• Interviews

Docs: “Living with Chucky”

Filmmaker Kyra Elise Gardner, daughter of special effects supervisor and puppeteer Tony Gardner, has spent a good deal of her youth with the infamous doll Chucky, star of the Child’s Play franchise.

Living with Chucky takes an in-depth look at the groundbreaking Child’s Play films from the perspective of a filmmaker who grew up within it. Featuring interviews with cast and crew such as Brad Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Alex Vincent, and creator Don Mancini, this personal film recounts the dedication, creativity, and sacrifice that went into making the franchise and its long-lasting impact on the horror community.

Cinedigm and Bloody Disgusting will premiere the horror documentary Living with Chucky on its horror streaming service Screambox and on all major digital platforms on April 4 in the US and Canada.

Speaking to her via Zoom, she talks about how Chucky has been an integral part of her life.


With so many slasher movies, what makes Chucky so memorable?

I think Chucky is memorable because he is one of the slasher villains that has a personality, as opposed to Jason (Friday the 13th) or Michael Meyers (Halloween), no offense. (laughs). Those are slasher villains we don’t hear from really. Even Ghostface, a box that he talks to, or she, depending on the killer. As opposed to Freddie Kruger (Nightmare on Elm Street), there are so many odds that are stacked against Chucky, given his height and the fact that he’s a doll. Also, the fact that it plays into things that we were scared of as kids, like dolls. I, personally, was scared of American Girl dolls.


Yeah, more so than Chucky, honestly. I was a bit scared of Barbie, but that was for other reasons. (laughs) I feel that way too. Yeah. Because he’s sort of disenfranchised, in a way, it sets him apart from the others.

You have such a personal connection with Chucky given that your dad was the special effects/lead puppeteer. Can you talk a bit about growing up with Chucky?  What was that like?

I think my parents think that they did a good job separating work and reality, but nobody really sat me down and explained, “This thing’s fake. This is what we do for work.” (laughs).  I don’t remember having that conversation with my parents. It’s almost like my childhood was fantasy and scary


I would have thought you’d be desensitized to Chucky.

At first, no, because I was four. I definitely had a typical four-year-old’s reaction to seeing the doll, because the first doll that I did see wasn’t the Good Guy doll either. It was Scarred Chucky, since my dad was working on Seed. He looked pretty scary. I had your typical reaction. Then, once my parents slowly introduced me to him more over time, I got used to it. When I was seven or so, I actually was Tiffany for Halloween. I had no idea who she was but I fit into the stunt little person’s dress for Tiffany. Or, at least, I think it was.  I hope it wasn’t the actual doll (laughs).  I don’t believe that, though, because that’d be insane if it was the actual doll. I was Tiffany for Halloween and my dad made me look like her. They desensitized me in a nice way. Other times, it was trial by fire. The doll would be somewhere, unexpectedly. Also, Chucky was always at my birthday parties as a kid. I was born in October. We would make fake mazes in the living room and Chucky would always be at the end of that. Eventually, it would scare my friends more than me because I started to get used to it. Yeah, having a special effects makeup artist dad is definitely interesting and different. It’s so weird to talk about it because, for me, it’s so normal. You try to look at it how it isn’t normal, and you’re like, “I don’t know, it’s so ingrained.”

You must have been the cool kid at school, though. Were people scared of you?

I don’t think anybody actually cared. I come from a small mountain town. There are very few people whose parents worked in the industry. I think two or three families. It was just this thing as I got older and got into high school. Same with the friends around me. They just got used to it. “Oh yeah, Kyra. She has Chucky in her house all the time, especially during Halloween.” I don’t know if it made me cooler. If so, people didn’t tell me about it.

Talking about the documentary, was it difficult to make it happen and get the actors on board?

It was really difficult. It was one of the most difficult projects I’ve done. This started as a short film that I did in film school. That was relatively easy because I had the film school’s help. Also at the time, the Chucky TV series wasn’t happening, everybody had just finished Cult of Chucky. There was a nice lapse of time where everybody was sort of free in terms of the actors. When I started to pursue it as a feature film, COVID happened. When the TV show started, everybody was so busy. It just became exponentially harder to get people to find the time.  Eventually, Heather Langencamp, from Nightmare on Elm Street, came in and saved the day. She introduced me to her fair use attorney from I Am Nancy. Then, the process started to get a lot easier.


What does your dad think of your film?

He’s a proud dad and he likes it. It’s weird because he actually didn’t watch the film when I was cutting it. He also has ADHD and he’s, like, “Once I see something one way and you’re going to edit it a different way, I can’t get the first version out of my head. I’ll get stuck on that.” He didn’t want to rip me up in my editing process. It was weird to not have him watch it for the first time until the premiere. I just kind of showed him his section so he could know what he said in it. I think he thinks that it’s great. I don’t want to speak for him. I know this is documentary and not narrative, but I think it means a lot to him in terms of me feeling more integrated into the Chucky family. Obviously, I haven’t worked on any of the films. I haven’t been able to be on set for the TV series due to COVID. This is a way for me to be more connected to this job that he’s had for the past 21 years.

Do you think you’ll stay in this genre? This is, clearly, something that interests you. Like with your previous work, Inked.

Yeah. Horror is my love language. It’s one of the genres where you get to play the most, as opposed to the real world. I love fantasy, probably because of my childhood. I do want to get out of the documentary space. If I do any other documentaries, it would still exist somewhere within that world of fantasy or horror, because that’s what interests me the most. I have such a huge respect for special effects makeup. I love what my dad does and what I see his artist friends do. In today’s world, in the film industry, they aren’t given enough chances for their work to really shine like they were in the eighties. I really want to exist in that world, try, and bring small-budget practical effects back like they used to be.

What about your favorite horror movies?

I recently watched The Fly.  I can’t believe I haven’t seen it sooner. As far as scary things go, I grew up in the early 2000s. What you watch as a kid really sticks with you. For me, it was The Ring and The Grudge. But one of my favorite franchises is Insidious. I love the prequel Insidious. I thought it was great. I also liked the second Paranormal Activity. I’m a big fan of sequels, apparently. The Conjuring Two is a good one as well.

Do you think you’re less scared than the average person when you watch scary movies?

I would say so, yes. I just watched the remake of The Grudge, the 2020 version, last night. In my apartment. Alone. I’m just more intrigued by how they got the creepy hands in the shot. I can see something and know that it’s fake, as opposed to somebody else coming in who didn’t have the same childhood. It looks a lot more realistic to them. Also, there’s a formula to horror. If you have watched enough horror movies, you can kind of know when you’re going to get scared. It’s not scary.