This article contains spoilers for the Child’s Play series of films, and the Chucky TV series.With a franchise now seven features long and the recent TV series dropping, the Child’s Play franchise has been haunting us since 1988 with Chucky standing shoulder to shoulder with the other iconic villains of the decade (despite being only 3 ft tall).
Headed by the inspirational Don Mancini, Child’s Play follows the story of a single mother gifting her child a possessed toy for his birthday. Through voodoo, a serial killer places his spirit into the closest thing he can find – every kids’ must-have new toy: a Good Guy doll.
Through clever low angle POV shots from the doll’s perspective, silently running around the house, and offing all the adults who do not believe the boy, Child’s Play is a creepy low budget classic that excelled through tense storytelling and glorious practical effects, including puppetry and animatronics. However, this was no more toy story.
Child’s Play would go on to spawn many sequels, with varying results. The first sequel, Child’s Play 2 would be just as nasty as the first and just as confident. Child’s Play 3 would be embroiled in the off-screen murder of two-year-old James Bulger, and would raise the moral question of the Video Nasty in the UK.
In a masterstroke, the fourth in the series would drop the numbered title and give the anthology a fresh spin by adding queer icon Jennifer Tilly (Bound, Family Guy) to its cast as Chucky’s girlfriend in Bride of Chuckybefore petering off limply with Seed of Chucky in 2004. Despite being arguably the worst in the franchise, Seed of Chucky would go on to find a place in people’s hearts for its trans themes and openness in the relatively hetero horror genre.
It’s F *** ing Chucky!
Chucky would hibernate for a while after Seed of Chucky, but the character’s pop culture legacy remained. The villainous doll was kept alive by endless merchandise, an iPhone game, bad fan films, and inevitable comparisons with Chucky’s derivative competitors (Annabelle, Toy Story 5…). In 2018, Chucky would feature under Spielberg himself in an explosive and expletive-driven cameo in the overstuffed Ready Player Onefollowed by a hollow feature length remake in 2019.
Canonically, the series would come back from the dead irregularly in straight-to-DVD editions with Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky. Every film mentioned would appear as they were released, following one after the other in order. The 2021 series follows directly on from 2017s Cult of Chuckydirectly linking back to it even, and is unrelated to the 2019 remake.
Cult of Chucky’s story would place Nica (Fiona Dourif), the wheelchair-bound protagonist of the previous film, in a mental asylum, convinced that she was to blame for the killings. Meanwhile, Andy Barclay of the original trilogy has kept an animated head of the Chucky doll locked away for safe keeping. As the movie progresses, we learn that Chucky has discovered the ability to now copy and paste his spirit into that of any other doll or living thing, meaning that there are now actually multiple Chuckys on the loose.
Having killed their way through the inmates, Chucky condemns Andy to his own padded cell, possesses the body of Nica and walks out, linking up with Tiffany. Finally, by the end credits sting, Kyle (Andy’s foster sister in Child’s Play 2played by Christine Elise) returns to finish the job.
Whereas Chucky’s peers have gone down the remake route (such as Halloween, Candymanand Texas Chainsaw Massacrewhich all saw quasi-remakes of late), Mancini and company have found major success in using the small screen to expand on the Chucky™ ethos. With Chuckythey work on characters’ development alongside the murderous doll, giving its world room to breathe rather than being confined to simply 90 minutes.
Guys & Dolls
From the beginning of the series, Jake finds Chucky in a yard sale, bringing the doll home with an aim of adding it to his art project. Quickly revealing himself and manipulating the boy, Chucky sets off the tried and tested chaos that a murderous doll brings. The original’s high-crime Chicago location has also now been transported to Hackensack, New Jersey.
Wannabe artist Jake Wheeler (Zackary Arthur) expresses his own coming-of-age qualities through his affections for his classmate, Devon (Björgvin Arnarson). Jake’s home life is devoid of a mum and ruled over by his alcoholic widower of a father, who is totally unprepared to be supportive.
Also, resident rich girl and bully, Lexy, targets Jake repeatedly for being an introverted outcast. Her jibes are constant and so extreme that they almost come off as cartoonish, but surely for any young kid watching this and discovering their own sexuality, it is a more than accurate enough take on the high school experience and growing up.
This series also lifts the lid on Charles Lee Ray’s origins as well. Once again, through the opportunities a longer-form series can bring to the table, we are shown just how Charles Lee Ray came to be, growing up and mording his way through those close to him, to meeting Tiffany and coming full circle to now .
While there are very obvious direct expansions on the Chucky movie series, like the inclusion of fan favorites Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) and original victim-turned-badass Andy Barkley (Alex Vincent), this series keeps them as side characters to Jake’s main quest and leans in heavily to Mancini’s own background as a proud homosexual creative.
The series expands on its own queer themes, having its own out character. Rather than merely subtext now, the series feels updated for today’s views, without ever feeling forced or simply virtue signaling for the sake of being current (one episode is titled simply “Cape Queer,” a great play on the film Cape fear). In a discussion with Looper on Bride of Chucky‘s queerness and casting, Don Mancini said:
I think it made it more interesting, so I just decided, ‘Well, I’m just going to increasingly brand my franchise as the gay horror franchise.’ Why not? I’m in a position to do it, so I’m just going to do it.
Back From the Dead
Where Chucky does lead on from (and again echoing the genre as a whole) is every character’s inability to truly stay dead. It’s a misshapen timeline, that once it kills off one person they only return to the next addition. Confusingly, Tiffany (Chucky’s long-suffering and psychotic girlfriend) for example, here also introduces herself to other characters as the actress, Jennifer Tilly. Elsewhere, actor Michael Therriault also returns to the series, despite playing an entirely separate character in the previous film … who was also murdered off. As kooky and wild as the Chucky film series has always been, quirks like this come off as baffling and are never properly addressed, generally preventing it from being one of the most important horror franchises.
Where the Chucky series has always excelled versus its other scary cousins is Chucky’s (and particularly Brad Dourif’s sinister voice) ability to manipulate anyone he actually reveals himself to. Once again taking in his own openness to sexuality, Chucky (by way of connecting with the confused and put-upon Jake) speaks about his own “gender-fluid” child in a neat reference to Glen / Glenda, his offspring from Seed of Chucky. It’s a really nice Easter egg for fans, and shows the lengths that Chucky is prepared to go to be relatable when he wants someone to do something for him. On this particular scene, Mancini said to Advocate:
“Chucky is a psychotic killer. However, he’s not homophobic, and he’s not a bigot. He’s an equal opportunity killer”
The first series of Chucky is a really enjoyable watch that expands on the evil doll’s world. With neat callbacks and the DNA of its own creator flowing through its output, Chucky is exciting and expands nicely on a long series of classic horror films. With the confirmed second series coming sometime this year, Chucky can be expected to continue that streak and add to that world even more.
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