It's hard to keep a serial-killing rubber doll down.
In 1988, when Ronald Reagan was president, the red-haired Chucky knifed his way into becoming a box-office horror sensation with Child's Play. Twenty-five years later the notorious doll has killed at least 40 victims and improbably survived five onscreen deaths as his sixth film, Curse of Chucky, comes out on Blu Ray/DVD this week.
"Chucky kills again and again. And he gets killed again and again," says actress Jennifer Tilly, who makes her third Chucky appearance with a Curse cameo. "I used to say the only thing that will kill Chucky for good is bad box office. That hasn't happened yet. He keeps getting resurrected. It doesn't matter if he gets burned up or chopped into tiny pieces or if somebody blows him away. He's always going to find a way to come back."
Series creator/writer/director Don Mancini was a film student at UCLA when he came up with the concept of a killer doll. He wanted to make a statement about the role of marketing in society, particularly the campaign for the "creepily popular'' Cabbage Patch doll craze.
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"I was a horror fan so I dreamed about creating an iconic character," says Mancini. "At the time we were seeing Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and Jason sort of explode onscreen and become horror fixtures. I didn't expect it would happen my first time out the gate. I got very lucky, honestly."
Fans were instantly creeped out by the smiling Good Guys doll who took on the soul and lethal habits of a dying serial killer after a voodoo ritual.
"Child's Play opened Nov. 9, 1988. How sad that I remember the exact date," Mancini says. "That was the day my life changed."
The film opened at No. 1, grossing more than $44 million. That success spawned profitable sequels Child's Play 2 (1990) and Child's Play 3 (1991). The menacing doll then went comedic with a killer family in Bride of Chucky (1998) and 2004'sSeed of Chucky. The franchise has brought in more than $250 million from sales of videos, DVDs, VOD and merchandise, says Mancini.
The doll has worked its way into the national psyche, as it is frequently lampooned in The Simpsons and has appeared on Saturday Night Live. Even Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans waved Chucky dolls to honor their red-haired look-alike NFL football coach Jon Gruden. Onscreen, Chucky has killed Hollywood stars such as John Ritter and director John Waters (who starred as an obnoxious paparazzo). A 19-year-old Katherine Heigl got her start in in Bride of Chucky. "I still think it's her best role," says Mancini.
The Oscar-nominated Tilly (Bullets Over Broadway) says she was at first insulted to be offered the horror part at the height of her mainstream Hollywood power. But the actress, who voiced the doll (and played the human) versions of Tiffany, Chucky's bride, has found the character to be her most recognizable role.
"I've done Oscar-nominated movies, movies with Woody Allen and Jim Carrey," says Tilly. "But nine out of 10 people that recognize me on the street know me from the Chucky movies. It is a world-wide phenomenon. You step off the plane and they don't speak any English but they start yelling 'Chucky, Chucky!'"
With the exception of some facial scars (known as the "Frankenchucky'' look) from a domestic dispute in Bride of Chucky, the doll's appearance hasn't changed. Each of its rainbow sweaters are hand-knitted from color copies of the original, a process that takes two weeks per sweater. Despite technical advances, Chucky's puppet process also has remained basically the same.
"But we used to build the set 6 feet off the stage floor so the puppeteers could be underneath maneuvering him. We don't have to do that anymore," says Mancini. "Now we can just (digitally) erase the puppeteer. It gives us a lot more freedom."
Curse of Chucky is a return to the franchise's horror roots, which thrills Alex Vincent, who was 6 when he made his first Chucky movie, playing the relentlessly pursued Andy Barclay in Child's Play (a role he reprised in Child's Play 2).
"For a long time I had been hoping the series would step away from the humor and go back to the original concept," says Vincent, 32.
Now bearded and no longer sporting the bowl-cut of his youthful roles, Vincent continues to make appearances at horror conventions. He concedes happily about lying to his fans for the past year, telling them he would not make an appearance in Curse. In fact, he and Brad Dourif, the actor who has voiced Chucky through the series and starred in the first installment, both make appearances.
"I kind of feel that Chucky never left my side one way or another all these years," says Vincent. "But it was good to get myself back there. It was kind of like, 'Hello, old friend' and picking up right where we left off."