If you miss the old Chucky, the straight-from-1988 Chucky, this summer’s R-rated “Child’s Play” remake has nostalgic scares up its sleeve for you... with a killer new twist.
Rebooting the frightmare franchise about a murderous ginger-haired doll, “Child’s Play,” opening June 21, reimagines the horror classic for our plugged-in times. Instead of the reincarnated soul of a sociopathic serial killer, this Chucky is a high-tech A.I. toy gone berserk who terrorizes 13-year-old Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman) and his mother, Karen (Aubrey Plaza).
The product of global consumerism gone awry, the new self-learning Chucky is an obsolete model of the bestselling “Buddi” doll with a glitch in his chip and the ability to control a vast network of interconnected devices.
Brian Tyree Henry and Tim Matheson also star in “Child’s Play,” which is scripted by Tyler Burton Smith and directed by Lars Klevberg (“Polaroid”). Producing with MGM’s Orion Pictures for their own KatzSmith banner, David Katzenberg and Seth Grahame-Smith (“It”) saw an opportunity to create a new horror lore that taps into modern existential fears.
“It seems like we’re always reading about Alexa spying on people, or smart homes being hacked,” said Grahame-Smith, “and it feels inevitable that in the next five years some big tech company, whether it’s Apple or Google, Amazon, Boston Dynamics — is going to create a smart, connected child companion toy.”
When that near-future arrives, will it have a total lack of impulse control and a penchant for kitchen knives?
Klevberg, phoning during post-production in Vancouver, is employing animatronics and VFX to bring his Chucky to life. His model bears a resemblance to the original film’s iconic design — “he had to be redheaded,” said Klevberg, who grew up in Norway watching the 1988 film.
“It was important to me that our Chucky has a signature [voice],” he added. Mark Hamill voices the character with a needful childlike quality, reflecting the director’s vision of the demented doll as “almost like a toddler looking at the world for the very first time.”
But wait, you say: What about the Chucky we remember? The one who slashed his way through six sequels, fell in love (with the equally maniacal Tiffany, in “Bride of Chucky”), became a dad (in “Seed of Chucky”), terrorized a paraplegic heroine (“Curse of Chucky”) and managed to multiply himself (“Cult of Chucky”)?
Well, that’s a different Chucky. The killer doll, it might be said, is suffering from a case of split personality. Or rather, split rights: After MGM distributed 1988’s “Child’s Play,” subsequent sequels were released by Universal Pictures and its subsidiaries.
The “Chucky” series lives on at Universal under filmmaker Don Mancini, who wrote all seven previous “Child’s Play”/”Chucky” films and directed the last three. Expanding the original mythology with Brad Dourif as Chucky, he’s developing a “Chucky” TV series and has made his disapproval of the reboot known after declining to come aboard as executive producer.
The rift has split the loyalties of horror fans, but the remake’s producers are hoping audiences have a hankering for multiple tellings of “Child’s Play,” which opens opposite “Toy Story 4” in a savvy stroke of summer box office counterprogramming.
“I have nothing but admiration and respect for Don,” said Grahame-Smith, who said that he respects Mancini’s decision not to back the reboot. “We’re just trying to make the best version of this Chucky that we can, and I don’t think our version takes anything away from the original Chucky.”