The Chucky films are one of the wildest and endlessly entertaining horror franchises in Hollywood history. It all started with Child’s Play, a relatively stripped-down, cheeky horror thriller about a serial killer-possessed doll, voiced to foul-mouthed perfection by Brad Dourif. But in the decades since, the little ginger-tufted killer doll has carved his way through as many tonal shifts as unwitting victims, including the slapstick silliness of Bride of Chucky and a return to straight-up horror in Curse of Chucky.
With Cult of Chucky, creator Don Mancini, who has scripted every single Chucky film to date and directed the last three, takes the franchise in a new direction once again by uniting all his key players from the past — Alex Vincent‘s Andy Barclay, Jennifer Tilly‘s Tiffany Valentine, and Fiona Dourif‘s Nica Pierce — and tying their stories together in one genre-bending head trip. Set within the walls of a mental institution, Cult of Chucky plays with perception and belief, pitting Chucky against a hospital full of trapped victims, some of whom can’t tell up from down. It’s a fantastic installment in the whacky franchise, finally bringing together the far-reaching characters and tonal shifts into one psychedelic slasher freak out.
With Cult of Chucky now available on home video, I recently hopped on the phone for an interview with Mancini to talk about how he keeps the franchise alive, seven films later. We discussed why the mental hospital was the right place to bring all his characters together, the films that inspired Cult of Chucky — from Inception to Shutter Island, and why Chucky endures when the other slasher icons have been remade and rebooted to death. We also talk a bit about the movies straight up crazy ending, but for more on that stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview later this week.
I think you did a great job of striking this tonal balance between the two generations of the franchise. Can you talk about why was this setting in this asylum, where everybody has this distorted sense of reality was it the right place to hit that balance?
MANCINI: Well. The setting and the situation in the mental institution allowed us to look at Chucky and the franchise through a different generic prism, which is something we try to do with every movie. It is one of the ways we try to keep it fresh and reinvented. You just do not every want to make the same movie twice.
So, doing the metal asylum movie allowed me to make a new kind of Chucky movie. In this case it is a mindfuck movie. It is intentional to do a sort of trippy, psychological thriller. There are obvious antecedents; Shock Corridor or Shutter Island, but also Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors, even Inception was an influence. The intent was, through this kind of story structure, it was to fuck with the audiences head in a way that’s analogous to the way that Chucky is fucking with Nica’s head. She is just starting to question reality, her own sanity. Maybe I am a killer, maybe not, maybe I am. By doing it in this particular sub-genre is simply allowed us to keep it fresh.
You’ve written the Child’s Play films from the beginning, and they really have dipped into different subgenres along the way, have you had a favorite spin on the slasher story that was the most fun to write?
MANCINI: You know, they are kind of apples and oranges honestly. In a way, I loved Bride of Chucky because it pretty successfully reinvented itself as a comedy for the first time with that movie. Then at the same time, it was fun to come back around however many years later with The Curse of Chucky and reinvent it as a gothic. It is hard to pick a favorite. I really like all of them.
They mean different things to be because of where I was in my life and what the specific experience was. The last two we did… We did them both in Winnipeg with pretty much the entire same crew. We just really get along. They are an amazing crew and a big part of the success of the last two movies, is them. So, naturally, I am sentimental after two movies. I have worked with them on Channel Zero as well. We have been on good terms and stuff like that. I think that one of the things that David Kirschner and I have tried to do over the course of 30 years is like a family business in a way. I think that is one of the things that helps it stand out because it is really not a simple enterprise for us. We care about it and we want it to be good because it is like our baby.
All of the other slasher icons, Freddy, Jason, Myers — they have been rebooted and remade and rebooted again. This franchise has endured and sort of stayed the course. Where do you find that longevity? After 30 years, why do you still want to be writing Chucky and why do you think audiences still want to be watching him?
