chucky quickly diverges from the pack as a unique angle emerges. It’s not just a documentary that reflects upon the franchise’s legacy; it celebrates the families that the killer doll has forged and bonded together.
Director Kyra Gardner, who co-wrote with Jason Strickland, adds visual flair to her documentary. Animated opening credits, stitching of Good Guy doll clothing, and molds of Chucky parts getting filled add interest and break up the conventional talking head format. A collection of franchise tapes sits above a VCR. Hitting play on each one ushers in a discussion on its respective film.
The talking heads are an eclectic bunch, not all of them an obvious selection. Actors like Abigail Breslin, Marlon Wayans, and Lin Shaye weigh in on the films. Former longtime editor of Fangoria magazine Tony Timpone and Dead Meat YouTuber James A. Janisse get frequently counted upon to bring insight. Most importantly, Living With Chucky enlists all of the franchise’s mainstays to deliver behind-the-scenes anecdotes and making-of details. Through Brad Dourif, Fiona Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Alex Vincent, Christine Elise, Billy Boyd, Don Mancini, and franchise producer David Kirschner, we gain new perspectives on our favorite movies.
While the documentary presents a solid overview of the film franchise, it’s not always focused. Breslin and Vincent recount what it’s like working as a child actor; it’s an interesting thread of discussion that the doc quickly loses interest in pursuing further. Those looking for more intel on Child’s Play 3 might be disappointed, as talking heads look down on it mostly unfavorably, and it’s quickly passed over to skip ahead to Bride of Chucky.
When special makeup effects designer and artist Tony Gardner enters the equation, taking over the franchise’s special effects beginning with Seed of Chucky, Living With Chucky reveals the title meaning and slowly begins its fascinating evolution into something far more surprising. Tony Gardner is the director’s father, and dad often brought his work home with him when he wasn’t away on set. That meant frequent encounters with Chucky and Tiffany from a young age that shaped and sometimes scarred Kyra Gardner a child. The franchise became so intertwined with her family life that she refers to Chucky as her brother.
It’s the latter sentiment that prompted Gardner to make the documentary, finally giving her the chance to meet everyone involved with the franchise that’d been so intrinsically part of her family’s lives for so long. It’s here that Living With Chucky transforms from interesting to poignant as Gardner connects with the cast and trades stories about what it was like growing up with Chucky. A celebration of the franchise, including its fans, becomes something greater with unexpected revelations. Dourif recounts how lonely it was to voice Chucky for so many films, isolated and removed from the bustle of a film set until Tilly came along in Bride of Chucky. His daughter, Fiona Dourif, bonds with Gardner over how strange it is to watch their fathers die on screen.
Living With Chucky could’ve coasted as a competent, somewhat unfocused retrospective on the Child’s Play films. Yet Gardner had something far more personal in mind that elevates the documentary, even bringing home videos and photos into the equation. The franchise celebration serves as an accessible entry point that even non-fans can follow, but when Gardner finally reveals her intentions, the doc soars. More than just a thoughtful commemoration, it’s a heartfelt reminder that movies require so much time, blood, sweat, and tears to make. They forge lifelong bonds for those that make them, the families that support them, and even the fans that embrace them.
Living With Chucky made its world premiere at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival.