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A CampBlood Exclusive Interview

 

 

Interview with Horro Homo of the Year for 2004, Don Mancini

Killer Dolls, Disaster Movies, and Abs You Could Chip a Tooth On

In my continuing bid to become the most envied horror fag in the universe (suck it, kids!), I have had the extreme pleasure of corresponding with one of the most horrifying homos in the biz, Mr. Don Mancini. Back in college in the eighties, Don wrote the script for a little number called Child's Play, effectively sealing the fate of the Cabbage Patch dolls left over in your sister's closet and kick-starting one of the most eclectic and long-lasting big-screen horror franchises around.

Five films later (the latest of which, Seed of Chucky, he also directed), Mancini is still going strong -- and more importantly, after mentioning his sexuality in a Fangoria cover story last year, he has attracted the insidious attention of the likes of me. "MWUAHAHAHAHAHA!" Don took a few minutes out of his schedule of rubbing elbows with the likes of John Waters and Jennifer Tilly to share his thoughts on being a gay horror filmmaker in the studio system, having sisters who will kill for you, and the joys of discovering cough syrup at an early age.

But before we get into that, an open plea: I was alarmed and touched to find that Don had somehow heard that I had named him Horror Homo of the Year for 2004 , but the sobering truth is that I now actually have to produce a crown of some sort. Any of you ladies work at Burger King?

Read on for the good stuff...


Yes, Virginia, boys DO play with dolls.
(Don Mancini with his progeny)

The Interview

So let’s start at the very beginning. You wrote Child’s Play in your spare time while you were a student at UCLA, right? What on earth possessed you to write such a story? Could you not get a fake ID?
Yes, I did write the script while I was at UCLA in the mid-eighties. For some time, I had wanted to write a dark satire about how marketing affects children; my father had worked in marketing and advertising for a pharmaceutical company, so as I kid I was often used as a guinea pig for various campaigns -- cough syrup, sleeping pills, and other drugs whose recreational benefits I was sadly too young to recognize. Anyway, Cabbage Patch dolls were very popular at the time; being a lifelong horror fan, I realized that the venerable "killer doll" concept was ripe for updating, especially since that in the wake of movies like Gremlins, animatronic puppet effects had advanced to the point where you could now treat the doll as a full-fledged character, with a vivid personality and lengthy dialogue scenes. This, I believe, was the true innovation of my original script for Child's Play.

Have you always been a horror fan? What kind of films were you into as a kid?
I've always loved horror. As a three-year-old, I learned the word "shadow" from watching Dark Shadows on TV. The Omen was the first R-rated movie I ever saw, and, having been raised Catholic, the film made a tremendous impression on me -- though not in the way you might expect. I identified with Damien, and fantasized about being able to supernaturally punish my enemies. Seeing De Palma's Carrie and The Fury further cemented this fantasy. I was also really into disaster movies like Airport, The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. So basically, as a kid I was obsessed with spectacular death and destruction. Fortunately, as an adult I've found a way to channel these impulses in a productive manner.

I often find that queer artists – filmmakers, in particular – have a skewed view of the "traditional" family unit. While the killer dolls in the last 2 Child's Play films do seem to share a sort of familial bond, I think it’s fair to say that they’re not exactly Ozzie and Harriet. What’s behind your discussion of family values?
As a gay kid, and an athlete, in an Italian family, I had a very contentious relationship with my stereotypically macho father. He wanted me to be an Olympic runner, but as I got into my late teens, I developed other interests -- like filmmaking and guys -- and you can't be an elite runner unless that's the only thing in your life. My relationship with my Dad is reflected, in a metaphoric way, in Glen's relationship with Chucky in Seed: Chucky wants to make a man out of Glen by encouraging him to kill, but Glen wants to remain true to himself. I imagine this sort of parent-child discord is fairly universal, regardless of the kid's sexuality. Most kids tend to rebel, sooner or later -- at least, they do if they're interesting.

Speaking of family, I understand that you have 4 sisters, one of whom threatened me with grievous bodily harm should I not rewatch Seed of Chucky. Should I be afraid?
Be very afraid. My sister Denise is probably my biggest fan. Let's just say she considers you her latest "project," after your regrettable and bewildering suspension of taste and judgment in response to watching Seed of Chucky. If she has her way, Denise will have you printing a retraction and a complete critical re-evaluation of my movie. For my part, I consider you the nicest guy ever to call me a talentless hack.

