The 1980’s introduced us to many horror icons; Freddy, Jason, Pinhead, Michael Myers (I know he originated in ‘78 but shhhh) but there’s one icon that has proven you can't keep a Good Guy (doll) down. In 1988 ‘Child’s Play’ was unleashed into cinemas and audiences met the newest name in horror; Chucky. In the Original ‘Child’s Play’, notorious serial killer Charles Lee Ray (played perfectly by Brad Dourif) is gunned down in a toy store while trying to avoid the police. Before bleeding to death Charles (or Chucky to his friends) uses the power of voodoo to transfer his soul into a Good Guy doll in the hopes that if he’s quick enough he’ll be able to transfer his soul back into a different body and live a new life. But of course only one thing can stop him...a 6-year-old kid. Andy Barclay (played by Alex Vincent) just wanted a Good Guy doll for his birthday but what he got was a toy that would cause him fear and torment for 30 plus years (we’ll come back to that in a bit.)
‘Child’s Play’ came from the mind of Don Mancini, who would go on to become the architect for the entire ‘Chucky’ franchise. Mancini wrote the original script in ‘86 and titled it ‘Batteries Not Included’. Unfortunately another movie by that title was being made at the time, so Mancini renamed the script ‘Blood Buddy’, which was then retitled once more to ‘Child’s Play’. Don was inspired by Richard Attenborough’s ‘Magic’, the ‘Twilight Zone’ episode ‘Living Doll’ and the popularity of the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls at the time. He also cited growing up as a gay man and having a troubling relationship with his father as an influence as well. Together with rewrites from screenwriter John Lafia and Director Tom Holland (the ‘Fright Night’ one, not Spider-Man), ‘Child’s Play’ was ready to film. All they needed now was to find a legendary voice that would suit Chucky. Brad Dourif was already playing the human version, so of course, Jessica Walter was the perfect choice to voice the miniature menace...wait? WHAT?!
That’s right Lucille Bluth herself was the original voice for Chucky and test audiences HATED IT. Brad Dourif returned and brought a joyful menace to the character’s voice. Kevin Yagher (who had previously worked on ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 & 3’ and ‘Friday the 13th The Final Chapter’) was brought on board to design and lead puppeteer the Chucky Doll. The perfect blend of Dourif’s voice, Yagher’s team of puppeteers and Mancini’s witty script is truly what brought Chucky to life and, in my opinion, what made the movie a success. Audiences agreed, with the film being a financial and critical smash hit. Even Roger Ebert called it a “Cheerfully energetic horror film.”.
Of course, with the success of the first film, the people wanted a sequel. ‘Child’s Play 2’ was released 2 years later, in 1990. John Lafia took the helm as director this time, with Mancini becoming the lead writer. In the sequel Andy joins his new foster family (since his mother has been committed to a mental institution because she believed a doll killed her friends) and his new step sister Kyle (Christine Elise). It isn’t long before Chucky is resurrected and gunning for Andy again. Although it is the standard sequel stereotype of “The Bad Guy is Back!” ‘Child’s Play 2’ is the fan favourite of the series, which includes myself. Everything is firing on full cylinders; the puppeteering is incredible, with Chucky’s facial emotions getting a lot of focus this time around. They truly make a 2.5-foot doll look like evil incarnate. The cast is amazing here too. Featuring Jenny Agutter (‘An American Werewolf in London’) Gerrit Graham (‘Phantom of the Paradise’) and Grace Zabriskie (‘Twin Peaks’). Plus ‘Child’s Play 2’ features the best 3rd act of the series, with a terminator-esque showdown in a Good Guy Doll toy factory. Seriously, if you think Chucky is a dumb concept and you haven’t seen any of the movies, check out ‘Child’s Play 2’. It’ll make you a believer.
