For the better part of three decades, the killer doll known as Chucky has been the smiling, plastic patron saint of sadism—a literal metaphor for killer consumerism standing tall among the distinctly American ranks of cult-horror cretins. But in an age of upheaval—where Freddy Krueger's little more than a Rick and Morty reference, Jason Voorhees is but a video game villain, and Halloween just jettisoned its entire canon wholesale—the seventh installment in the Child's Play franchise has garnered the two-foot-tall toy terror some of the best reviews of his career.
Cult of Chucky—which is out now on Blu-ray, DVD, Netflix, and on-demand—was written and directed by Chucky's original creator, Don Mancini. It goes for the throat, departing from Bride of Chucky–era camp while reviving franchise favorites including Alex Vincent (Child's Play, Child's Play 2), Christine Elise McCarthy ( Child's Play 2), and Jennifer Tilly ( Bride of Chucky, Seed of Chucky, Curse of Chucky). The doll is still, thankfully, voiced by Brad Dourif, the semi-retired actor's actor who's been the beloved bogeyman since 1988's Child's Play, and returning to the role of the wheelchair- (and now asylum-) bound Nica Pierce is Fiona Dourif, Brad's daughter and the effective heir to the throne. With Halloween just around the corner, I sat down with Brad and Fiona Dourif to discuss fear, fatherhood, and growing up Chucky.
VICE: Fiona, did you bypass a fear of Chucky because you knew it was just your dad doing a voice?
Fiona Dourif: I was never scared of Chucky. Chucky was just a helpful thing in high school that made me cooler than I actually was.
Why was that?
Fiona: It helped me get dates. It's a memorable, specific thing that I'm the "seed of Chucky." My birthday is the day before Halloween, I think I have a "spooky-edgy" vibe [laughs], and I like boys who have "the darkness.' Chucky's just a cool thing about me and my family.
I read in an interview that you said you identified with Chucky. Brad, as a parent, what was that like to hear?
Brad Dourif: When Fiona was a baby, I was doing [Child's Play], and there's a scene where Chucky's burning to death. It goes for about a minute and a half, which, in film time, is a huge amount of time. It was one of those things that took everything I had—I had to pace myself and loosen up, really focus and scream at the top of my lungs like I was being burned to death. After I finished one [take], somebody said, "Listen, your daughter heard that and is hysterical and ran." So I had to go running after Fiona and let her see that I was OK, that it was just acting, and that I was fine. She was a little kid, and it took some convincing, but after that, Chucky was a doll that we had in the house.
Fiona: We'd hang him by a noose for Halloween.
Did you get to spend any time together on set for Cult of Chucky?
We didn't, but his voice is omnipresent. Chucky is never CGI—we can just dispel that rumor right now. He's a walking, talking puppet, and they play my dad's voice recordings. It's helpful, and creepier than it would be otherwise: It's supernatural, it's trying to kill me, and also it sounds like the person who has provided me more comfort and security than any other person, ever—the person I love most on the planet—trying to kill me—and I'm getting paid for it! It's really cool.
Usually it's the other way around, and as a parent, you're not getting paid for it.
Fiona: I was an easy kid, though.
Fiona: I was a nightmare.
Brad: Ah, Fiona was… On the dial, she was an 11. Everything was a little bit bigger. She could pitch a fit that was terrifying. In many ways, she was a great kid. She just had a huge, out-of-control temper.
Fiona: I don't think I have one as an adult!
Brad: You struggled for a while containing your anger and getting your reactions under control in your late teens and early 20s.
Fiona: This interview's going great!
Did the film bring you closer together?
Yeah. We had a really interesting conversation about what makes Chucky tick, and my dad's explanation of it is thought out and interesting: Charles Lee Ray's driving force is that he's afraid of oblivion, which is an existential fear that I can relate to, and I feel like most people can [too]. Having this fear of death, in art and embodying it in acting, was an interesting concept that made me respect [Brad] even more as an actor.
Brad: Everybody does their thing in their way. You give somebody something that's usable, and then you want to step back. It's [Fiona's] Charles Lee Ray in the end; it has to be similar, but it also has to be true to her. So I said what I said and stepped back.
Fiona: You don't try to imitate. I think imitation is where—
Brad: It's death.
In this case, I imagine there was a moment where you looked in the mirror and actually thought, I'm becoming my father!
Fiona: It was real weird. Totally surreal—and also just so juicy. I hopefully follow in my dad's footsteps, if I could be so honored, but to get to embody [turns to Brad]—I would argue, your most famous character? I think that Chucky's worldwide, part of the zeitgeist.
Brad: Billy Bibbit is another one. And Gríma Wormtongue. Those are my most well-known.
Fiona: Chucky probably has the most tattoos. It was a real treat. I was also really looking forward to playing him because Chucky enjoys his job so much. There's a joyful quality to it, and Nica is not enjoying her life. I was looking forward to the levity and the laughter.
Brad: The freedom.
Fiona: Yeah! Chucky's fuckin' free. I mean, he's not, actually.
He's trapped in a doll body…
Fiona: And he's scared.
Do you have any thoughts on the role of Chucky in the contemporary American landscape?
Brad: I think he's the ultimate coyote—which, in terms of American personas, is very much alive. Without being political, I think the appeal of Trump has to do with that. I'm just talking about his determination not to be traditionally presidential. The perception is that he's fulfilling this need that I think is pretty deep-seated—this need to fly in the face of that. To be the trickster, to be the upsetter, to change up everything.
Would you say it's the same drive as Chucky's fear of oblivion?
No. That's Chucky's specific thing—that personally is Chucky, in the sense that Chucky hides in plain sight. In that Chucky is in the position of being something traditional—a doll—while a president is a president, [Chucky] is a trickster doll, and we're in the era of the trickster president.
Fiona: Chucky, at this point, is so famous. He's been part of the zeitgeist for 30 years, and the number of times Chucky is mentioned in famous rap songs you hear on the radio four times in an hour means he's a cultural reference point. It's really cool to be so tightly wound up in that. It's also a testament to Don Mancini, who continues to make thoughtful movies. Chucky isn't thought of that way, but if you were to pay attention to all of the details in the seventh installment of a franchise that's been around for 30 years, this isn't sloppy in any way. I think the franchise has stood the test of time because we've had one voice behind it. No other franchise has that, and the people who are making them really care about him.
And now you're both carrying the torch.
Fiona: [Laughs] I know, man. It's a Dourif family affair. I just feel so lucky I can't even tell you. It feels like a gigantic blessing that I kind of didn't earn, I was born into. I mean, I had to audition and test for Universal, the part certainly wasn't offered to me, but my affiliation with the franchise, and to get to play Charles Lee Ray, just feels so lucky.
Brad: Don called me up. He was looking for an edgy actor.
Fiona: You don't remember this accurately.
Brad: I do. Don called me up, and actually it was about Barb [Nica Pierce's sister in Curse of Chucky], and he said, "Do you know any actresses who are edgy?" And I said, "Um, yeah. Actually I do." And then I think you went in for Barb. And I had nothing to do with what happened after.
Fiona: I think what may have happened is, I got the script and they were like, audition for any part that you'd want, and I thought that I was better for the sister in Curse of Chucky. I auditioned for it, and I got this really cute phonecall from my dad that was like, "Fiona! Don Mancini just called me and said that he thinks you're perfect for the lead." The concept that I could get it felt really far off, but really exciting. What could be cooler than being able to take part in a really famous legacy that has to do with my dad? And then I got it, and here I am.