Chucky, Tiffany, and Don discuss script changes as Jennifer rests between takes.
(okay, not really... from Seed of Chucky)

In the 4th and 5th films, the emphasis shifts to Jennifer Tilly’s character, Tiffany (and even to Jennifer herself). This seems to coincide with the shift to comedy – do you see a relationship? Did you have Jennifer in mind when you wrote the character?
Jennifer and I have been friends for years, and I'm also a huge fan, so I wrote Tiffany specifically for her. If you're making a funny movie, you want funny people around you, and Jennifer is one of the funniest people I've ever met. She's an incredibly skilled comedienne. Plus, she's sexy and she's got an unforgettable voice -- qualities necessary for the role of Tiffany. And of course, she was just born to play Jennifer Tilly -- and I don't mean this in just the obvious way. Not every actor can play himself successfully; most, you wouldn't even want to see try. It'd be boring. Jennifer Tilly is one of the most fascinating characters I've ever written. It was a true collaboration between me, Jennifer, and God.

I'm sure working out the royalties with his people was murder! You’ve said in other interviews that sequels are hard to pull off, and that the choice to introduce comedy into the Child’s Play universe was necessary given audiences’ expectations. When you first created Chucky, did you imagine that he’d one day be wisecracking about gender identity issues and offing John Waters?
I never imagined that it would become a franchise. You can't plan that; it's luck. But once you've got a franchise, you have to balance being its custodian, on the one hand, and satisfying yourself creatively, on the other hand. After the first three Child's Play movies, I felt that we'd tapped out the concept's potential for truly disturbing scares. We were already repeating ourselves. Hence the move into comedic territory with Bride of Chucky and now Seed. It reinvigorated the franchise. And even if you don't like Seed of Chucky, you have to admit that it's not your run-of-the-mill, formulaic slasher sequel. For the fifth in the series, it's an original, eccentric movie. That was very important to me, and I'm proud of that.

The introduction of a gay character in Bride of Chucky was revolutionary for the genre – especially in a studio horror film. Did you have any problems getting the character to screen?
Not at all. No one so much as bat an eye. When I was writing Bride of Chucky, I didn't create the gay character in order to promote an agenda; I made him gay because it made the character interesting. All the main characters in that movie are dealing with issues regarding love and romance, and the gay guy just represents another point in that spectrum. It was important that the character's sexual persuasion be utterly incidental. That's what was innovative about it, I think.

Was it hard to kill him off? It’s interesting that he dies in an accident rather than at the hands of Chucky
Well, it's very important that he dies, for a couple of reasons. First, he's the one likable victim. Up until that point in the movie, everyone who gets killed more or less deserves it, and we enjoy their deaths along with Chucky and Tiffany. But it's important to remind the audience of the "sting" of death, and a sense of loss. When the gay kid dies, you feel bad, and you're reminded that Chucky and Tiffany are capable of doing terrible things. They're the villains of the piece, after all. Or at least the anti-heroes. Plus, I think the fact that the character is gay made his death more shocking. People might assume that we'd never dare kill off the gay kid; that'd be so politically incorrect! Well, all the more reason to do it, I say! Cute straight kids have been dying in horror movies for decades. This is simply a matter of equal rights. Finally, the exact circumstances of the character's death were another way of shocking the audience. Chucky pulls out a gun. You think he's going to shoot the kid -- and then BAM! He gets hit by a truck! It was a matter of subverting audience expectation.

They say that writers "write themselves” into their scripts. Does Don show up in any/all of the films?
Sure. Part of me totally identifies with Chucky, and his anarchic spirit and rebellious impulses. I think everyone -- particularly teens, and perhaps especially gay kids -- can identify with this; that's one of the reasons for Chucky's popularity. I also probably identified with Andy, the little boy in the first Child's Play. I identified with his loneliness, and his bond with his mother and his need for a special friend. And I certainly identify with Glen in the new movie, with his tense relationship with his father.

Was the Glen doll in Seed modeled after Mia Farrow? Seriously...
Glen has also been compared to David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust, as well as to Lucille Ball. I was going for a Tim Burton or Edward Gorey sort of look -- monstrous yet innocent. I suppose that description could apply to all of the above -- but I have my doubts about Mia Farrow's innocence.

You waited a long time before taking the reins as director. Was the opportunity made available earlier in the series? What made you take the plunge?
I'd wanted to direct for a long time. In fact, I'd wanted to direct Bride of Chucky, but it turns out that these studios are very particular about whom they trust their millions with. Very frustrating. Fortunately for me, David Kirschner, the producer on all the Chucky films, really believed in me. He made me an executive producer and second-unit director on Bride, so I got a lot of practical, on-set production experience on that film. Plus, Ronny Yu had some immigration problems and had to return home after principal photography, so I basically inherited his post-production responsibilities -- editing, sound, reshoots, etc. After Bride became a success, the studio felt I was ready to direct the next one.

