Chucky, the demonic doll with a penchant for murder and mayhem, has been terrifying audiences ever since he made his first appearance on the big screen in 1988’s Child’s Play. Camouflaged in the innocent guise of a child’s toy, but carrying the psychopathic soul of a dead killer, Chucky quickly became an icon for evil. An instant hit at the box office, Child’s Play went on to gross over $40 million, spawning a successful franchise which resulted in the sequels Child’s Play 2 and 3 and a legion of ardent fans all over the world.
"I think that one of the main reasons for Chucky’s popularity is the fact that there’s a little Chucky in all of us," explains producer David Kirschner. "We don’t let him out, of course, but we love sitting in a dark theater watching this temperamental little brat with a foul mouth and a height problem get away with all the things that obviously society would not let any of us get away with."
Adds writer/executive producer Don Mancini, "I think young fans love Chucky because he is always bucking the status quo and going after authority figures. And I think that young people, in particular, really respond to that."
A classic villain in the sense of Frankenstein, Dracula and more recently, Freddy Krueger, Chucky is now a part of popular culture and an urban legend, representing everything from mischief to pure evil. States Kirschner, "It’s fascinating to us that Chucky has secured a place in the North American vernacular. His name is regularly invoked to describe everything from children who act up to bank robbers - a few years back, there was a short person with red hair robbing banks in Mexico and the headlines referred to him as 'El Chucko.' He’s made his way into dialogues on Ally McBeal and Howard Stern’s show, and just a few months ago he made it onto an episode of X-Files where Scully and Mulder are having a conversation about the spirit of a person that is now in a doll, and she turns to him and says, "You mean like Chucky?"
With movies like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer making horror hip again, Chucky creators David Kirschner and Don Mancini felt the time was right for the tiny terror to have his "killer comeback." Explains Mancini, "Like most genres, the horror genre goes in cycles and I think we can thank Kevin Williamson and Scream for reinvigorating the market. Over the years, I had been imagining new scenarios for this series. With his previous successes, we knew it was just a matter of time before we’d be bringing Chucky back and David Kirschner and I both felt that it was important to bring him back in a new way - we wanted to elevate the series and re-invent it, go beyond what we’d done before. And what we’ve ended up with is - incredibly - part horror, part comedy, part romance and part road movie. It’s a really cool blend of the genuinely creepy and the really funny!"
Says David Kirschner, "One of the most significant ways that Chucky has changed in this film is that a humor - albeit a dark one - has come out of him. There were moments in the previous Child’s Plays where Chucky’s humorous side would be revealed and every time those moments happened, the audience really responded. It was kind of an emotional roller coaster of scary, scary, and scarier, and then Chucky would have a throw away line and the audience would laugh and applaud. And so we’ve taken those moments and built them up more in this film. What we’ve got now is a roller coaster through a very scary tunnel of love, that will deliver a great many laughs and a great many chills."
Chosen by the filmmakers to direct Bride of Chucky was internationally acclaimed Hong Kong director Ronny Yu. Recalls Kirschner, "When we announced the project, every agency in town started sending their reels of young directors, there was a lot of excitement. But Don and I had just seen his film The Bride with White Hair and when the lights came up in the theater we just sat there in awe, amazed that someone could create something so arresting, so visually stunning. From that moment on he was our only choice for director."
Although it was the combination of humor and romance in the script that first appealed to Yu, it was the fact that the producers were prepared to let Yu bring his trademark visual style to the film that closed the deal. "The producers were very up front about the fact that they weren’t interested in making a sequel, but that what they were looking for was a director to help reinvent Chucky," says Yu. "They were willing to let me incorporate my own interpretation of the script in the film, to let me tell the story with color and movement and that was very interesting to me."
Producer Grace Gilroy asserts, "Ronny Yu and his longtime collaborators - director of photography Peter Pau and editor/second unit director David Wu - have helped to elevate Chucky to a new level. It’s just amazing what these guys can do with images and sound. The unconventional way they move the camera, their lighting - they really bring the series to a new plateau in terms of cinematic richness."
The inspiration to create a girlfriend for Chucky developed out of a simple visit to the local video store where David Kirschner chanced to see a copy of the classic Bride of Frankenstein sitting on the shelf. Recalls the filmmaker, "My immediate reaction was wow, wouldn’t it be great if we were able to create a bride for Chucky. By introducing another doll we’d get to see a whole other side to Chucky and of course," he laughs, "this is Chucky’s tenth anniversary so it’s probably time to get married."
