Tony Gardner is one of the most accomplished special effects designers in the biz. He has designed and created effects for Zombieland, 127 Hours, Smokin’ Aces, Hairspray, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, The Addams Family, Shallow Hal and many more. Not the least of which are the last three Child’s Play movies. With the newest one, Cult of Chucky (review), out now we caught up with Gardner at his studio, Alterian Ghost Factory, and picked his brain about all that went into the latest installment.
Dread Central: When did you first get to work on a Chucky movie?
Tony Gardner: We had met David Kirschner (producer of the Child’s Play franchise) on Hocus Pocus; we did Billy Butcherson and the animatronic cat. When he was going to pitch Bride of Chucky to the studio, he wanted to go in with a display presentation. So he had us build Chucky carrying Tiffany, sort of like the classic bride and groom over the threshold kind of pose. And we built an arch, they were full size, and did a presentation piece for that. And that was sort of our first taste of Chucky. It wasn’t until Seed of Chucky – it wasn’t until three months before they were supposed to pack everything to ship to Romania, that I was contacted and asked if I’d be interested in doing some animatronic characters for a film. It was so vague at first, because I think they were trying to work stuff out still, and then three months prior to them needing to ship out, they were like, ‘okay, we need three animatronic characters that need to be able to do full dialogue, get in fights with each other, throw things,’ and I don’t know what I was thinking but I said ‘sure, that sounds great, let’s go for it,’ and we did. So my first professional experience I didn’t really even have time to think about what we doing. We just had to do it. We were matching photos and trying to be as accurate to photos as possible. There were no physical items to be had. So it was just a constant scramble and literally throwing things into boxes and getting on a plane. Then sorting it out for a week or so before filming in Romania.
DC: Chucky’s gone through a few different incarnations.
TG: Yeah, it’s interesting because when we did Seed, we were trying to match everything to Bride, but at the same time they wanted to reference the characters had a little bit of a Hollywood makeover because this was a film inside of a film. So there was a slight shift there and some things were sort of tweaked or cleaned up in a way. And then when we came to Curse, the idea was that the Good Guy doll face was actually a fake face stretched over the scarred Chucky in disguise and I think we took it a little too literally and I think that wasn’t such a great idea on my part….. But then when we went into do Cult, I was really adamant that we got everything really right, one hundred percent accurate – like start over and start with the Good Guy doll, let’s start with the original and go back to what everybody wants to see. So I was really sort of a little obsessed with hand size and body proportion and the face, even the eyes. And the eyes change a bit in the first three films and I really got analysing the first three films and the scenes that Don [Mancini, director] liked the most and trying to mirror his look there but then there were a couple concessions to the location this time. Where because there was such a white stark background the idea was to amp up the color of his hair, so that it popped a little bit more against the white. So, it wasn’t quite so auburn but it was a little more vibrant. So that’s why his hair is a little bit more intense than it should be. And then there was the idea here with him being able to go back and forth between the Good Guy doll and an evil version in kind of, an instant. The question was, he’s not turning human so what can we do to mix it up a bit and get a little bit more of the humanity of Brad Dourif into it. One of the ideas was sort of a sense of eye bags underneath the eyes, which goes against what to doll has, so that’s something people found interesting. So that also allowed us to be able to have the eye lids track more with the eye balls when he looked around so we could make them a bit more human and a little less doll like. So, he’s sort of evolving as time goes and a lot of times it’s kind of, at least lately, what serves the story better.
DC: Which Chucky is your favorite?