Do you prefer writing or directing?
It's like comparing apples and oranges. There are pros and cons to both. Writing is of course very solitary and lonely, but it's also comparatively calm. Directing is very social, but it's also utterly chaotic. When I was shooting Seed in Romania, I had some very exhausting, dark, and depressing moments, and I'd pine for the serenity of my laptop, away from the hundred or so people who were bombarding me with non-stop questions every day. But now that I've been away from that crazy, stimulating energy for a few months, I can't wait to do it again.


"Damieeeeeeeeen!"
(Don's role model -- in fashion and temperament -- the son of Satan)

Whatever Happened to Kit Du Bois? I guess this answers that question.
(from Cellar Dweller)

Have you seen Nick Stabile’s buns?
Who hasn't? He isn't exactly shy. When we were shooting Bride, Nick kept suggesting different points in the movie where his character would want to take his clothes off. It was his idea to do the car-washing scene shirtless -- and he was absolutely right. It's definitely a high point of the film.

Last year I named you the Horror Homo of the Year (a distinction I’m sure you’re thrilled about) because of your jaw-dropping decision to come out as a gay man in a Fangoria cover story. What made you choose to speak so openly about your sexuality at this peak moment?
I've actually been out for a long time. I just seldom have the opportunity to talk about it publicly. I'd done interviews with a couple of gay magazines in connection with Bride of Chucky, six years ago. The writer of one of those articles was Michael Rowe, who also writes for Fangoria. So it just seemed natural to address the issue with him, especially in light of Seed's gay-intensive content. And for the record, I am thrilled with the Horror Homo accolade. Do I get a crown?

Of course! Well, it's a tiara. And it's plastic. Have there been any repercussions?
Well, if I were single, I'd probably be having loads of fun now, and getting into all sorts of trouble.

Do you have a lot of gay horror fans approach you? Are they scary?
See above.

How (if at all) has your sexuality informed your craft as a horror filmmaker? On the flipside, why do you feel horror is attractive to you as an audience member?
I think the horror genre is often characterized by a sort of operatic stylization that attracts gay filmmakers as well as gay audiences. You're dealing with big emotions and themes -- fear, love, and death -- which can lend themselves to an over-the-top, operatic approach.

Who is Kit Du Bois?
He's a talentless hack -- even less talented than myself -- who wrote a piece of shit called Cellar Dweller. Fortunately, we've never heard from him again.

This is from an interview last year with Moviehole: “I'm working on a PG-13 haunted house thriller, and another in the vein of Airport meets Babe, focusing on all the pets caged in the cargo hold of a 747 -- dogs and cats and birds who have to set aside their natural animosity towards one another and band together to save the day when the plane is hijacked.” You’ve been so entrenched in horror films that it’s interesting to hear you talk about moving to other kinds of films (family-friendly terrorist movies with talking animals, for example). Are you looking to step away from gore?
Well, like all filmmakers in Hollywood, I've sold a bunch of projects that haven't yet made it into production -- and may never make it. It's the nature of show business: there's a very high development-to-production ratio. And like most filmmakers, I'm interested in many different genres. But once you have a success, you tend to get pigeonholed. Still, if I never get to make anything but horror movies, that's okay. I love the genre, and I feel really lucky to be able to make a good living doing this.

What’s on the horizon for Don Mancini?
I'm still writing that aforementioned PG-13 haunted house movie -- a horror-comedy in the vein of Beetlejuice -- which I hope to direct next year. I'm also getting ready to pitch a TV series. I've had almost no experience with TV, other than having written a Tales from the Crypt episode for HBO many years ago -- and I'm interested in exploring that venue. The speed of TV is attractive to me, as compared to the glacial pace of feature film development.

You’ll naturally be remembered as “the guy who created Chucky”. Is there anything else you want to be remembered for? Not like we’re trying to get rid of you, of course…
I'd like to be remembered for my abs. I spend a lot of time on them.

"Spectacular Death and Destruction" -- with a Great Tan!

Horror comedies in the vein of Beetlejuice? Talking animal terrorist movies?! Damien?!!! Don, blow in my ear and I'll follow you anywhere.

Aside from cementing his front-runner position as Buzz's Future Husband of America or Canada (sorry, Mr. Reynolds!), Don certainly has me excited for what he's got in the hopper. Big wet-kissy thanks to Don for his time, his wisdom, his humor, and for not telling his sister where I live (pleeeeeeease....). We here at CampBlood.org are looking forward to what this fella's got in store for us next.

Oh, the guy in the picture with Don at the right? His boyfriend, actor Daniel Getzoff... or as I like to call him, "Slight Interference". Just kidding, Danny! No need to hire any security!

Heheheheh....

 


Eli Roth, your Freshness Date has expired.
(Don and Daniel, looking chummy -- and yummy!)