Born and raised in Queens, New York, Erik Luers has been writing about the cinema for longer than he can remember. Having received his Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies from Queens College (CUNY) and his Master of Arts in Media Studies from The New School, Erik has written about movies for The Film Society of Lincoln Center, Indiewire.com, Slant magazine’s The House Next Door and various other publications, while guest-curating screenings for Videology, an eclectic movie house in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Erik has also extensively covered film fests such as the Havana Film Festival in New York and the Fantasia international film festival in Montreal. In his spare time, he enjoys riding the MTA subway system and rooting for the New York Knicks.
Q&A: “CURSE OF CHUCKY” Writer/Director Don ManciniFearful Features,Movies/TV,News Erik Luers
Quite a bit of time has passed since we last saw our favorite killer Good Guy doll in action. In SEED OF CHUCKY, writer/director/series creator Don Mancini’s directorial debut, Chucky was a proud father trying to teach his long-lost child the ways of the knife. After that film came and went, things were quiet on the CHILD’S PLAY franchise front—although typically (and to the chagrin of many), there was very real talk of a potential remake that luckily turned out to be a false alarm. Now Mancini has returned with the latest entry in the franchise, CURSE OF CHUCKY.
A visually impressive sequel with inspired casting choices (including Fiona Dourif, daughter of returning Chucky voicer Brad Dourif, as wheelchair-bound heroine Nica) and nods to the original film, CURSE OF CHUCKY arrives on DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow from Universal Studios Home Entertainment. FANGORIA sat down with Mancini following CURSE’s world premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia festival this past summer (where the movie won the Audience Award for Best Horror Film) to discuss where he’s been, what led to CURSE’s creation and his evolution as an astute visual filmmaker.
FANGORIA: It’s been nine years since SEED OF CHUCKY was released. In the interim, were you working on other projects?
DON MANCINI: I tried to get into television, and sold a couple of pilots. They didn’t go anywhere, which was frustrating. And then we had the [writers’] strike and the recession. For a couple of years, it was just really hard to get anything going. But also during that time, [producer] David Kirschner and I were trying to get a new Chucky project going. For a while, we were trying to get a remake of the first film going, and that got mired in legal entanglements. The process then evolved to this film. Having done a couple of horror/comedies as a writer, and only one previous film as a director [SEED], which was a comedy, I was very excited about the prospect of doing a proper horror film, where I could really get into visual storytelling and using the camera more. As a kid, I was so into Brian De Palma; he was probably my first directorial obsession. And that led me to gialli and Dario Argento, so I wanted to make a movie in that mode.
FANG: Can you speak a little more about that filmmaking process? There’s a tricky moment in the opening sequence where the camera circles around Chucky and then we progress further into the action with the police officers speaking, and you have those great parallel edits between characters using laptops.
MANCINI: You’ve got Jill [the family’s au pair, played by Maitland McConnell] Skyping with her lover in the bedroom, and you have Nica downstairs doing her Internet search about Chucky, so you have three people all on laptops in that sequence, two of whom are connected. That was really fun to plan. It was very meticulously storyboarded.
FANG: And some of your overheard shots of Chucky coming downstairs are reminiscent of that memorable sequence in TAXI DRIVER, when we survey the carnage from above.
MANCINI: It was like the climax of TAXI DRIVER…
FANG: And your close-ups of eyes and how specific that is, and the flashback in black-and-white with hints of color in the sunflowers…
MANCINI: Wow, I’m so excited that you noticed all of this!
FANG: There’s such a visual progression that it seems like you really tried to implement more here.
MANCINI: Definitely. In SEED OF CHUCKY, the process was mired in the puppets. We had three puppets and they were the stars, and it was so time-consuming and complicated. Given the schedule we had and being a first-time director, I had to keep things a little simpler and just put the story on the screen because of the complications with the dolls. When I look back on SEED, I wish I could have been a little more fancy with the camera. I think BRIDE, which Ronny Yu did, was stunningly beautiful, and part of the reason that movie is so effective is the collision between the comedic material and the incongruously elegant treatment of it. I aspired to do that with SEED, but maybe didn’t quite get there. With CURSE, it was really an opportunity to play with the camera more.
FANG: SEED had some interesting thematic elements that are shared with CURSE. In many ways, SEED was a tribute to GLEN OR GLENDA? and that sort of film, and CURSE also plays with gender and sexual relationships: It leads us one way, and then it goes somewhere else. You still find a way to implement a twist on sexual expectations.
MANCINI: It’s funny; when I was scripting CURSE, it wasn’t my original intention to do that. As a writer, I outline meticulously, but I always deviate hugely from that because you want it to be an organic process. When you finally get the characters talking to one another, it opens up all these opportunities, and it was in that process of the writing that I discovered that twist. I thought, “Oh my God, that’s great!” I also realized that anyone paying attention might think, “Well, of course, he had to get in some of the gay stuff!” And maybe, on an unconscious level, that’s partly what drove it.
FANG: You always find a way to put your own personal voice in there.
MANCINI: Right; it was probably unconscious initially, but it’s undeniably there.
FANG: You’ve known Fiona Dourif for a long time from working with Brad, and the film almost feels designed to have Brad’s daughter star in it.
MANCINI: When I wrote CURSE, I wasn’t thinking of Fiona at all. I wasn’t thinking of any actor, I was just thinking of the character, Nica. When Fiona came in and read, it seemed so inevitable and perfect, and I resisted it at first. I was afraid that maybe I was too carried away by the idea. It felt too perfect and too easy in a way, but she read and came back, and it was like, “No, she’s actually really awesome!” She was just the best candidate for the role.
FANG: In many ways, this entry in the series really brings things back to the first film. You mentioned some remake issues with original studio MGM, but actually having footage from CHILD’S PLAY in CURSE and Universal finally releasing a boxed set of all six—how did you get all these things to come to fruition?
MANCINI: It was a process. Getting the footage was largely due to David Kirschner’s relationship with Tony Thomopoulos [coincidentally, co-star Danielle Bisutti’s uncle], who had worked at MGM/UA when we did CHILD’S PLAY in 1988. He was helpful and instrumental in our being able to use that stuff. As for the boxed set, I didn’t know that Universal was putting it out—and including the first movie—until they sent me the cover artwork. I had no idea! I’m excited about that too.