It’s been amazing to watch Don Mancini shepherd the entire Child’s Play franchise for nearly 30 years now, successfully navigating these films through various eras in modern horror, all while keeping the spirit of everyone’s favorite possessed killer doll Chucky very much alive and kicking.
This week, Cult of Chucky made its debut on various formats and platforms—Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, and the rated version is also now available on Netflix—which meant it was the perfect time to post our interview with Mancini here on Daily Dead. Here’s the catch though: what follows ended up being a very spoiler-filled interview at times, just because there’s so much that I’ve long enjoyed about this franchise, and wanted to dig into a lot of different topics with Chucky’s creator while I had the opportunity.
So, if you haven’t had the chance to see Cult of Chucky just yet, be sure to remedy that first before reading this interview.
Great to speak with you, Don. I’m a big fan of this franchise, including Seed of Chucky, which I recently showed a little love in a feature I posted, because I just thought it was a movie that needed a little bit of love. But it’s been so great to see all these different phases in the Child’s Play, now Chucky, series.
Don Mancini: You know, it's interesting. It seems like Seed is the most controversial one, but as the years go by, its reputation has kind of grown in a cult-like way. It's certainly the one that Jennifer [Tilly] and I have dined out on the most in terms of there being interesting screenings that people have for it that they'll invite us to. For example, there was one up in San Francisco a few years ago at the Castro that was put on by this great drag queen, Peaches Christ, where they did this whole musical number before the movie and we got to see the Seed of Chucky in a theater full of San Francisco drag queens. It was awesome.
Also, it's so nice to talk to you, because I read everything about the movies. I'm a little obsessive that way, and I can't remember when you published that, but I remember reading it because anything on these films always pings on my radar. It's funny, because I was just on the phone with a reporter who was the opposite, who hates, hates Seed of Chucky, and there are still those people who think that it’s an embarrassment. I actually just got tweeted where someone said, "Dude, I just wanted to remind you that you did a shit job on Seed of Chucky” [laughs].
I get defensive about it, too, because my go-to response is, "Well, Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Wesley Morris loved it." So there [laughs]. But anyway, your article was very articulate and passionate, so I really appreciated that. But we're not alone. There are others out there [laughs].
With these different films, we have the first three that were super serious. Then you have Bride and Seed of Chucky, which take things on a very different path. And then now with Curse and Cult of Chucky, what I think is really interesting about these two films is that you’ve brought back the seriousness, and yet there's still sort of that twinkle in the eye whenever Chucky's on screen, so there’s still this fun element there, too. Was it conscientious on your part that these last two films were your way of uniting the previous five films, too? And is it hard to pull that off?
Don Mancini: What you describe, that was a very specific challenge that I was absolutely aware of and wanted to swim out to the wave and embrace. I think with Curse, for its first three-quarters of the movie, it was more of a straightforward tone in line with the first couple of movies. Then, at the end, by bringing back certain characters, that was bringing in some humor that we mined with Bride and Seed. But with this movie, it was a bigger challenge, because I wanted to maintain the seriousness of the character of Nica and her fellow patients at the asylum. My intention was that I wanted those characters to be taken relatively seriously. From my perspective, I find those plights of those characters disturbing and a little emotional.
I was very aware when I was making the movie that at various times I had to push each actor to tears. So it's like, I'm trying to juggle that with the tone that Jennifer Tilly brings in, and the tone that inevitably happens when you put three different versions of Chucky together. Is that viable? Can that work? As the writer and director, I relish the challenge. I didn't want to make the same movie as Curse of Chucky. We could have. It could have been just another movie about a collection of people all under one roof and Chucky does his thing. I just don't want to make the same movie over and over again. So what you're talking about, I was very aware of it.
The effects in this film are fantastic, and I love the way Tony Gardner has been able to push things in this series, especially in Cult of Chucky. You mentioned the three different Chucky dolls, but there’s also some incredible kills, and just when I think you guys cannot possibly push things any further, you prove me wrong. And that’s awesome.
Don Mancini: Oh, well that's cool to hear. I'm so thrilled that you had that response. Tony is amazing. I love working with him. He's also just such a great person. He's also a great presence to have on set, particularly for me because he's very calming generally. And he's very funny. When we were doing that scene with the various Chucky dolls, one of the things that Tony and the puppeteers and I just cackled over constantly was the Chucky we referred to on set as “Buzz Cut.” We knew that they each had to have a slightly different personality, so they couldn't all just be the same. That would just be boring.
That was a scene actually that I was rewriting constantly while we were even shooting. That was the big bear in the schedule: scene 74. I kept rewriting it, and felt I didn't have it right yet. Then, finally toward the end I found what, in my head, was the key. The key for me was the three Chuckys shouldn't be the same and they shouldn't be at odds, either—they should be brothers. That may seem like a no-brainer, but for whatever reason it took me a while to get there. But they love each other, they love what they do together, and the two Chucky dolls are welcoming this new guy into the fold, and with his comparative innocence, he's thrilled about what he's doing. It ended up being such a great scene.
