A friend till the end

Kyra Elise Gardner on growing up with a killer doll and making Living With Chucky

by Jennie Kermode

Kyra Elise Gardner and Chucky
Kyra Elise Gardner and Chucky Photo: Yellow Veil Pictures

Chucky, the murderous doll with a human soul who has stalked his way through eight films and a TV series, has a lot more personality that the average horror film villain, so it was no surprise to see a documentary about him, Living With Chucky, hitting the festival circuit this year, with screenings at Frightfest and Fantastic Fest among others. What I didn’t initially realise was just how literal the title of that documentary was. Its director, Kyra Elise Gardner, is the daughter of puppeteer Tony Gardner, one of those responsible for bringing Chucky to life onscreen. She has shared her life and sometimes her home with Chucky, and she has also had to share her dad, accepting that he would be away from weeks at a time when she was young because the doll needed him. When we meet for a chat about the film, I ask her what that was like.

Kyra Elise Gardner
Kyra Elise Gardner

“It was is definitely difficult at times,” she says. “I'm a total daddy's girl, if you couldn't tell, and I vividly remember, actually, when he left for Seed Of Chucky. It was in Romania and I knew it was going to be a long time. My parents had explained how many months he was going to be gone and as soon as he left out the front door I just sat on the staircase waiting for him to come home, crying. So it definitely was difficult. I I definitely felt like I was living with Chucky at times, especially around Halloween time. Chucky is always a part of the décor but also, I'm an October baby, so he was always at my birthday parties. He made appearances and scared my friends. So it definitely felt like I was growing up with an inanimate object that was also my sibling.”

It’s a situation which has given her fabulous access to the people who worked in and on films. Documentaries like this are often created in the edit, but was she more able to chart the course of the film from the start, knowing that she would be able to talk to all these people?

“Yes and no,” she says. “Really, I have I have a bigger appreciation for documentary editors, because dear God, that is an overwhelming task, and there’s so much to do. I knew a bit of what I wanted to do while setting out to interview everybody and knew that I could get Brad and Fiona [Dourif] and of course they’re a daughter-dad duo. So there was a connection there. But it really developed in editing in terms of how I was going to cover the franchise in its entirety - minus the reboot – and also have this personal tie to it. I found the structure while editing but I was able to go in with some good questions, I think, and with a vague understanding of how I wanted to structure it.”

So what about the reboot? Why did that get left out?

“I remember when that film was actually like happening in 20...I think 2018, because it came out in 2019, the Chucky franchise was already greenlit for a television series at the time. And so a reboot was like, what the heck? Because the franchise wasn't dead and MGM had the original rights. So everybody passed on it, Don [Mancini], my dad, Brad – and MGM, which is now Amazon, just went ahead and did it anyways. And so although I have no ill will to the people behind that movie, it just was nobody from the original franchise, not even the producer. And so I feel like if I had gone down covering that movie, it just would have felt more like a side tangent because it was this thing that was so separate from everybody else. And I felt like it wasn't fair to some of the original creators that the reboot happened in the first place, because it's such a different story. It’s an AI doll, there's no voodoo and so it really could have been its own entity.”

Living With Chucky poster
Living With Chucky poster Photo: Yellow Veil Pictures

So when did she first see her inanimate sibling on the screen?

“I remember when I first saw Seed, I was eight. I snuck a DVD of Seed to a friend's birthday party because I was not allowed to watch it. My parents were very adamant that I don't watch it. I had no idea why. And that was my very first vivid memory of seeing the Chucky films, which was watching my dad get decapitated about five minutes into the movie. So that was very traumatising, and safe to say I didn't make it through the sleepover and I had to have my dad come pick me up and show me that he was actually alive and not dead at home, but that was my first introduction to it. And then, you know, there was a big gap between Seed and Curse. And then when Curse came along, it was actually cool, because instead of just watching it I got to puppeteer Chucky’s ankles in some of the reshoots that were in LA, which was super fun.”

The films are really popular with young people today just as they were when first released. What does she think it is about it that gives it that magic, that staying power?

“That's an interesting question. Well, Don has done such a beautiful job of tailoring the new series to appeal to Gen Z as well as, say, Gen X or baby boomers who grew up with it in 1988. So I think, really, it's been these people that have been the singular voice of the franchise for so long. It's stayed true to its origin, and I think people really appreciate that. I also think, you know, Chucky himself is such an interesting character. I know a lot of people say it's just a doll, you could kick it and you know, run away. But he's not like a Jason or a Freddie where he's very quiet. He has his own personality, and Brad Dourif just brings so much to the character, just like there was in Freddie, but I think Chucky being a doll and having so much room to go anywhere with it. And Don has been pretty consistent in the mythology, even though it's gotten a little out of control!”

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