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We talk to the team behind a new reboot of the 80s horror classic Child’s Play.
“When something is cute, it puts the audience at ease, and that builds the horror more.” —⁠Tyler Burton Smith
The new Child’s Play reboot is unique among reboots in that the series it is rebooting remains an ongoing concern. The original Child’s Play came out in 1988 and spawned no fewer than six sequels. Although the last two skipped theaters to be released straight to home entertainment platforms, the series has maintained an admirable level of quality and consistency thanks to the continued presence of original screenwriter Don Mancini, who wrote all seven movies and directed the last three.
He’s currently putting together a Chucky television show that continues the often innovative mythology of the features. But in one of those only-in-Hollywood situations, two separate companies currently own the rights to make Child’s Play films, and Mancini has nothing to do with the new film, which puts a modern spin on the Chucky story.
When the reboot was announced, Mancini threw a little shade on the film, apparently (and understandably) concerned that it would muddy the waters around his upcoming TV show.
Jennifer Tilly, who voiced Chucky’s girlfriend Tiffany in the gonzo fourth movie, Bride of Chucky, and co-starred as herself in the meta fifth movie, Seed of Chucky, also expressed her displeasure with the remake.
Mancini appears to have declined an executive producer credit on the new film, which was shepherded into existence by the top studio horror producers of the moment: Seth Grahame-Smith and David Katzenberg, who were also behind the insanely successful It and its upcoming sequel.
You wouldn’t know it from the original film’s poster, which seems positively ashamed of the film it was selling, but the conceit at the heart of the 1988 film existed as a direct response to heavily marketed dolls of the era such as Teddy Ruxpin and the Cabbage Patch Kids. The new film updates Chucky’s origin so that it similarly reflects a heavily marketed contemporary product: smart toys.
While the original Brad Dourif-voiced Chucky was, sorry, is a talking doll who became possessed by the soul of a serial killer, the new Chucky is an artificially-intelligent robot friend who turns murderous when his programming is tampered with. And he’s voiced by Mark Hamill.
Aubrey Plaza (Ingrid Goes West) stars in the film as Karen, a single mom who takes home a returned Chucky from the big-box store where she works and gifts it to her son Andy, played by Gabriel Bateman (who previously encountered a sinister doll in Annabelle).
Norwegian filmmaker Lars Klevberg directed the new Child’s Play, which was written by Tyler Burton Smith. Klevberg’s American feature debut, Polaroid (an expansion of his own 2015 Norwegian short), has yet to be released in the States due to the Weinstein Company’s ongoing problems.
Letterboxd caught up with Plaza, Bateman, Klevberg and Smith at this year’s Wondercon.
What was your reaction when you were offered this film?
Aubrey Plaza: I was so honored that they thought I could pull that character off and took a chance on me and, I dunno… Chucky is an iconic character in the history of film so I feel really lucky to be a part of it. I’m really excited about that.
I play a woman named Karen Barclay who is a single mom. Her son is named Andy and she’s kind of a young mom doing the best she can and struggling a bit but trying to provide for her son. She ends up giving Andy a toy for his birthday that starts to try to kill everybody, so… but Karen thinks that her son is kind of losing his mind. So she’s going through a lot.
And Chucky was on set while you were filming?
AP: Oh yes, we did a lot of things practically, so the doll was there at all times.
What do you think fans of the original should expect from the new Child’s Play?
AP: I think they should expect a total re-imagining of this character. I think the whole idea behind it is: how could Chucky be relevant right now? And the idea of making Chucky a smart doll is kind of brilliant and it’s a cool way to bring Chucky back into the theaters, you know? And show a whole new generation of people how terrifying that doll can be.
Is it tough making something that is cute also scary?
Tyler Burton Smith: I think in some ways when something is cute or funny, it puts the audience at ease in a way, because they feel like it’s safe and I think in some ways that builds the horror more. When you feel safe with a character or with a product or with a thing, seeing that transform into something dark is a lot easier. Because you’re put at ease and then you’re fighting against that. So I think that’s kind of a fun dynamic shift in a way.
This is an R-rated horror with kids in peril—is it tricky to know how far to go with that?
Lars Klevberg: Well, there are different levels, when you’re making a movie, of how far you wanna push it. When you’re dealing with a Child’s Play movie, when you introduce Chucky as a toy, of course there will be kids involved. We bumped up the age a little bit on this one, which I think was a smart move. Andy’s no longer eight, he’s thirteen. But we’re dealing with a movie that takes an object that everybody loves—a doll, a toy—which is in many ways when you’re young, it’s kind of your safe spot. And you turn that around and what you love and trust in your fantasy world when you’re young turns against you, so suddenly your fantasy world becomes very very real and that’s interesting.
This is a separate project to the original Chucky franchise, which is still going. How did having the original creator of Chucky vocalize his opposition to this film affect you, if at all?
TBS: We love the original Child’s Play. We love Don Mancini. I grew up on Child’s Play, it’s just an awesome movie and we wanna make the best version of that possible. It’s unfortunate that he’s not more involved in this movie. It would’ve been amazing to work with him on this, but we love Child’s Play as a whole, we love him and just wanna make the best version of a Child’s Play film possible.
LK: With something like this, it’s an iconic IP, of course you think about it, but you get the script and you read the script and you connect to the story and the characters and for me as a director that’s where it starts. And you have to be able to separate that and just focus on what’s there on the page, which we did. Tyler has a big brain, and he was able to get in a lot of those things that made the first one successful. I kind of jumped on and went back and watched all the movies and I was amazed by how the atmosphere was still there.
What do you think the key differences are in this version?
TBS: A big part of it is the doll in the original film was just a stationary doll that you played with and it had these lines that it would say, but otherwise it was just a doll. The idea of updating that and asking what this toy would be now, or five years from now in the future, the idea of a different kind of product that is more technologically advanced was definitely kind of at the heart of it, but definitely keeping a lot of the elements that made the original great.
When I figured out the direction they wanted to go I thought it was a great balance of being a tribute to the original and doing something new with the franchise at the same time. It wasn’t just an excuse to remake a movie, it felt like a lot of people who loved the original who wanted to do an awesome reinvention of that concept. I was a bit nervous at first, but once we found the direction for it, I was really excited. I think we found a cool fresh take on that film.
You dealt with practical Chucky dolls on set—did you ever get concerned they might turn on you?
Gabriel Bateman: No, not really. I don’t know how much I can say but the animatronic dolls don’t really have all that much motion. But I mean, when I’m actually filming and the cameras are rolling, I feel afraid, because I’m trying to be the character, but as soon as the cameras cut, it’s the same.
You’ve been in a lot of horror, but you’re totally a kid. Have you ever seen any of the horror stuff that you’ve been in?
GB: I don’t think there’s ever been something that I didn’t watch that I was in. I think I’ve watched everything.
Were you excited about the idea of being in a remake of Child’s Play?
GB: I kind of figured out that it was Child’s Play from the [audition] side, so I watched it pretty early on, but I was really excited. A lot of my family were fans of the original trilogy before, so I was always familiar with it. So yeah, I was definitely excited.
What do you think Child’s Play fans will make of the film?
GB: We’re not trying to take away from the original in any way. It’s just a re-imagination of Chucky as a character, so I just hope people can enjoy it as its own film, without comparing to the original.
‘Child’s Play’ will be in theaters on June 20.