I was insanely thrilled to have Jennifer come back for this one because I have always loved her, and thought there were still some loose ends to tie up there. I also really enjoyed the fact that you brought Andy back into this, too, just because of the fact that he's Chucky’s original foe. Was it always your intention, even back when you were doing Curse of Chucky, that you’d be taking it in a direction that would end up spanning the entire series? And my other question that ties into that would be, do you know where you guys are going to take it from here?
Don Mancini: Well, let's see. To answer your second question, I can't really say too much obviously where does it go from here, but I do have concrete ideas and a concrete path. Your first question is it's something that I had been interested in doing over the last few years, in bringing the character of Andy back. Through the miracle of social media, I got reacquainted with Alex [Vincent] after he grew up. It's such an odd thing to meet someone under those circumstances. I was in my 20s. He was six. We met in a situation where we were colleagues. That's bizarre. This little child is my colleague.
Then years pass, and he grew up to be a really interesting guy. And really nice guy, too. He's been making appearances at conventions his entire life, so I was aware that there was a great love for that character and for Alex's performance among the fans. So, it just seemed like a no-brainer to bring him back. However, there was some initial resistance to that among the powers that be. Objectively I get it. It's not right to turn back. You should always be looking forward. I do get that. But it was apparent to me that fans enjoyed seeing him at the end of Curse of Chucky, so that was my way of taking the temperature. I was very confident that that would go over well with fans, and I had hoped that it would help convince the studio to bring him in, in a larger role, for the next film. I always had that plan.
What's been fun for me, too, is for as much as Chucky and Brad [Dourif] are the cornerstones of the franchise, you’ve made Fiona [Dourif] and Jennifer into central figures, too, so it’s cool to get those strong female characters to balance out Chucky in a way. And they’re both so great in Cult of Chucky, too, especially in the last 15 minutes or so.
Don Mancini: Fiona is an amazing actress. She is one of my best friends. One of the nice things about working on a franchise is that I get to write roles specifically for actors, and tailor the roles for them. I'm always interested in giving them something new to do. With Brad on this one, with the three Chucky scenes, he got to play with the persona a little bit and switch it up. That's fun. As a writer, I wanted to give Nica somewhere interesting to go, too. One of the first things I knew I wanted to do was that she had to get up from that wheelchair. I didn't know how at first, and I didn't know exactly what it meant, but I knew that as a visual, and as a dramatic moment, that would be a very cool way to signal that character's growth. Then, I'm thinking about all the weird Freudian implications of Fiona Dourif being victimized in a cat and mouse way by her own father, too [laughs].
But also, what was interesting to me was, what would happen bringing these two characters together: Tiffany and Nica? They're both so different tonally. They're from different territories of the genre. Nica and Fiona represent a very grounded, serious tone, and Jennifer Tilly is the complete opposite. I thought, "That's going to be an interesting challenge. How do these mix? If we do it right, it will be like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Two great tastes that go great together.” I do think we pulled it off, or the actresses pulled it off. There’s that first scene where Tiffany comes to visit her in the hospital, and she brings Nica the doll and some devastating news, and slays that character emotionally to the point that she's so devastated that she goes to the point of suicide. Tiffany is just, in her way, sort of chirpily avoiding her pain. I think that's why that works.
Then of course, it's just so much fun to see them making out at the end, because it was also a way for me to continue the queer identity of the franchise, which has been important to me since Bride of Chucky. That's another thing that I'm proud of, because it's a really unique thing about these films as a popular horror franchise. I wanted to find a way to continue that, and celebrate it, too, because of what these characters have come to mean to that community as a whole.
You’ve mentioned continuity, so I wanted to ask if you had thought at all about including Glen and Glenda into this mix? Is that something that you've thought about exploring in the future? For me, being a Seed of Chucky fan, I know I’d love to see them again one day.
Don Mancini: The answer to both questions is "yes." And that is inevitably controversial. There was some dialogue in the movie written and shot where references to Glen and Glenda are made, but it had to be cut. That was over my head. Partly, you cut things for time, and sometimes you have to make cuts for other reasons.
But, I love those characters, and I love Billy Boyd. I would love to bring those characters back into the fold. Somehow, I want to find a way to do it in such a way that it is going to please everybody. That's my goal, because it's a pretty controversial character. People had been speculating over the last couple of months whether or not those characters were coming back, and some people said, "Oh, that's great." But just as vocal are the faction of fans that will always say, "Don't do that. You'll ruin the franchise again."
There's just a faction of fans that don't want it to be goofy. They just take it so seriously. I do appreciate that to a certain extent. I love the people that it means so much to. They just don't want it to get too silly or goofy or satirical. While I get that, there's a part of me that's a little defiant. It's not that I just want to defy them, I want to find a way to make it work so that everyone goes, "Oh. Yeah. That actually is cool." So hopefully one day, we’ll see Glen and Glenda again.
In case you missed it, read Heather's Cult of Chucky interview with Brad Dourif.