‘Child’s Play 3’ came out just 9 months after Part 2 and the dip in quality is apparent. Jack Bender was picked to be the director, with Mancini returning to write the screenplay. ‘Child’s Play 3’ was Bender’s first and only feature film, although he did go on to direct some fantastic episodes of television, such as ‘The Sopranos’, ‘Lost’ and ‘Game of Thrones’. Before Bender was selected as director, Peter Jackson was considered, which would have been an amazing choice. Part 3 isn’t completely terrible; it does feature a time jump by 8 years, so we get to see a 16-year-old Andy (played by Justin Whalin – yes, Jimmy Olsen from ‘Lois and Clark’) at military school. There are some fun kills and a Chucky with half his face sliced off, which is a horrifying image, but that’s about it. After disappointing Box Office returns and a worse critical reception, this seemed to be the end of Chucky for good, just 3 years after his introduction to the world...
Let me take you back to the mid 90’s; The Spice Girls and Babylon Zoo are pumping on the radio, baggy jeans and wallet chains are all the fashion and ‘Scream’ has just been released in cinemas. Slasher movies are mainstream again. Seems like the perfect time for Don Mancini to bring back America’s favourite play pal. Mancini wanted to take the franchise in a new direction, adding more comedy than we’ve previously seen in the series. The film lost the ‘Child’s Play’ title due to rights issues and took inspiration from ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’.
‘Bride of Chucky’ was released in 1998, stepping away from the Andy Barclay storyline and giving Chucky a love interest, Tiffany. The titular ‘Bride’ was played by Jennifer Tilly, who immediately became a fan favourite with her amazing performance. The film is very tongue in cheek, making several references to other horror icons such as Freddy, Jason and Pinhead. Chucky’s new scarred up face design is perfect here, and it’s definitely the look most people think of when talking about Chucky. Brad Dourif returns and he and Jennifer Tilly’s chemistry in this movie is electric. It definitely elevates the material here. The movie also includes the first ever cinematic puppet sex scene, which is as unconformable and hilarious as it sounds. This movie also had one of the best promotional crossovers when Chucky appeared on an episode of ‘WCW Monday Nitro’. Professional Wrestling is weird.
In 2004 the world learned that Chucky is terrible at pulling out when ‘Seed of Chucky’ was released. Don Mancini finally takes over as director for the first time in the series. The tone of this film is very different from the rest of the series; taking a more meta-approach to the story. The film begins with Chucky and Tiffany now starring in their own horror movie called ‘Chucky Goes Psycho’ with their co-star Jennifer Tilly. Chucky and Tiff’s son, Glen (who was born at the end of ‘Bride’) sees his parents on TV and travels to Hollywood to find them. Once there, Glen (voiced by ‘Lord of the Rings’ alumni Billy Boyd) uses voodoo to bring his parents' souls back into their doll bodies. From there, chaos ensues. Although the movie is ridiculous in tone it does touch on some important subjects, such as coming from a broken home and gender assignment. Chucky’s kid, Glen/Glenda (a reference to infamous director Ed Wood's film of the same name) struggles with their sexuality throughout the film. It’s definitely an interesting subject but perhaps in the wrong movie. Mancini taking over and becoming both director and writer really gives him carte blanche to bring up subjects like sexuality or mental illness, but it seemed in this case, the studio just wanted ‘Wouldn’t it be crazy if Chucky had a kid?’. On a side note, the film is worth seeing just for John Waters' cameo, who has probably one of the coolest deaths in the whole series.
It would be 9 years before we could see our favourite Good Guy doll return in ‘Curse of Chucky’. Mancini returns to write and direct, but he decided that he wanted to take the series back to its roots. Less comedy, more horror. Even Chucky’s look changed so he would resemble his original ‘Child’s Play’ appearance. ‘Curse’ introduced a new character in the series, Nica, played brilliantly by Fiona Dourif (Yes, the daughter of Brad.) We get to see Chucky be more sinister than he has been in previous movies and it’s definitely a return to form for the series. Unfortunately the film was a direct to DVD release and although the fans were very happy with the quality of the movie, it did seem as if Chucky wasn’t getting the same major box office promotion like he was before. In hindsight it’s actually quite smart of Mancini to enter Chucky in the straight to DVD market at the time, as most movies now are being released to VOD at the same time as their cinema releases. The smartest thing about ‘Curse’ is that even though it seems like a soft reboot, it still uses all the other movies as canon. This will be an ongoing theme to the Chucky series and it’s definitely all the better for it.
