It’s been 35 years since Child’s Play hit the big screen and the children’s toy known as Chucky began a long history of traumatizing everyone. Ever since the monstrous serial killer Charles Lee Ray transferred his soul into the little redheaded monster known as the “Good Guy” doll, Chucky has been gleefully murdering nearly everyone that gets in his way, and we’ve all been along for the ride.
Though plenty of others have tried to make killer dolls pop (apologies to Saw’s Billy), none have ever quite had the longevity of Chucky. There’s a reason why, and it’s because of the man behind Chucky since that first film who has been holding his hand all the way down the road to the third season of his hit series Chucky: Don Mancini. From the very start, when Charles literally transitioned from man to doll, the character of Chucky has been in the hands of one of the most playful queer men in the filmmaking business, and we should be thankful he’s never let it go.
Everything about Mancini’s queer sensibilities has been present in the Child’s Play series from the very get-go. After all, who else could come up with the special decades-spanning relationship between Chucky (Brad Douriff) and his first best friend, Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent)? It’s been said that to truly hate someone you must love them to some extent, and Chucky and Andy’s relationship is a testament to this old adage. And even when Chucky goes back to his Bride Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) — who herself transitions into a doll — the duo end up giving birth to a genderfluid child that goes by Glen/Glenda (originally played by Billy Boyd).
Through two more films, Chucky continued to torture individuals new and old, shifting in tone as often as possible and embracing the camp aesthetics that shifted the films from their focus on horror to its deliciously dark sense of humor. And the series only doubled down on its love of queer history (and the history of co-star Tilly), ending its seventh feature (Cult of Chucky) with an explicit tribute to Bound that had Tilly and Dourif’s daughter Fiona (who was, at once, both a new character named Nica and a new body for Chucky himself, thanks to a pitch-perfect impression of her father’s voice) running away together for a new life.
If every single statement listed above sounds too absurd to condense into a short history, it’s because it absolutely is. Therein lies one of Mancini’s greatest features: Where many a creative has given up on the continuity of their work, choosing to retcon any given decision for convenience, Mancini has completely committed to the lore he has been writing since the 80s. To say the Chucky series comes with a bit of homework isn’t a stretch, but it is worth it to experience the show that has allowed Mancini to go even more wild with his characters.
The TV series Chucky, now in its third season, is something of a shift for Mancini. Yes, the series maintains as much gore, suspense, and comedy as any one of the features he wrote (as well as the three he directed), but it’s also dedicated to following the budding romance between two queer teens and all the frustrations that come with it. Beyond Chucky and Tiffany themselves, the heart and soul of Chucky are the teenagers at its core: Jake Wheeler (Zackary Arthur), Devon Evans (Björgvin Arnarson), and Lexy Cross (Alyvia Alyn Lind).
Where most of the queer romances on television these days are limited to the realm of wish fulfillment dramedies (or outright dramas drenched in miserablism), there’s something beautiful about turning on a show about a killer doll and watching a budding relationship between two teens trying their hardest to survive in a world in which their greatest enemy isn’t the world but a serial-killing toy. It’s no surprise Mancini’s own experiences as a queer man have informed much of what Jake and Devon navigate. The series’ first two seasons are dedicated to exploring the kind of things that queer teenagers have to deal with, from being excluded and bullied for their interests (and sexuality) to being manipulated by the forces around them, ranging from parents to priests (and, of course, the ever-charismatic Chucky).
But while Chucky could easily fall into the same blasé routine many teen dramas have, Mancini’s self-awareness and willingness to take any plotline he introduces to its unnatural conclusion makes it all surprise. Even when looking at Glen and Glenda — who make their comeback as separate twins (played by nonbinary actor Lachlan Watson) after the genderfluid doll’s soul was split — he takes the typical growing pains of a queer young adult trying to find themselves and adds a dose of sociopathy to the mix. The show’s adult characters are similarly well-drawn, even when they are destined to die, whether that’s Devon Sawa’s endless collection of roles (playing twins in season one, a demanding religious boarding school headmaster in season two, and the president of the United States in season three) or the insanely anti-romantic duo that is Tiffany and Nica (who has a piece of Chucky’s soul trapped in her).
For anyone who ever complained about their gays being buried, Mancini takes almost sick pleasure in keeping all his queers alive and torturing them in unique ways. For all the queer joy that comes with watching Jake and Devon’s relationship flourish in spite of arguments and their family and friends being murdered constantly, there’s as much queer joy in watching Glen and Glenda embrace the same murderous glee as their parents and witnessing Tiffany, in Jennifer Tilly’s body, play house with a captive Nica. And, boy, does Tilly serve as a highlight in the series, leaning hard into the kind of camp goodness Mancini is best at and going absurdly over the top every minute she’s on screen (down to rewatching Liar Liar on a loop).
And a love of cinematic history and engagement with queer and camp artifacts are so much of what makes Chucky shine. If one might have considered Seed of Chucky’s extended tribute to the work of Ed Wood through its identity-torn protagonist (or even its wonderful cameo by filmmaker John Waters as a peeping photographer) the epitome of how unhinged Mancini could go, the series itself takes Mancini’s madness to a whole new level. The series delights in incorporating references to the history of horror, with season one’s finale taking place at a screening of James Whale’s Frankenstein (itself a queer classic) and episodes of the third season being titled after some great queer horror classics like “Let The Right One In” and “Jennifer’s Body”.
Season two may be the most indulgent of them all though. Not only does Chucky end up restrained with Hannibal Lecter’s famed The Silence of the Lambs mask and exorcised as though he’s Linda Blair in The Exorcist (down to quoting “your mother sucks cocks in Hell” and barfing all over the place), but there’s even an entire episode dedicated to Tiffany pretending to be Jennifer Tilly in the face of her actual friends (playing themselves) coming over and forcing both Tiffany and her kids to feign normalcy. There isn’t just a reunion of the cast of Lilly and Lana Wachowski’s Bound — with both Gina Gershon and Joey Pantoliano coming over, as game as any actors with a cameo in Chucky’s world — but also a surprise appearance of Tilly’s real life pal Sutton Stracke, of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (on which Tilly herself occasionally appears and which the series makes rather explicit reference to). Hell, in anticipation of this episode, the series even gave Tiffany her own Real Housewives tagline.
It’s practically impossible to list everything that has happened over the past nearly four decades to the characters of Chucky, nor can we even begin to imagine what might come next considering how endlessly surprising Mancini’s expansion of lore has been, but a celebration of Chucky and his creator is precisely what any good queer Halloween season deserves. We’re more blessed than ever to have Chucky terrorizing a new generation, and with the first half of season three having just closed (and what promises to be an insane second half), there’s no better moment to catch up on this staple of queer fear. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll savor the beauty that is watching people of all kinds (he’s equal opportunity and an ally!) die at the hands of the smartest, horniest, bloodiest doll out there.