Mancini loved the idea of creating a girlfriend for Chucky. "After all," he smiles, "two dolls running around the country together and killing people a la "Natural Born Killer Dolls" or "Barbie and Clyde" is really pretty funny."
"Tiffany," offers the writer, "is this really terrific character in that she’s such an amalgamation of society. On one hand she lives for Martha Stewart and the idea of being a good homemaker. She only wants to bring this guy back to life and has been obsessively hunting down this doll’s body, because this is her man. This is the man she loves, and she wants to make Swedish meatballs for him and have a beautiful little trailer, and life should be perfect. On the other hand, she’s also a psychotic killer, which makes for a pretty wild and weird combination."
In addition to providing the filmmakers with the opportunity to offer a rather skewed commentary on family values and relationships, Tiffany also allows them to reveal a dimension to Chucky’s character previously unseen in the earlier Child’s Plays. Explains Kirschner, "Tiffany represents Chucky’s Achilles’ heel in that his feelings for her cause him to be vulnerable and, when you think about it, that’s really a pretty hilarious state in which to see this little Napoleonic tiny terror."
Everyone agrees that the casting of Jennifer Tilly as Tiffany was an inspired stroke of genius. An Oscar® nominee for her role in Bullets Over Broadway, the talented actress possessed all the attributes the filmmakers were looking for to take the character of Tiffany from the page to the screen.
"From the very beginning, we’d always thought of Jennifer Tilly for Tiffany," states Mancini. "And this is the first time in my career as a writer that the person I dreamed of for the role is the person we got. She’s just so perfect for it - she’s sexy, she’s really funny, she’s such a wonderful actress. And that voice! For what is, after the first half hour, a largely vocal performance, you need someone with a very distinctive voice."
Tilly, who confesses that she’s not usually a fan of the horror genre, says she was drawn to the project because of the film’s black humor. "Usually I don’t go to see horror movies and my general rule is not to do anything I wouldn’t see," she explains. "But I thought this script was a departure from your usual horror film in that it was funny and witty and had a lot of black humor. Besides, it’s not everyday you’re asked to be the bride of the world’s most notorious doll."
Another drawing card for Tilly was with the opportunity to work with director Ronny Yu. "I’m a big fan of the Hong Kong genre," says Tilly. "I think that the Chinese directors have this way of looking at films that’s totally original and fresh - a really unique way of mixing humor and violence and tragedy and drama."
Playing the role of the white-trash trailer park femme fatale who turns into a homicidal little doll proved to be an entertaining experience for the actress. "You know, it was just so much fun to do Tiffany - she’s one hot sexy babe!" enthuses Tilly. "Everything about her is an exaggeration - from her over-the-top fetish-wear wardrobe to her Martha Stewart proclivities. I think people will have a lot of fun getting to know her."
Tilly taped Tiffany’s voice-over dialogue during a three-day recording session held in tandem with Brad Dourif just prior to the start of principal photography. "I was a little nervous at first because I’d never done cartoons or voice-over work before and it’s a very specific technique," admits Tilly. "But Brad - who’s been the voice of Chucky forever - was really sweet and made it very easy. After a few hours we were joking around and ad-libbing and improvising and having a really great time. At the end of the first day Brad turned to the producers and said ‘Why didn’t I get a girlfriend earlier?"
Katherine Heigl and Nick Stabile play the roles of Jade and Jesse, the young newlyweds who unwittingly become the homicidal duo’s accomplices. "We saw dozens of young, talented and attractive actors before we found Nick and Katherine, but it was apparent from the moment they read together that they were our young heroes," recalls executive producer Corey Sienega. "We had seen them both individually and were very impressed, but when we tested them together we saw that there was a real chemistry - a magic, if you will - between them that made them believable as a desperate young couple in love."
For the role of Warren Kincaid, Jade’s interfering guardian and the town’s Chief of Police, David Kirschner turned to his old friend John Ritter. "When I called John about this project he said ‘Let me read the script and get back to you.’ And when he went home and told his kids that he was thinking of this, he said that, as far as they were concerned, it became the most important role that he has ever played. They just thought it was the greatest thing that he was going to be in a movie with Chucky."
