'Child's Play' Creator Don Mancini Talks 'Cult Of Chucky' And Chucky In The Age Of Annabelle [Interview]

Cult of Chucky is the seventh Child's Play movie featuring Chucky, the killer doll. After the events of Curse of Chucky, Nica (Fiona Dourif) is in a mental institution where doctors have convinced her she made up Chucky to justify the murders. Chucky (still the voice of Brad Dourif) won't stay silent as both Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) and Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) converge around Nica.

Don Mancini has written every Child's Play franchise screenplay and directed Seed of, Curse of and Cult of Chucky. Currently working as a writer on Channel Zero, Mancini spoke with /Film about the franchise and its latest entry. Cult of Chucky will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital Tuesday, October 3.

Was it important that everything in the Child's Play franchise is canon? You erase nothing, even possible regrets you may have had about previous entries. Those still happened.

That is correct. Everything fits together. There were certain things, for example the mention of Glen and Glenda which we shot but which didn't make the final cut. I think, as in Curse of Chucky, even though the movie does not specifically explicitly mention those characters, we don't do anything to contradict their existence. That was important. I want it to work, ideally, both ways. I want it to work for someone who's coming into the franchise cold and hopefully that the experience of this one movie would work, that the movie would do its job in the opening act of setting up, like any sequel does. Any sequel, that's what you try to do of course, but for people who are paying close attention over seven movies in 30 years, there'd be nothing that would be utterly contradictory. Over the course of the series, I think there have been a couple of things like, for example, the Heart of Damballa in Bride of Chucky was a device that I introduced because I basically needed a Maguffin to justify the road journey structure of that movie. They needed a reason to get from point A to point Z. So it was handy to create this notion of the Heart of Damballa. We need that to transfer our souls to human bodies. Now, on the one hand you could say, "Hey, that contradicts what Chucky's been trying to do in the first three movies," but my feeling was no, maybe that's why he was unsuccessful in the first three movies. He wasn't using the Heart of Damballa. He was a student of voodoo so I went with the logic that he was constantly learning about this very complicated mythology.

That was also before Voodoo for Dummies was published.

Right, there you go.

Even things like the military academy, you acknowledge that Andy was still there. You never try to say, "If people didn't like 3, we're pretending that didn't happen."

Oh, and clearly had a big influence on his personality because when we pick him up in this movie, we see that he's quite the gun nut, which to me made sense given that he had experience in military school and given the PTSD that he would've been dealing with his entire life.

With that, I imagine you're not pro gun but Andy has a reason to arm himself, doesn't he?

Exactly. First of all, I thought opening that little can of worms at the beginning of the movie, it just seemed like to talk about the second amendment just seemed like a really topical date discussion, something you would really be talking with someone about if you were out on a date and that you might have a disagreement about. I talked about this a lot with Alex. Like me, Alex is very lefty and he's not pro gun. The idea was that doesn't mean our character can't be and that doesn't make him a bad guy at all. It's something that actually we felt made him interesting, where he was affected by his experiences.

The biggest thing you've acknowledge throughout the whole series is that voodoo was sort of forced on you in Child's Play. It was added by other screenwriters and the director, but you've run with it throughout the series even when you had total control. 

It's such a big piece of the mythology. There's really no turning away from it I think. Also a lot of people just really like it. This is my perspective and I can't be objective about it. I didn't create that so I always had problems with it but it might just be that I can't be objective. Plenty of people seem to like it. It's also just very useful, which is why Tom Holland used it in the first movie. It's a useful device. Like the Heart of Damballa, it's the same sort of thing. It can just be a useful catch-all to make the supernatural happen in a simple way. I felt that my original script, where, as you and I have discussed for decades, how Chucky came to life was different and I thought for me, that also worked. Anyway, people really like the voodoo so I've used it. I've used it comedically, I've used it practically. It's a part of the mythology, no running away from it.

Is the Glen/Glenda moment in the deleted scenes for Cult of Chucky?

