Chucky: Past, present and future
By the late ’80s Jason, Freddy, Leatherface and Michael Myers had ruled the decade as titans of cinematic terror. Genre fans, looking ahead, scanned the horizon wondering when a new horror icon was going to come along. All they needed to do was look at their feet. There they would find Chucky. In his fleshy years he was known as the serial killer Charles Lee Ray (memorably played/voiced by Brad Dourif) before a soul transference locked him into a plastic, manufactured tomb of a children’s doll.
Of course, he wasn’t the first wicked runt to wreak havoc from the toy shelves. A 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone gave star Telly Savalas the heebie jeebies with the introduction of “Talking Tina.” The doll freaked out TZ viewers including a young UCLA student named Don Mancini who, in his junior year, penned a feature script entitled Blood Buddy. At the time, the story told of a young boy and his killer doll – a manifestation of the tyke’s anger. The spec made its way into the hands of producer David Kirschner and, shortly thereafter, United Artists. Fright Night‘s Tom Holland was brought in to direct; Mancini’s script underwent rewrites and the title was changed to Child’s Play to avoid legal problems with the popular My Buddy toy line manufacturers.
In 1988 Child’s Play was released starring Alex Vincent as Andy, a boy whose Good Guy doll becomes possessed by a foul-mouthed psychopath. Holland called on Fright Night star Chris Sarandon to play Detective Norris; Catherine Hicks filled the role as Karen, Andy’s confused mother who is unsure whether her son has flipped his lid with his wild stories of Chucky coming to life.
At its blackened little core, Child’s Play, in spite of some story tweaks, still retained Mancini’s sardonic look at children’s toy mania. Of course, it also propelled its Jack Nicholson-sounding bite-sized baddie – brought to life by Kevin Yagher and his FX team – into the pop culture spotlight and through four more chapters. Over the last 20 years Chucky slaughtered, he took a bride and developed an androgynous youngster. The franchise gradually eschewed scares for giggles, but Chucky’s roots still began in Holland and Mancini’s sometimes playful, sometimes cruel, jolts-packed film which is now being honored in a 20th anniversary special edition DVD from MGM.
ShockTillYouDrop.com got on the phone to talk with Kirschner and Mancini about Child’s Play and what they have in store for Chucky’s future.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: Chucky is a character that has never really exited either of your lives since the first Child’s Play, so was recalling memories from that film for this disc a breeze?
Don Mancini: For me it was easy. It’s astonishing, and a little depressing, to me that it’s been 20 years. It doesn’t feel that old and when the reality of that hits me, it’s like…oh God, 20 years? I have very fond memories of that time. It was my first movie and a thrilling experience for me.
David Kirschner: I’m sure I romanticize looking back on it because it was a very difficult shoot. Very difficult. But it was put together with a lot of spit, glue and love and just to think…I won’t speak on Don’s behalf for this, but I never thought about sequels, just making this movie which was a great story. To think it’s still iconic 20 years later and referenced in comedy sketches to stories around the world, an evil little creature called Chucky has been rewarding.
Shock: Don, you created Chucky as a reaction to the marketing blitz surrounding children’s toys. Do you think Chucky represents that today, or does he carry a whole new meaning four sequels later?
Mancini: That was an aspect of the original film, but naturally as 20 years and five films have gone under the bridge, if I can mix metaphors, I think that’s an aspect that is remembered but it’s certainly not a component of the most recent movies. Because we did that, we went on to satirize other things in the other movies. I think David and I are really amused by the irony of what started out as a chastising look at marketing dolls and what scary things might come of that, we have created a doll that is mass marketed and that you can buy. That’s amusing to us. [laughs]
Shock: This DVD reveals the warts and all of the film’s production. One aspect you two are both very vocal about is Tom Holland’s inclusion of the voodoo lore responsible for Charles Lee Ray’s rebirth as Chucky – something neither of you were keen on. In the subsequent films, was there ever talk of trying to distance Chucky from his voodoo origins?
Kirschner: That’s a good question and something Don and I talk about all of the time. The voodoo was something Tom Holland brought to the table because he didn’t believe that Frankenstein moment, as we call it, when the killer transfers his body into the doll. Holland felt there needed to be some myth behind that. For better or worse, some people like it, some people don’t. It’s the thrust of the first two films, then Don set it on its ear, hysterically, in Bride of Chucky. I just love that sequence when Jennifer Tilly has that book Voodoo for Dummies and she’s doing the chant.
