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The father of Chucky

Don Mancini, creator of Chucky, on creating the ultimate killer-doll franchise

In the lead-up to Halloween, Dazed Digital is running a Dark Arts season inspired by our November Dark Arts issue. Among other things, we've walked the path of darkness via the Hollywood Walk of Death and talked to Don Mancini, the creator of Chucky. Check back on our Dark Arts section for a journey to hell and back. 

From the November issue of Dazed & Confused:

“Growing up, I was a big horror movie fan – Child’s Play certainly wasn’t the first film that featured a doll which comes to life and kills people. I was influenced by films I had seen when I was younger, a great picture called Trilogy of Terror and a movie called Magic.

I wrote Child’s Play when I was still a student at UCLA. A couple of my friends at the time were working for Charlie Band at Empire Pictures. At the time Charlie was doing stuff like Trancers and Ghoulies. He read the script to Child’s Play and offered me my first job, on a film called Cellar Dweller.

The way Empire worked was to devise a great poster for a film, then raise the money to make it by pre-selling the movie to various countries based on that poster. So Charlie brought me this amazing image for Cellar Dweller. He said, ‘I liked your script about the killer doll and I want you to write this for me. We’re going to shoot it in one location in Italy and it has hardly any budget. It has to be made in ten days.’ My original concept was a lot more ambitious than the film they finally made but that was my first paying job in Hollywood. Or sort-of-paying, anyway – the cheque I got from Charlie bounced. And from what I’ve heard, that wasn’t an unusual occurrence for his company. I think by just doing the one film with him I got off lightly.

The two kids who committed the Bulger murder hadn’t even seen Child’s Play 3. It was just something sensationalised by the British press

Thankfully, MGM read Child’s Play and optioned it. Tom Holland directed the first movie and added things to the script that I hadn’t initiated. I cannot be objective about this. The things that Tom brought in did not work for me. The whole idea of voodoo – I just couldn’t buy into that. In my script, Chucky was not possessed by the spirit of a serial killer. He was the manifestation of the id of the little boy, Andy. It was a very Freudian story. But credit to Tom, the movie was a sleeper hit.

Unfortunately I wasn’t on set for Child’s Play because the Writers Guild was on strike. Thankfully I was around in post-production, because at one point Tom decided that Chucky should be voiced by a woman – he was inspired by Linda Blair’s character in The Exorcist. So there was a whole cut of Child’s Play where Jessica Walter of Arrested Development and Play Misty for Me was the voice of Chucky. You can imagine how that sounded. It was just weird. I can sort of see the logic of what he was going for, but it didn’t work at all. Of course, the producers went with Brad Dourif as Chucky and he has voiced the doll in all six movies. For me, Brad Dourif is Chucky. His vocal performance is so iconic and so specific. After Child’s Play there were a lot of copycat productions but if anything I was flattered by movies like Dolly Dearest and Puppet Master.

It is very unusual for the original creator of a film franchise to be around for the whole series. I was really just a kid when Child’s Play came out, but I became good friends with the producer, David Kirschner, and we made every subsequent Child’s Play movie together. With Child’s Play 2, United Artists told us they wanted nothing to do with horror films any more so it was made at Universal Pictures instead. The sequel was a success so we did the third film a year later, in 1991. Unfortunately in Britain Child’s Play 3 became tangled up with the horrible killing of Jamie Bulger. That was really upsetting – although my understanding is that the two kids who committed the murder had not even seen Child’s Play 3. It was just something sensationalised by the British press. 

It was a really terrible time for me. We give these films ratings for adults, not children. But the most ironic thing about it is that Child’s Play 3 is the mildest of all the Chucky movies. I have heard that in the wake of the Bulger killing, Child’s Play 3 gained a notorious status in British play-grounds. It became toxic: ‘Some of our brethren have been moved to kill because of this movie.’ It was a rite-of-passage thing: ‘Have you actually watched it? Dare you watch it?’ I can only imagine how disappointed these kids were when they finally did see it because it is really, really mild. I can’t imagine Child’s Play 3 inspiring anyone to do anything but fall asleep. It’s my least favourite of all six films and most fans agree.

We brought Chucky back in 1998 with Bride of Chucky. That was the biggest budgeted Child’s Play movie and, for me, it is also the best of the films. At that point we really emphasised the humour of the character. We took that satire even further with Seed of Chucky (2004), which I directed. I know some Child’s Play fans were split on that decision because Seed of Chucky is more of a comedy than a horror. But it lives on as a cult item. We screened it in the Castro Theatre in San Francisco with a big dance number onstage. It was inspiring because I’ve wanted to do a Chucky musical for a long time!

After Seed of Chucky, fans were clamouring for a return to the scary tone of the first two films. That was my mission with the latest movie, Curse of Chucky: to bring back some good old-fashioned suspense. For years we were trying to get a remake of the original Child’s Play made. In the mid-2000s all the major horror franchises – Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street – were being redone on a bigger scale. But Child’s Play was mired in legal entanglements.

We tried to work it out, and some lawyers made a lot of money, but we finally realised we could grow old and die waiting for this to happen. So we decided to do another sequel – but tonally, Curse of Chucky is definitely a reboot. We return to that feeling of gothic scariness. We keep Chucky in the shadows in this movie — it’s creepier because of that approach. 

I’m always thinking about different scenarios for Chucky. The next movie might feature Chucky onboard a train. There’s a romantic element to trains, and it would have a very claustrophobic feeling. That could be fun.”

Curse of Chucky is out now on DVD and Blu-ray