No, it's not unfortunately. It was fairly minimal. It was just a mention of their existence at the end of the movie that got cut out. I definitely wanted to keep it.

There certainly could have been an approach to the Child's Play franchise where every movie it starts over and Chucky comes after a different kid or family. Was it always important to you that the franchise be a continuing story?

Well, we've kind of had several soft reboots in a sense. Even Bride of Chucky introduced a new character from Charles Lee Ray's past, Tiffany, who we were unaware of in previous movies. Then we dovetail it in with the existing mythology so that it will work and hopefully even make the existing mythology even more interesting now that we're armed with this new information. So we did that with Tiffany in Bride and then we did it with Nica Pierce in Curse. I feel like with those two movies, what I was trying to do was have my cake and eat it too. I'm trying to introduce new characters so that there is a feeling of beginning and [for] people who are not aware of the specifics of what Chucky is other than the urban legend that has accrued around him over the course of the events of the seven films.

Cult of Chucky trailer

At one point before Curse there was talk of a complete remake of Child's Play. What was the approach to that and how far did it get?

I had a story that David Kirschner had approved. We didn't want to do a strict, strict remake of the first movie. I'm just a little bit opposed to that idea because I'm just opposed to telling a story that everyone knows already. The idea of just seeing Charles Lee Ray trotting from the police into the toy store and getting shot. Again, we allude to it in a couple of the movies, particularly in Curse of Chucky, but the remake was going to be a story that worked in such a way, in the way that I try to work any sequel, which is by subverting the expectations that you brought to it. You're coming to a movie where you're introduced to Andy Barclay and Karen Barclay and Chucky, and then what proceeded to happen wasn't exactly what you thought was going to happen. I can't say too much about it because who knows, maybe we'll do that at some point. Broadly speaking, most of the ideas that were at work in that remake kind of got reworked into what became Curse of Chucky, whose main mission of course was mainly to reboot it as a scary movie again after the overt comedy stylings of Bride and then Seed.

You also remember a lot of the, not necessarily catch phrases, but recurring dialogue from previous movies. Is it important to you that, for people who watch all the movies, you remind them that you remember that or things like that are for them?

Yeah, I think stuff like that is really fun. For people who aren't aware, it's not obtrusive or anything but for people who are aware, these little Easter eggs in the dialogue or in the situation or whatever, that reminds you hopefully of the basic cohesiveness of all this which I think is part of what's unusual about the Chucky franchise among horror franchises and something that I think is fun. Just to have those little allusions, it's important that they not be obtrusive for people who aren't in on the joke as it were, but for people who are, it's a nice little "Hello. You're in good hands."

You once told me about an idea for A Clockwork Chucky in the event you couldn't have made Seed. Did any of those ideas end up in Cult?

That was not really a serious idea. I have lots of amusing comedic ideas about Chucky and that's one of them. That idea was probably born out of the '90s where that kind of tongue in cheek-ness was more en vogue than it is now. The idea of Chucky getting deprogrammed so that he doesn't like violence, that's amusing to me. I don't know that you could legitimately do a whole movie about that. Maybe a television episode.

Do you miss the '90s horror comedy era?

Yeah, to some extent. I like both. With Cult of Chucky, my goal, we'll see how successful we are but my goal was I wanted to maintain the real stakes feeling that we had in Curse of Chucky with the character of Nica and her fellow patients. Our intention was that you become involved in those characters in a way that touches the ground and touches reality. But at the same time, I didn't want to do a movie that was too much like Curse of Chucky because I just don't want to make the same movie over and over again. The challenge for this movie was to keep both of those balls in the air, which was the serious story of Nica but then the inevitably zany vibe that Tiffany and even Chucky himself brings. It's such an indelible part of Chucky's character that he's funny. I wouldn't want to lose that, particularly in this era of Annabelle now where Chucky is certainly not the only kid on the block anymore. I think that one of the things that gives Chucky his own identity is his personality. He is funny. He's known for the funny things that he says. I didn't want to lose that. We had minimized it to some extent in Curse but I wanted to increase that quotient in this movie to the degree that I could without, hopefully, undermining the serious stuff. The same with Jennifer Tilly. I thought this is going to be very interesting to put Jennifer Tilly and Fiona Dourif in scenes together because they represent completely disparate tonalities of the franchise. I thought that was a really interesting challenge. How do we make that work? If we can make that work, that seems potentially really interesting to me because they're such different colors. So in that scene relatively early in the movie when Tiffany comes to visit Nica at the asylum and she drops a couple of bombs on Nica emotionally, it was important that the audience respond to the introduction of that character with a sense of fun because that's a part of what people think of when they think of Tiffany and Jennifer Tilly. You smile. She's a fun femme fatale. So I wanted to increase that quotient in this movie without undermining the serious stuff we have going.