Mancini: We turned it into a joke because we thought it was funny in and of itself. With Bride of Chucky, we embraced the comedy of the entire premise. The voodoo – to answer your question – is such an ingrained part of the Chucky mythology and a lot of people love it regardless of what misgiving David and I have about it. But it was fun to parody it in Bride and Seed of Chucky. For our remake, we’re going to go for a more straightforward approach but some aspects of voodoo will definitely be in the story, but it’s an approach that’s more akin to The Believers, the John Schlesinger movie, a grittier more realistic look at that world. Maybe we’ll do something like that.
Shock: David, you mention on the DVD that you have a relationship with Disney at the time Don’s script, then called Blood Buddy, made its way to you. You say you took it to Disney, but you never talk about their reaction. I’m curious to hear what that was…
Kirschner: Nobody has ever asked that before. The reaction was pretty swift. Part of my deal with them was that I had to bring projects to them first and the idea of that was pretty appalling. Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner had just moved in and, as they did, turned Disney into a bastion, as it once was, of family entertainment. The idea of a child being hunted by his killer doll was not something that was high on their list. My executive over there, David Vogel, told me maybe another time, another place, another year.
Shock: Looking back on the film now, do you think you could pull off today what you did then with the consistent threat to a child’s safety and other themes in that vein?
Mancini: I think we intend to go further. [laughs] What do you think, David?
Kirschner: Of course, we have to say with great safety… In the first film there’s a scene where the little boy is locked in the mental institution and he looks out of the window through the bars and sees Chucky coming up the steps, Ed Gale who’s the little person playing Chucky when we cut to scenes of the doll walking, and Alex pushes against the door and begins to weep. He’s so upset. I must say, that was something I was incredibly uncomfortable with. I think the child was pushed so far in that scene and the parents were right there and didn’t seem to have a problem with it, but I did. And he seemed fine afterwards. Tom Holland really pushed him to the point of tears that bordered on cruelty towards children.
Mancini: [laughs] All for art.
Shock: Chucky mirrored the My Buddy doll of the time, since then has there been any children’s toy that has freaked the shit out of you?
Mancini: Whenever I go to the The Grove, I see that store American Girl. They’re these dolls that are custom made and are the rage. The things that people do is they take their little girls there and they make the dolls look like the girls. You can get matching outfits and stuff. That, for me, I feel like there is a definite continuum of Child’s Play 20 years ago and the reality of the doll market today.
Kirschner: My children right now are 28 and 26, one of them has a daughter herself now. I was telling Don this the other day, when the baby comes over to the office here at my house there’s a Chucky doll and she’s called him “Diti” for some reason. She loves touching his face and it just makes me laugh to see this little thing that’s his size and full of innocence next to him. She doesn’t understand she’s supposed to be frightened of it which is great. For my kids it was always the same way. They had friends that would always needed to be picked up and when the kids walked into my office and saw this thing – whether they saw the film or not, they had heard people talk about it, seen it on posters – let me tell you they could not make it through the night because of that.
Shock: Turning to the future, you guys are embarking on a remake. You’ve said you want to make Chucky scary again and that Brad Dourif is undoubtedly going reprise his role. So, Don it sounds as if there were a lot of ideas from your very first Child’s Play script that were abandoned. Could those potentially find their way into the new film?
Mancini: Naturally, I don’t want to say too much. A lot of the Chuck mythology was reworked by David and Tom Holland – specifically the voodoo aspect but also the specific detail of Chucky being possessed by the soul of a serial killer, which is distinct from my script where he was the living embodiment of the kid’s Id. All of the stuff in the movie is such an intrinsic part of the mythology I think it would be misguided to stray from that too far. We have ways and ideas of making that darker. Darker, we believe, than the original movie.
Kirschner: Don takes basically the original concept – the twists and turns and expectations you know – and will shock you. I know I was. It’s still within the arena of characters, but he does different things. You feel comfort going into some of the scenes, but you shouldn’t be. Don pulls the rug right out from underneath you.
Shock: Are there any problems because of Universal and MGM owning certain rights? Such as Universal owning the character and MGM owning Child’s Play?
Kirschner: Nope, Universal also owns Child’s Play.
Look for MGM’s Child’s Play: Chucky’s 20th Birthday Edition on DVD Tuesday, September 9th.
Source: Ryan Rotten