MANCINI: The answer to the last question, I am not sure but I am very grateful, why they keep wanting to watch it. I think the character is really… You know, he is a memorable character. It is fun to see him in different iterations. That was another thing we did with this movie and that I am always trying to do; I need to reinvent Chucky in some fundamental way. I need to give the audience something surprising.
I feel very proprietary about it. I created it. As a lifelong horror fan, I am really tickled that people like this character that I wrote. I really enjoy it. I love making movies. I have been writing them for a long time, but now this is my third time as a director. I am feeling more excited about doing more directing. I want to do writing and directing outside of working with Chucky as well and I am trying to do that. I’ve worked in T.V. for the last couple of years. Yeah, there is just something about this whole playground that I feel like I have sort of created for myself and it’s allowed me to make a whole bunch of different kinds of movies and grow as a filmmaker, just within my own creation. It is kind of special to me.
I think it is really cool that you’re still shepherding it. A lot of times, the same creative talent will not let a project go and it goes stale, they’re just trying to replay the old hits, but this one has not gone stale. So huge congrats to you.
MANCINI: Thank you. I am so glad you think that way and that you respond to it that way.
Yeah. I do. Like you said, you are really flexible about where you will take it. You are willing to be silly, scary, to get mental with it. Is there anything that is off limits for a Chucky film, that is against the rules?
MANCINI: That it is a good question. Let me think, off limits? Well. Wow. I have to think about that. I like to think that anything is possible. You know? I think he has shown himself to be a really versatile character and that is one reason people seem to be pulled into these different reboots and turns. You know, that was one of the missions with this movie of after having reinvented it as more straightforwardly scary movie with Curse, I wanted to continue in that vein. I wanted the movie to feel like it had some real stakes with Nica and her fellow patients in the hospital. That we could legitimately get wrapped up in their stories, but at the same time I wanted to change it a little bit.
One of the things I found creatively challenging is the notion of how do we totally mix Jennifer Tilly and Fiona Dourif. Those two characters they are… They sort of occupy different strata of the franchise. One sort of traditionally serious and straightforwardly scary and Jennifer Tilly’s in the comedy strata. How can those two flavors go together? I knew that if done correctly they would be gangbusters, because I almost thought of it as a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Two great things are even better together. It was just that delicate dance. I was definitely interested in the idea of creatively playing with those two contrasting colors and making something cool.
I think that really manifests in the film’s ending, which is sort of the epitome of what you’re talking about. You set the stage for a film that could be completely different, even more so than what we’ve seen before.
MANCINI: Yeah. There is literally… I opened up an entire realm of endless possibilities now.
Exactly. Do have those figured out? Do you have the eighth one in mind?
MANCINI: Of course [laughs]. I am always thinking ahead. I always have styles of different ideas regarding Chucky, the franchise, various characters, different situations, different potential relationships. Yeah. I am always thinking about it. I am always sort of planning ahead, where we end up is very deliberate, very deliberate opening of the door.
I think it is a very exciting direction. I was very happy with that ending.
MANCINI: Thank you. Yeah. It seems that is one thing that people really seem to like it. It is gratifying and a relief.
Yeah. I absolutely want to know what happens next. I would say as far as your endings go this was the most that I was like, “I need that sequel sooner than later. Now-ish.”
MANCINI: From your mouth to the studio’s ears.
I’m about out of time with you, but my final question comes from our Animation Lead Dave Trumbore. Have you guys ever thought about making an animated Child’s Play or Chucky series?
MANCINI: Yes! Yes, we’ve thought about that. David Kirschner, who produced on these movies from the beginning, has a history in animation so that’s something we’ve talked about actually. But I’m glad someone else who saw the idea for it.
As soon as he said it, I was like, “Oh my god, That would be perfect!”
MANCINI: Well, there were comics. Going back to the 80s, there was a whole comic series of Chucky. He certainly lends himself to animation. He’s iconic at this point. His image is enough that people are like, “Oh, I know this guy!”
Cult of Chucky is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, HVOD and Netflix. Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of my interview with Mancini where we dive into the film’s crazy ending.