You wanted to kill Alice in Cult of Chucky but the studio wouldn't let you, so you had to bring her back at the end. Were you able to conclude that story the way you wanted to in Cult?

It was important to acknowledge where that character ended up from the last movie because of how it impacted Chucky. That was part of the jumping off point into what happens to the mythology in Cult of Chucky. We leave Chucky off in Curse of Chucky in a complicated place that was kind of unprecedented. The last we see of Chucky, he's transferring his soul into Alice's body. Then we segue a few months later to Andy Barclay receiving the Chucky doll. What does that mean? What's going on there? I thought it was important not to run away from that. I thought it was important to embrace that and acknowledge it and make it work. That was my primary goal in bringing Alice back. I just wanted to tie up the loose ends of her story and explain what happened at the end of the last film.

Nurse Carlos has a husband is a socially relevant little detail. Is that something you couldn't do even 20 years ago? The gay character in Bride of Chucky had to be the funny friend.

Well, no. I felt like starting with Bride we could do it. I guess he was a funny character but he was certainly a character whose story you were meant to be invested in and whose death you were meant to care about and be surprised by. I felt that starting with Bride is when we started sewing the seeds of the franchise's gay identity. I enjoy doing that I like that distinction for the franchise as well, being a gay guy. So yeah, I feel very lucky that my collaborators and David Kirschner and the studio allow me to do that but it's also just real life. Actually, the character Carlos is very loosely based on a friend of mine, a handsome gay Latin nurse named Carlos. I actually like that scene a lot in Cult when Nica first arrives at the new asylum and she meets Carlos. He, because of his job, has to maintain a kind of standoffishness but they both have a kind of outsider status in that conversation. The fact that he's gay, what's going on with his husband, he has a kind of point of connection with Nica and I thought that was interesting for Nica's story. It was also interesting to see how a nurse or orderly would operate in those situations. You have to do your job but how do you handle your emotions because you're dealing with human beings? Controlling human beings is your job, sick human beings so it's very complicated. That's one of the things we wanted to do with that character. In the deleted scenes on the Blu-ray, he has a backstory that didn't make the final cut. There are two scenes and they're both on the Blu-ray with special commentary that I did because I really love that actor, Zak Santiago who's also on Dirk Gently. Fiona brought him to my attention after I'd written the role and said, "You should really see this guy I work with on Dirk. He's fantastic." And he is. As I did with all the actors, it's very collaborative. Once they cast we do a table read and I get all their notes and we talk. Part of what I did with Carlos was just inspired by working with Zak. Again, these scenes that didn't make it into the final cut partly were just inspired by conversations I had with him and stuff that came out of the table read, that sort of thing.

We've seen one episode of Channel Zero so far [at the time of this interview]. Is that No End House mythology still unfolding? Will it be several episodes before we fully understand what's going on with that house?

Yeah, Nick Antosca has a very complex and insidious kind of vision. I can't say how many episodes it takes to understand exactly what's going on, but I think the experience of trying to figure it out along with the characters as they're caught in the No End House is a really interesting experience. Nick's whole vision of it was fascinating. To me, there's an Inception aspect to it. There's something very Christopher Nolan dream-like about it which is something I was trying to do in Cult of Chucky as well.