By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
Creepy doll movies have been a fixture of horror cinema for years, dating back to 1945’s Dead of Night with the malevolent dummy Hugo, but none have quite garnered so much attention and had such an influence on pop culture as Child’s Play. With her new documentary Living with Chucky, writer and director Kyra Elise Gardner chronicles the making of the iconic Chucky franchise, while adding unexpected depth with her focus on the series’ familial and personal connections.
The HoloFiles recently had the opportunity to interview Gardner about her new film. Gardner revealed that the origins of her feature-length documentary date back to her time in film school, during which she made the short film The Dollhouse. The short was included on the DVD/Blu-ray release of Cult of Chucky and had a successful festival run. Gardner discussed why she decided to expand her short film into a full documentary. “I had so much footage at the end of that short film,” Gardner said. “I think there [were] seven of us [interviewed] in the short film. And there was an hour per interview. So, I had seven hours. And I had seven hours whittled down to 7 minutes. Even just those interviews, I thought, ‘This could be an hour in its own right.’ And then, when the reactions from Chucky fans or horror fans for the short film was really positive in its festival circuit, I realized, ‘Oh this is something people would be actually interested in.’ And that’s when I started thinking about expanding it.”
As noted in our review for Living with Chucky, the documentary takes an interesting and surprisingly endearing turn inward as Gardner reveals her personal connection to the franchise. Gardner is the daughter of visual effects legend Tony Gardner, who was behind some of the amazing effects in the Child’s Play franchise. Gardner incorporates her familial connection to the Child’s Play franchise into her documentary, making it not only an insightful chronicle of the iconic horror series, but also a touching tribute to the filmmakers behind the scenes. Gardner discussed the decision to make her documentary more personal and reveal how she has ‘lived’ with Chucky for most of her life. “I think my documentary professor at film school hated that decision I made,” Gardner stated. “She adamantly was against filmmakers involving themselves in the film. But it made it more personal. As we watched reference films for that semester of film school, the one that spoke to me most was called The Stories We Tell and it’s [about] the filmmaker’s journey finding out about her family and things like that. And it was done really beautifully and well. And it was the most interesting documentary I had seen at the time. So, I knew I wanted something to be personal.”
Living with Chucky will likely alter the way in which Chucky films are watched in the future, given the insights it provides about the touching connections between the filmmakers. Gardner commented, “This is wonderful…realizing how close some of the people in the franchise are to each other. Fiona [Dourif] and Don [Mancini]. And Christine [Elise] and Alex [Vincent] are so cute with their friendship as well.”
Similarly pertaining to the documentary’s personal side, Gardner revealed that she was pleasantly surprised to note parallels between her upbringing and the experiences of Fiona Dourif, daughter of Chucky himself Brad Dourif, who went on to play Nica Pierce in the franchise. “I was hoping there would be parallels to my own life,” Gardner said. “So, hearing Brad [Dourif] and Fiona’s [Dourif] relationship – just the two of them – seemed like my dad and myself was…very, very interesting and kind of validating in a weird sense. Fiona are both born in October. Our dads are both Chucky in their own regard. Chucky was always at her birthday parties. He was always at my birthday parties. It was just really cool to see that this experience I had as a kid, that I thought other people couldn’t relate to, there are multiple people surrounding the franchise, which is the whole gist of the film. But it was really weird being in the room hearing answers that were more similar [to my experiences] than I thought. “
Making the documentary provided Gardner with many insights about the behind the scenes magic that has brought Chucky to life for 35 years. Gardner noted how she was pleasantly surprised to learn more about the thoughtfulness, dedication, and creativity that goes into constructing the Chucky dolls. “As far as the doll being built, I had access to that,” Gardner said. “And that’s a lot of things the audience members never get to see. Not only is there a lot to do with puppeteering work and the animatronics, but there is so much that goes into making a doll from his mold making to his sweater to his overalls. It’s all done by hand. And I don’t think enough people behind the scenes get credit for that. So, it was really special for me to work with the people I’ve grown up with as well, who are behind the scenes doing their jobs.”
In crafting such an insightful documentary about one of horror’s most iconic figures with Chucky, Gardner was asked if there is another horror franchise that she would be interested in making a documentary about. “That’s an interesting question,” Gardner said. “Freddy and Jason already have theirs. Although there are many franchises today, they don’t hit the same way like the cult classic-y-ness of it, because those 80s movies are so different…Is there one on Saw?…If there is, I haven’t heard of one. Because Jigsaw is also a horror icon that came later, which is so cool that it was able to come in the early 2000s and become part of the cult slashers. That would be interesting…I haven’t seen all of the Saw movies, but I’m a James Wan fan. And that first movie, everyone remembers that.”
Gardner’s growing career as a filmmaker and familial connection to the Child’s Play franchise makes her a natural choice to helm a Chucky film or television episode in the future. Gardner was asked if this would be of interest. “Absolutely. I would love to direct an episode of the TV show,” Gardner said. “When you’re in film, it’s such a double-edged sword because it’s like, ‘We want to hire you to direct an episode of something, but you haven’t directed an episode of something.’ And I’m like, ‘Right. One of you has to give me the opportunity to. I can’t do it until one of you gives in.’ So, that would be so cool and such a full circle moment to direct this iconic doll that has been with me from the beginning.”
Living with Chucky streams on SCREAMBOX and comes to VOD on April 4. Check out the full interview and our review for the film below!