Ritter says that while he enjoyed working with the temperamental red-head, he was surprised to find that on occasion his co-star could be a bit of a prima donna. "Chucky saves all his best stuff for his close-ups which I find a touch selfish," Ritter jokes. "A lot of times he’s not there for my off camera -- he’s probably off in his trailer making phone calls or something and I have to talk to a little cross. But he is the star and you know, you have to make certain allowances."
Rounding out the cast are Alexis Arquette as Tiffany’s Goth enthusiast suitor, Damien, and Gordon Michael Woolvett as David, Jesse and Jade’s loyal friend.
The trigger-happy pint-sized stars of the movie, Chucky and Tiffany, are played by two very complex electro-mechanical state-of-the-art dolls. Several months before production actually began on the film, Kevin Yagher and his team began building, fabricating, testing and rehearsing the creatures in Yagher’s shop in Los Angeles. In order to bring the dolls to the eerily human state in which they appear on the big screen, numerous bodies and heads faces, each with distinct functions and abilities had to be built. For Chucky alone, nine different puppets were constructed including a ‘hero’ cable puppet capable of extensive movement including walking and crawling, two rod puppets, and six ‘stunt’ puppets, some of which were positionable and some which were just floppy.
Chucky’s new playmate, Tiffany, exists in the same number of incarnations as Chucky, however the blonde bombshell presented the puppet builders with an additional challenge in that the technology that makes Chucky the cinematic marvel that he is had to be compressed substantially to fit into Tiffany’s sleek and sexy frame. At only two and a 1/2 feet tall, the dolls have to be able to do everything a human does, which, in Tiffany’s case, meant fitting a lot of servos into a very small area. The end result, explains Yagher, is a doll that’s "even more sophisticated than Chucky because she’s a tighter little package - she has a smaller torso, head, arms - we scaled everything way down without sacrificing any of the movement."
To enable the puppeteers to produce Chucky and Tiffany’s realistic facial expressions, each doll can be fitted with one of three or, in Tiffany’s case, four different servo-implanted animatronic heads. Chucky can be fitted with one of two neutral-expression heads or a screaming-expression head, and Tiffany with one of three neutral heads (one for the Bride doll, one for mean Tiffany and one for burnt Tiffany) as well as a screaming head for the more volatile moments in the femme fatale’s life. Each of these heads are capable of dozens of expressions ranging from a cute smile to wistful sadness to extreme anger.
Bringing Chucky and Tiffany to life is a considerable undertaking which requires 16 people: seven puppeteers to manipulate each doll, a computer playback operator, and a puppet coordinator to act as liaison between the operators and the director. "Chucky and Tiffany are a little bit like Elvis in that they have a really enormous posse," offers executive producer Corey Sienega.
Three puppeteers are required to handle the movement of each doll’s facial features which are relayed through the use of a radio-controlled transmitter: one puppeteer articulates the mouth, one the brows, and one the eyes. The puppeteer working the doll’s mouth is also required to wear a head gear mechanism which, when the puppeteer moves his mouth, activates servos which move the doll’s jaw. Explains Brock Winkless, the man behind the mouth of Chucky, "The voices of Chucky and Tiffany were pre-recorded by Brad Dourif and Jennifer Tilly before filming began. Their dialogue is played back and live mouth movements are then recorded by an animation playback system which can play back the doll’s mouth movements on camera exactly the same way each and every take."
All of the dolls’ other below-the-head movements are cable-operated by the rest of the puppeteers who sit in a crawlspace below the raised stage watching the action by way of monitors. They control Chucky and Tiffany’s movements with the use of three-axis cable controllers which are connected to a length of approximately 12 feet of cable which in turns operates their heads, torsos, right and left arms and hands. To walk the puppets, a feat of coordination which requires precision and concentration on the part of the puppeteers, the doll’s body is connected to a boom arm and then attached to a walking rig or camera dolly. The seven puppeteers then follow behind, working as a single well-oiled machine operating moving the legs, arms and head.
"To give a believable performance, coordination is essential," stresses Yagher. "We had to become two, seven person teams with each team learning to think with one mind in order to create characters that performed in synchronization."
Comments director Ronny Yu, "Working with puppets and the many people needed to control them is much more difficult than directing the most temperamental actor. Organization and communication are key because with 14 or 15 people to coordinate 14 or 15 things that can go wrong at any given moment."
