The new documentary about the Child’s Play franchise ignores some significant stories in favour of back-slapping self-congratulation.
There have been several feature documentaries in recent years that feel more like something that ought to be a Blu-ray extra, either covering a film franchise or a single ‘classic’ movie at exhaustive – often exhausting – length. It feels as though they are often taking the place of books that might have done the same thing once upon a time – a documentary, even one dragging on for a few hours, is less hard work than reading a book and allows the viewer to enjoy interviews, clips and behind-the-scenes footage. All of which is fine if you really love the Friday the 13th or Fright Night movies so much that you want every aspect of the film covered by people who generally seem to be uncritical fans – which you probably do, because who would sit through something like this unless they absolutely adored the film that it is about?
The problem with this is that these films rarely seem to have an identity or an opinion. Like I said, they feel more like extended extras – maybe not even all that extended, given that there are plenty of feature-length documentaries on discs, some of which are genuinely excellent and tend to put these stand-alone films to shame simply by being a little less gushing. The independent features, oddly enough, seem much more sycophantic, presumably because they are made by fans – or perhaps by people who have certain contacts and see this as an easy way of getting into filmmaking (we’ll come back to that). Most films are corporate, commercial productions and don’t have a dramatically great story behind them, either in production or history or personnel; as a result, the films about those movies tend to be as bland and generic as the movies themselves. In short, not everything is a journey into a heart of darkness.
This brings us neatly to Living with Chucky, an unnecessarily long documentary about the Child’s Play franchise that tells us nothing at all that we don’t already know and is more concerned with back-slapping than digging into the history of the films. Personal opinion up-front – I find the first three Child’s Play films to be tedious, pointless horror-movie-by-numbers productions, cynically generic and unremarkable examples of late 1980s studio horror. I think the films from Bride of Chucky onwards are pretty great, playing with a mythology that the franchise had built and twisting it into weird and bizarre directions that make the movies stand out from every other horror franchise. That’s my opinion and yours may differ. But however you look at it, there is probably a story to be told in how the franchise suddenly lurched into these odd new areas, how Chucky developed into a pop-culture icon and how the series has managed to pull together all its different elements over the years to create a strange connection that runs from the first film to the last. Living with Chucky only partly does this.
The documentary is an oddly linear look at the series, taking each film in turn (you could chop it up into featurettes for new disc editions of the films) but only occasionally moving beyond a ‘making of’ narrative to dig further into the films. It all feels very surface-level in nature when you want it to go deeper, and when it does seem to be going there – Alex Vincent expressing his disappointment at being replaced in Child’s Play 3 for instance – it quickly moves on, as if any criticism or negativity might harsh the buzz of the devoted fan. Perhaps for the same reason – or perhaps because the film is American and the director is too young to know about it – the major controversy surrounding the series – and Child’s Play 3 in particular – is entirely ignored. I don’t know how you can possibly discuss the story of that movie without bringing up the fact that the judge at the trial of Jamie Bulger’s 10-year-old killers suggested that their actions were due in large part to having seen ‘video nasties’, with the press immediately latching onto Chucky and Child’s Play 3 as the specific film to blame. This was no small thing – the British press and media were awash with claims that this film in particular and the franchise in general had directly inspired the murder of a two-year-old child, even drawing nonsensical parallels between scenes in the film and the crime. This wave of mass hysteria was rampant for months and very nearly caused new laws to come into force that would ban any age-restricted movie from having a home video release in the UK. The tabloids even harassed writer Don Mancini and producer David Kirschner. This seems like a story worth exploring but you won’t find any mention of it in this documentary.
Instead, we get a lot of interviews with a bunch of people who have no connection with the franchise at all but all of whom seem to be mates of each other, offering precisely zero insight into the series – half the time, they are talking about their own movies and experiences, which might be de rigueur for actors – because let’s face it, they love to talk about themselves – but offers no insight to the film franchise or even any convincing sense of fandom. A lot of the cast from the assorted films are interviewed, mostly giving the pat ‘everything was great, everyone was wonderful’ responses, though Jennifer Tilley is as much fun as she always is, Brad and Fiona Dourif are charming and John Waters is suitably acerbic (even though he makes an oddly tutting moral judgement of films like Saw – Mr Waters’ tastes have clearly mellowed in his old age). Speaking of Waters, Billy Boyd has to be reminded of his name because hey, he’s so unimportant. I would, however, have liked a bit more on his one entry in the film series, Seed of Chucky, which comes the closest to being given short shrift (ex-Fangoria editor Antony Timpone is especially dismissive because of course he is) and the international co-production aspects of the later films.
But Living with Chucky is what it is for the first hour – a solid, if unremarkable documentary on the history of the seven films (and a bit on the TV series but nothing at all about the remake, which is really rather odd) that does nothing to frighten the horses. Like I said, it felt more like something that belonged on a Chucky box set as an extra, but it was fair enough for all that. But then it goes completely into self-indulgence. In case the viewer was unaware, the film reveals that it is being made by Kyra Elise Gardner, daughter of Tony Gardner, the special effects creator for the series since Seed of Chucky. It then becomes the story of growing up with Chucky as part of your life, which is fine for a little while – that’s not an uninteresting story to fill out a few minutes even if it is over-egged. But things then slide into a seemingly endless love-fest with everyone going on and on and on about how great everyone else is and how making a film is like having a second family and how important all these people are as part of your life, and frankly, it gets rather wearing. Especially when you think that we are talking for the most part about three films, made in 2004, 2013 and 2017. I think the importance of people that – by their own admission – only see you during the making of each film, which I guess adds up to maybe six months in 14 years is a tad overstated, to be honest. And even if it isn’t, then my God, the documentary labours the point. Even if everyone involved hung out together all the time, I don’t think we need half an hour of them telling us about it. Good for them if they feel like family (though that seemingly doesn’t extend to people like Kevin Yagher, who did the animatronics on the first four films but is only mentioned here in terms of becoming too expensive to hire for Seed of Chucky; needless to say, he isn’t interviewed) but it honestly isn’t very interesting and for the last third of the film, Living with Chucky feels like a vanity project from someone whose dad knows a lot of people. There are worse examples of nepotism out there but in all honesty, this film needed an editor who was less in love with the people who appear in it. Buried here is a fascinating film about increasingly low-budget horror filmmaking, but it all gets lost in the self-indulgence. There is no reason for this film to be 105 minutes long beyond a misguided belief in how interesting watching your family friends tell each other how great they are.
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