Living With Chucky Review

Review: Living With Chucky, a documentary on the Child’s Play / Chucky franchise directed by Kyra Gardner, daughter of FX artist Tony Gardner

PLOT: Kyra Gardner, the daughter of special effects artist and puppeteer Tony Gardner, takes a journey through the Child’s Play franchise.

REVIEW: Friday the 13th has Crystal Lake Memories (both the book and the movie). The Nightmare on Elm Street series has the documentary Never Sleep Again. But a lot of the big horror franchises are still waiting to receive their definitive documentaries. Last year, I read the book Reign of Chucky, a film-by-film examination of the Child’s Play / Chucky franchise that was packed with interesting information about the making of the movies. But since it was assembled during the production of season 2 of the Chucky TV series, it was missing one major element: authors Dustin McNeill and Travis Mullins weren’t able to land interviews with some of the most prominent players in the franchise, like Don Mancini, who has written every entry in the series, or actors Brad Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, and Fiona Dourif. Now we have the documentary Living With Chucky, which isn’t comprehensively informative in the way Reign of Chucky was, but does feature interviews with Mancini, Tilly, and the Dourifs. So if you pair Reign of Chucky and Living With Chucky, you could now say that the Child’s Play / Chucky franchise does have its definitive “making of”, the story is just told across two formats. And they’re both lacking when it comes to the TV series, so we’re going to need follow-ups.

A major selling point for Living With Chucky is the fact that it was directed by Kyra Gardner, who happens to be the daughter of special effects artist Tony Gardner, who has been bringing Chucky (and Tiffany and Glen) to life since Seed of Chucky. But that personal aspect doesn’t become clear until late in the 100 minute running time. For the most part, the film is a straightforward documentary on the Child’s Play and Chucky movies. It goes through the series film-by-film, giving information on each installment as it goes. We hear how Mancini’s script Blood Buddy was reworked and rewritten into the film we know as Child’s Play, how the doll Buddy became the serial killer possessed Chucky, the fact that serial killer Charles Lee Ray was named after Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald, and James Earl Ray. The expansion of the story with part 2, the recasting of hero Andy Barclay for part 3, the addition of Chucky’s girlfriend Tiffany in Bride of Chucky, the arrival of Chucky and Tiffany’s child Glen, it’s all covered.

The story of the franchise is told through interviews with Mancini, producer David Kirschner, cast members Brad Dourif, Fiona Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Alex Vincent, Christine Elise, Billy Boyd, John Waters, Adam Hurtig, and of course the director’s father Tony Gardner. We also hear from Tony Timpone, the former editor of Fangoria magazine; genre icon Lin Shaye; actors / horror fans Abigail Breslin and Elle Lorraine; YouTuber James A. Janisse; voice actor Dan Povenmire; and, the most unexpected interviewee, comedy star Marlon Wayans. Everyone has something interesting to contribute, and the involvement of the people who didn’t have anything to do with any of the Child’s Play / Chucky films or the TV show makes more sense the longer the documentary goes on.

The killer doll action in the first four movies was handled by Kevin Yagher, but a deal couldn’t be made to bring Yagher back for Seed of Chucky. That’s when Tony Gardner entered the picture… and when he reveals that the entire budget of Cult of Chucky was equal to just the puppet building budget on the first movie, you can understand why Yagher got priced out of range. Living With Chucky covers the Gardner era the same way it covered the previous four movies. It goes through the poorly received Seed of Chucky, the lower budgeted Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky. And then things get personal. Kyra Gardner finally introduces herself about 74 minutes into the movie.

Based on the marketing, I figured Kyra Gardner would be introduced right up front and we would be following her as she interviews the people who work on the Chucky projects with her father. But until the 74 minute mark, there’s no hint of a personal connection. Living With Chucky plays like any film documentary. Once the director becomes part of the story, this documentary shifts gears. That’s when we start to find out what it was like for her to grow up with her dad going off to work with Chucky every once in a while. He took the Seed of Chucky job when she was very young, and Chucky became such a prominent part of his career, it started to seem like he was a Gardner family member – with Mancini and the actors also being part of Gardner’s extended family. Kyra had never met some of the people her dad worked with on these movies, so meeting them for this documentary was like meeting Tony’s second family.

There’s a touch of melancholy to the final stretch of Living With Chucky, as it has to face the fact that working on these movies and his other special effects gigs for extended periods of time has forced Tony Gardner to miss moments with his family. He and Kyra both regret the moments they’ve lost with each other… but they don’t let things get too sad, because it was clearly fun for them to be making this documentary together.

Living With Chucky started off as a class assignment Kyra Gardner took on in film school. This was originally supposed to be a documentary short she made to show her class, but it turned into a very interesting, feature-length documentary on one of our most popular horror franchises. 75% of the time, this is exactly the sort of documentary the Child’s Play / Chucky franchise has been lacking up to this point. And for the remaining 25%, it’s a heartwarming look at the personal side of making these films. If you’re a fan of Chucky, it’s highly recommended that you give Living With Chucky a try.

Living With Chucky is now streaming on Screambox, and the digital edition is available for rent or purchase on Amazon. The documentary will receive a Blu-ray release on April 18th, and copies can be pre-ordered at THIS LINK.

Brad Dourif Fiona Dourif

Child's Play



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About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.