For the actors, working with the puppets was a lesson in patience. Any interaction where the puppets had to deal with picking things up, whether it was a pillow, a knife or a chocolate chip cookie, could take many, many hours to set up and many more to shoot.
"I had absolutely no idea the amount of time and tedious work that it takes to get a puppet to light a cigarette," marvels Nick Stabile. "The doll has to have the right eye line for the camera, their head has to be turned just so, their arms and everything else has to be moving just right. And the crew and the puppeteers are so diligent, their willingness to spend seven, eight hours getting one of the dolls to complete a maneuver just amazed me! Me, I would just go back to my trailer and watch videos for eight hours."
Katherine Heigl says that she initially found acting with Chucky a little daunting. "I mean, what could I possibly relate this to?" I had never in my life had any kind of experience that I could relate back to a killing doll," states Heigl. "And even though sometimes you just want to burst out in laughter at the absurdity of the situation, you have to look like you’re taking it seriously or no one else will, so you just have to pull out all the invisible angers and hates and feelings that there is no image for but that are there anyway and make them Chucky."
On a lighter note, Jennifer Tilly found working with Chucky a refreshing change of pace from her usual co-stars. "The good thing about acting with a puppet is that they never get into your light, and they never try to upstage you by ad-libbing because their lines are already done," laughs Tilly. "I love to ad-lib and improvise and throw stuff in, but I hate it when another actor does it and throws me off balance. With Chucky, you never have to worry about things like that."
As technology has evolved over the years, so has Chucky, and the dolls used in Bride of Chucky are indisputably the most sophisticated yet. One innovation that Yagher is particularly pleased with is the evolution of the doll’s skin. In the previous Child’s Play movies, Chucky’s skin was made of foam latex, a material that although very lightweight and pliable, had an opaque color to it and had to be painted in a way that made it very difficult to light. In constructing the dolls for Bride of Chucky, Yagher experimented with a number of materials to make their skin appear even more life-like, eventually settling on a combination of silicone and foam latex. Explains Yagher, "By combining the foam latex with a thin layer of silicone, the doll’s skin has a much more translucent look to it which looks much better cosmetically. The light absorbs into the skin and doesn’t bounce back in an opaque manner which made the DP (Peter Pau) very happy because he could light the dolls in the same way he would light a human actor, and the puppeteers happy because it was easy to maintain."
With over half of Bride of Chucky filmed on the sound stage, the film’s production designer Alicia Keywan had her hands full creating the complicated sets which were needed to accommodate the production’s needs. These included Tiffany’s elaborate Airstream trailer, the interior shells of Jesse’s van and the stolen winnebago, the wildly over-the-top "Honeymoon Sweets" motel room where Jesse and Jade spend their first night as newlyweds, and suitably creepy graveyard which houses the final remains of Charles Lee Ray.
For Keywan, the biggest challenge in designing the sets for the film was the need to make them "puppet friendly." In order to provide access for the puppets to maneuver and a space for the puppeteers to work, all the sets had to be constructed on five foot risers. "It was a technical nightmare trying to figure out where to put the trap doors so the puppets could complete complicated actions such as getting a body into a chest in a van," explains Keywan. "Vehicles are notoriously hard to design interiors for because they’re so small and constricted. In a large space you have a lot of flexibility in that you can move things around to accommodate the blocking, but when you go in to a tiny space that has to be fully functional you have to make sure that everything is scaled just right so that there’s enough room for all the things that need to happen in terms of actor and puppet blocking."
One of the most elaborate sets Keywan and her crew constructed was Tiffany’s Airstream trailer. In addition to the intricate interior - the walls were ‘papered’ with individual dried flowers - the entire trailer had to be specially fitted with a complex piping system for the rain effect, special drainage and plumbing for the scenes where Chucky kills Tiffany in the bathtub, and special electrical wiring to accommodate the lightening effect. "It was more a work of science than a set," laughs Keywan.
In addition to scenes filmed on the sound stage, a variety of widespread exterior locations were utilized including the famed Clifton Hill strip in Niagara Falls, the exterior of a slightly faded art deco motel complex on Toronto’s waterfront, an old army camp in Oshawa, and numerous rural areas where traveling shots were filmed.
Bride of Chucky was filmed over a twelve week period in and around Toronto, Canada.
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