Producer Seth Grahame-Smith was 12 years old when the original Child’s Play was released and remembers being absolutely terrified by it, then watching it again and again. “I’ve been a fan ever since.”
So when MGM and Orion Pictures brought up the idea that they wanted to update the original movie, Grahame-Smith and fellow producer David Katzenberg were initially apprehensive. “We didn’t want to just remake the 1988 movie, which is a horror classic that introduced the world to one of greatest horror villains of all time. We wanted to introduce something new to it, something relevant to today’s audiences.”
They thought long and hard about what that might be. We live in a world where cameras and microphones are everywhere, and where our appliances talk to each other. Everything is interconnected.
“We got excited by what it would mean for Chucky, if he were not just a kid’s toy but a really high end AI product, like something you’d see from Apple or Amazon or Google — a child companion. What would happen if something with so much computing power and connectivity went bad, what would the possibilities be?” The producers then got excited about having something new to say, well-aware of the responsibility they had to long-time fans.
A contemporary re-imagining of the 1988 horror classic film, Child’s Play follows Karen (Aubrey Plaza), a single mother who gifts her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) a Buddi doll, unaware of its more sinister nature.
“In watching the original Child’s Play, I was drawn to the idea that a toy, something that every child has and loves, can turn on you so quickly,” says Katzenberg, “I was so frightened by that. It made me look at every toy in my bedroom differently; to this day I think it’s frightening to think about.” Now, when it comes to Chucky’s updated reincarnation, that fear is expanded upon: “It’s frightening to think that something we use for good every day, can potentially harm us.”
The upgraded Chucky is far more advanced, adds Grahame-Smith, “he has more ways to kill you.” He now has the ability to access other devices and look through them, and he can take over thermostats, vehicles, robot vacuums. “He can use anything at his disposal to terrorize and kill you.” Meet Chucky 2.0.
Just six weeks after that initial meeting with MGM and Orion, Tyler Burton Smith (Kung Fury, Quantum Break video game) had finished writing the script, based on characters created by Don Mancini.
“After watching every Chucky movie, he turned around and wrote an unreasonably good script in a very short amount of time,” gushes Grahame-Smith.
Next, it was crucial to get the right director and they found their helmer in Lars Klevberg. “Someone who really responded to the script and had all the right ideas, all the right reference, and all the right energy and got the right tone,” says Grahame-Smith.
Klevberg’s agent told him that there was a planned remake of Child’s Play, and asked him if he’d be interested in the project. Unbeknownst to Klevberg, however, the agent had already shown his previous film, Polaroid, to them, and the producers loved his work.
Katzenberg recalls their first meeting with Lars vividly. “I pulled over by the side of the road after leaving a meeting at a studio to talk to Lars on the phone. We thought we were going to have a 15-minute conversation and it turned into a 2-hour phone call.” During their epic phone conversation, Lars has gone as far as playing music for a potential soundtrack and to set the tone of the scene. His passion came blasting through the phone. “We knew he was our guy.”
Klevberg believes that both Grahme-Smith and Katzenberg epitomize the perfect producers.
“There’s a big difference between people that just wanted to produce and producers that are creatively involved and support the director. The amount of support and freedom they have given me, whilst at the same time pushing me and checking and balancing, keeping my feet on the ground because I can quickly run off,” says Klevberg with a laugh. “It’s been extraordinary working with them and I’m in such an awe of them. They have given me so much inspiration and they are on top of their game, they know exactly what they’re doing and how to handle it when things don’t quite go as smoothly during the production—and nothing ever really does. They are not shy about jumping in to help. I couldn’t ask for better producers.”
For Klevberg, it was important for the story to have an authentic human connection and an emotional aspect that would resonate with audience beyond the scares. It has to have something to say on a deeper level. “To be honest, when I read the script, it was really, really good. It just had so much more to it. The way they tackled it in the script the way Chucky thinks and how he becomes the Chucky we know is very very interesting because it delved into the emotional context between the characters of Andy and Chucky.”
Unlike its predecessors, in this version of Chucky we are very much aware of why he becomes evil, we understand his motivation — and that is something that Klevberg finds particularly frightening.
“We are dealing with an antagonist that you really get to know and we really understand why he behaves in the way he does, and it feels really possible and real. The way Chucky changes is really beautifully done and it’s terrifying. I always always look at this this script as a Greek tragedy.”
The movie evolves into a very real confrontation between Chucky and Andy where you understand both POVs, and might even feel more than a tinge of sympathy for the killer doll. “Chucky turns evil because he is interacting with people and learning about how they’re behaving. He wants to do something that he believes to be good, but his way of behaving is based on impulse [and a limited understanding of the world].” That’s where things take a dark turn.
Child’s Play scared Klevberg because it dealt with something that’s meant to be there to comfort you. “As kid you imagine [dolls] being alive and you talk to them, and they protect you and all that fun stuff. But Child’s Play showed us it could do the opposite, so that that scared me when I was kid.”
Like Grahame-Smith and Katzenberg, Lars feels a great responsibility to do right by Chucky. “You have to be able to respect its origin, but at the same time you need to make it your story and you need to make the story that a brilliant writer has put on the page. It is your responsibility to create that story first and foremost and at the same time try to keep some of what made the original so popular.” He cites E.T., the Swedish version of Let the Right One In, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and even Pinocchio, as some of his influences for the film.
Making sure that the film is scary, of course, was an integral part of the equation and it’s not always easy to figure out when a beat or scene is meant to be properly tense because you’re shooting out of sequence and the movie is being built piece by piece —so it was important to keep the overall vision in mind.
“There’ a lot about the film that’s going to scare the audiences,” insists Grahame-Smith, “The scary moments, the psychopathic killer doll, and also the plausibility of it. When they get home they will realize that a lot of this technology is already in their homes and in their lives and what if it turned against them and decided to go on a killing spree, that’s the fun of it and the relevance of it…One thing that wasn’t true in 1988, but is true in 2019 is that the Chucky we have today can actually kill you.”
Grahame-Smith hopes that audiences will continue thinking about it and be scared long after they come home. “We want this movie to be fun, darkly funny, scary, disgusting, terrifying, and surprisingly at times emotional. We are making this movie for a packed movie theater experience that everyone can share together.”