You would think the creator of Chucky, the iconic, two-foot-tall, serial-killing doll, would have an open mind. But Don Mancini, who writes and directs Curse of Chucky, the sixth in the franchise that premieres next month at Montreal's Fantasia International Film Festival, says he has his limits.
As the LA-based, out Mancini recalls, there have been times where the allure and mystique of Chucky have drawn the attention of fans who are — how to put this delicately? — somewhat special.
"It must have been about 12 years ago," Mancini recalls of what he considers his strangest encounter with an overzealous fan. "I was at a convention in Chicago. This very cute guy began chatting me up. I was signing stuff at a table, but I stopped to talk to him. I was single at the time, and he seemed interesting. He told me he had a Chucky doll. I was like, "Well, that's cool. Do you want to hang out later?""
Then, as Mancini tells it, the fan popped the question that should have been a final giveaway: "He turned to me and said, "Do you ever use Chucky as a toy?" I wasn't getting it, just because it was such a weird thing. Then I could see by the look in his eye what he meant. He wanted us to get together and use his Chucky doll as a sex toy. Basically, he wanted to have a threeway with me and Chucky! I would have hooked up with him if he hadn't been so fucking weird."
Such is one bump in the already-really-strange trajectory of Chucky for Mancini, that began back in the late 1980s when he penned a screenplay fresh out of film school. His dad had been an ad executive, and one of the strange cultural phenomena of the era was the Cabbage Patch dolls, an excruciatingly ugly series of demented dolls that nonetheless captured the hearts (and souls) of millions of children, becoming a marketing sensation.
Mancini had his inspiration. And he also recalled how creepy dolls could be, in particular in the cult 1975 made-for-TV movie Trilogy of Terror, in which Karen Black faces off against an especially gruesome knife-wielding doll that's been sent in the mail. The plot of the first Chucky film, Child's Play, immediately set off shockwaves when it hit cinemas in 1988. Horror fans knew they were on to something big when the spirit of Charles Lee Ray (the name was culled from three notorious killers, Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray) was somehow transmitted into a doll. When said doll (voiced by Oscar-nominee Brad Dourif) ends up in the hands of a sweet innocent kid, all hell breaks loose, with Chucky going on a killing spree that would end up spanning five movies. While stabbing, skewering or burning his victims, Chucky always delivers vicious one-liners, like "Don't fuck with the Chuck!"
And now the sixth film: Curse of Chucky will be sating enthusiastic fans after a nine-year wait. Mancini reports that this entry comes with a serious toning-down of the camp quotient that came to define the last two entries, Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky. In Bride, Jennifer Tilly joined the fun as a fan named Tiffany who manages to bring Chucky back to life. He then murders her so that her spirit is also trapped in a doll's body so he can have sex with her. The two set off on an orgy of homicide and are then resurrected in Seed, in which the franchise went very meta (Jennifer Tilly also appears as herself) and very, very gay (John Waters even had a small role as a paparazzo).
Mancini knows only too well that some didn't like how campy the franchise had become, in particular Seed, the first in the series that he directed. "Many fans seemed to think we were making fun of them for their fondness of Chucky. I think they felt that I might have been suggesting they had misspent their youth. But nothing could be further from the truth."
Mancini had hoped for several years to do a Chucky reboot, in which he would have restored much of the darker material his original screenplay contained. In his pre-doctored script, it is unclear how many of the crimes are committed by the doll and how many involved the actions of the child. Studio execs didn't like the idea of an evil child, so they made the kid more vanilla. "But 10 years ago, these reboots were the way to go. Now, not so much. So I decided to simply bring Chucky back in a kind of prequel, prior to his meeting Tiffany."
Mancini confirms that he is feeling both the pressure of the genre and of creating a sequel. "Horror is interesting, because people want something new, but they also want their expectations met. I'm fascinated by sequels, because they represent a dialogue with the audience. There are new revelations about Chucky's character in the film. I'm confident fans will not be disappointed!"