5 years later, after the success of ‘Curse’ on the DVD market, Mancini returned once again with ‘Cult of Chucky’. The movie picks up not long after the end of ‘Curse’, with Fiona Dourif returning as Nica. The premise of ‘Cult’ is that Chucky is able to split his soul into multiple Good Guy dolls. It’s an interesting idea and leads to some fun scenes with different voices of Chucky turning up. It’s amazing to see that after all these years and all the films, Mancini is only now returning to the idea of using voodoo. Ironically, the voodoo aspect of the series wasn’t in the original ‘Child’s Play’ script and it’s something Mancini fought against. Although it’s not a massive part of the movies, it is something that sets it apart from the other horror icons. ‘Cult’ brings back Alex Vincent as Andy, after all these years. Still haunted by the events of his childhood, Andy is determined to destroy all of the Good Guy dolls and get rid of Chucky once and for all. It’s a cool idea and something that would be the perfect set up for a sequel...thankfully we got something much better than another movie.
In 2019, a rebooted version of ‘Child’s Play’ was released starring Mark Hamill as Chucky. It was released in cinemas. *Dusts off hands* That’s that covered.
Not long after the release of ‘Cult’ it was announced that Don Mancini was working on a Chucky TV series. It would be the continuation of the plot from ‘Cult’ plus introduce new and old characters into the world. Syfy/USA Network picked up the series for an 8-episode run. Mancini wanted the story to be semi-biographical, with the lead character struggling with his sexuality and a disapproving father. Brad Dourif returns once again to voice Chucky and he gets some amazing set pieces in the show. Jennifer Tilly and Fiona Dourif both return as Tiffany and Nica, with Nica now having a part of Chucky’s soul inside her as seen at the end of ‘Cult’. With it being a show, and having 8 hours worth of story, Mancini is able tackle issues like sexuality, split personality, and abusive relationships. He takes the characters you’ve loved and adds an extra dimension to them. Tiffany is the best example, as she shows that she’s been struggling with her toxic relationship with Chucky over the years. We see flashbacks of how Charles Lee Ray and Tiffany met, how they became a serial killing Sid and Nancy and how Charles eventually fucked it all up. The show also explores the relationship between the two main leads, Jake and Devon. It’s refreshing to see a gay relationship represented on screen in such a mature way. It never feels cheap or put in to appease a certain audience and this is thanks to Don Mancini sharing his experiences of growing up as a gay kid in the 70’s. The show also has Chucky’s biggest kill count to date and there’s some really fun inventive deaths in the show.
With a second season confirmed and possibly more movies in the future, there’s definitely still life in this old doll yet. Horror TV shows based on existing properties are often hit or miss, ‘Ash Vs Evil Dead’ was a fun romp, whereas ‘Friday the 13th The Series’ is a complete mess. Thankfully ‘Chucky’ is in the former camp. I’m intrigued to see what first time viewers with no prior knowledge of the movies think of the show. Seeing characters like Nica or Glen/Glenda are huge rewards for long-time viewers of the film series but I'd imagine it would be confusing for people who have only watched the show. Luckily for newcomers, they have 7 weird, darkly funny, slasher movies to enjoy and be fully invested in by the time Season 2 comes around. It’s incredible to see that such a simple idea of a doll that kills people has had this sort of longevity, but with a creative team that’s not afraid to take risks and the chilling yet charismatic voice of Brad Dourif’s performance, it proves that Chucky will definitely be your friend till the end.
- Adam Neeson