TG: Wow, tough one. I like him in almost every film in different scenes for different reasons, and I know that sounds kind of weird. Child’s Play Two he’s on a dresser, completely inanimate and his body posture and everything looks like a doll and when he comes to life and he straitens up and he suddenly possesses an attitude, the performance in that to me, is just as inspiring as the animatronics – like that’s the kind of stuff that we’re trying to push him to now, albeit on a budget one fifth of what all those original films had but that’s a challenge as well in and of itself. But I have to say I think I like – I honestly like him in all his incarnations. I think the scar Chucky was pretty fascinating just from the sort of Frankenstein perspective, you know, I really enjoyed that. I feel that in the new film now that we have multiple versions within the same film, I have to say my favorite at the moment, is really the new Chucky, buzz-cut Chucky, the guy with the haircut. Because he’s new to all of it but he’s so excited by everything and the idea of putting that enthusiasm in his face, in his mannerisms and then Brad actually having his voice crack when he does that character. I mean that was the most enjoyable of all of them to do. And there’s a lot of stuff buzz cut does that isn’t in the film that – maybe it’s in the deleted scenes, I don’t know, but it’s a very humorous character – so he’s my favorite right now.
DC: What’s it like to collaborate with Don Mancini?
TG: It’s interesting working with Don, because essentially Don is the franchise. He’s written all of them, he’s directed the last three, he knows the cannon, he knows how everyone’s story fits, he’s followed everything tonally, he’s directed it on paper tonally for seven films, he’s actually directed the last three. So you go to Don with a question and you get an answer that’s immediate and specific and he’s not hemming or hawing or wondering about options. He knows all of this stuff inside and out. And that is so rare and it’s kind of what makes this whole thing amazing and what gives this whole franchise it’s longevity is the fact that Don is behind it and he steers the boat with the big picture all the time. Every character motivation, every bit of dialogue, every angle choice, he’s just really amazing.
DC: What’s it like watching Cult of Chucky with an audience?
TG: The first time the film screened was Fright Fest in London. It was over a thousand people and they’re all horror fans so all the reactions and responses were huge. So it was interesting to watch it and see where the audience was willing to go and then also how extreme their responses were to some of the stuff and how much they actually really enjoyed it. And what was nice there was were able to talk to a lot of people beforehand and then afterwards and hear their feedback and how positive everything was and how much they enjoyed that it wasn’t re-hashing stuff. It was keeping things fresh, incorporating new characters and that was exciting to hear because you don’t know how people are going to respond to a lot of that stuff. And the end itself, the end of the movie is such a huge surprise with suddenly the ability to sort of, do the split your soul up and spread it out to a couple of different places. It just opens up so many doors for the future as far as possibilities of what could be done. How many story lines could go on at the same time in different places, how many off shoots could you do. Could you take the Star Wars universe idea and you’ve got one through line with the main characters and then every other film that comes out, is somebody shipped a box off to Japan or to Germany or to a specific person that was referenced in another film. It seems like there actually really is a Chucky universe, in and of itself, that could be tapped into and I think this film made that really obvious.
Written and directed by Don Mancini, Cult of Chucky stars Fiona Dourif, Alex Vincent, Jennifer Tilly, Brad Dourif, Michael Therriault, and Elisabeth Rosen. Cult of Chucky is available NOW!
Confined to an asylum for the criminally insane for the past four years, Nica (Dourif) is wrongly convinced that she, not Chucky, murdered her entire family. But when her psychiatrist introduces a new group therapy tool — a “Good Guy” doll — a string of grisly deaths plague the asylum and Nica starts to wonder if maybe she isn’t crazy after all.
Andy (Vincent), Chucky’s now-grown up nemesis from the original Child’s Play, races to Nica’s aid. But to save her he’ll have to get past Tiffany (Tilly), Chucky’s long-ago bride, who will do anything, no matter how deadly or depraved, to help her beloved devil doll.
- Inside the Insanity of Cult of Chucky — Viewers will discover what it was like to film inside an insane asylum and the challenges production faced on set. They’ll also hear from the cast and filmmakers as they discuss why they were attracted to this story and how the filmmakers’ vision brought this fun-filled horror film together.
- Good Guy Gone Bad: The Incarnations of Chucky — This featurette offers a peek into Alterian’s workshop, the studio behind Chucky’s puppeteering, to see how the magic is created and focuses on how the look of Chucky has evolved over the years.
- Feature Commentary with Director and Writer Don Mancini and Head Puppeteer Tony Gardner.