How Syfy's "Chucky" Series Ups the Queerness in the Iconic Horror Franchise
While the iconic Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street films have seen their queer moments since the 1980s — most famously, Nightmare’s controversial second installment, which derailed its closeted gay star’s life and was subject of the 2019 documentary Scream, Queen! — the darkly comedic, seven-film Child’s Play franchise is the first to go all-out LGBTQ+. That's right: There's a tender gay teen romance at the heart of Chucky, out creator Don Mancini’s TV series spin-off.
Debuting on both Syfy and USA networks on October 12, Chucky sees a gay 14-year-old aspiring artist, Jake (Zackary Arthur, Transparent), come into possession of the demonic doll - possessed by serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) - while thrifting, to the disgust of Jake’s blue collar, abusive single father (1990s teen idol and Final Destination star Devon Sawa). Circumstances, and Chucky’s first murder, result in Jake moving in with his rich nemesis cousin, Junior (Teo Briones), who happens to be dating their junior high school’s resident mean girl, Lexy (Alyvia Alyn Lind). As Chucky racks up a bloody body count and attempts to manipulate the horrified Jake, the teen finds at least some distraction in a romantic spark with another schoolmate, Devon (Björgvin Arnarson).
Unrelated to Paramount’s 2019 Child’s Play reboot, the canonical Chucky sees familiar characters and actors from the franchise’s 30+ year run return, including Chucky’s first owner, Andy (Alex Vincent), and partner in crime Tiffany Valentine (Jennifer Tilly), while also delving into the origin of Charles Lee Ray. Via telephone, Mancini - whose credits also include writing and producing episodes of TV’s Hannibal and Channel Zero - spilled tea about creating the series, casting real teens, Chucky’s nonbinary child Glen (first seen in Seed of Chucky), and working with Tilly again.
Did you always pitch the TV series’ lead character, Jake, as a gay teen or were there additional ideas and versions before the green light?
It was just this one concept and yeah, the character was always intended to be gay. I’ve been putting a lot of gay elements into the movies since 1998’s Bride of Chucky and it became increasingly important to me, partly because I saw so many LGBTQ fans respond favorably. I thought, ‘OK, this is great, let's give young queer horror fans some representation.’ But I think for 10 seconds I wondered, is it too obvious coming from me? Fortunately, my fellow executive producers David Kirschner and Nick Antosca said, ‘absolutely do it!’
Unlike the movie Dear Evan Hansen, you cast real adolescents as teens, like Zack Arthur, who’s the same age as his character. Was that important to you?
Yeah. As I was growing up you would see thirty-something-year-old Stockard Channing as Rizzo in Grease, who I loved by the way, but with our franchise, if you age those kids just a few years it could tip over into absurdity. Once you get people who are physically bigger, stronger and driving cars, the stakes become lower and they’re not in as much danger or as vulnerable.
How did you approach Zack about Jake’s sexuality and his character arc?
I had a conversation with him and his mom about what to expect because I wanted to make sure he and his parents were comfortable with it, which they were completely. This is a very sweet, PG-13 teen puppy love kind of thing we see in other genres that depict 8th graders and their burgeoning romantic interests, but we don’t get to see often with 14-year-old gay boys. It’s something I identify with from my own experience and could bring to it.
Actually, I understand that you drew quite a bit from autobiography here. What’s the most personal element?
Probably the tension between Jake and the dad. Not really a specific scene but generally. It’s probably something many gay guys, particularly of my generation, can identify with.
How did Zack and Björgvin get along?
They’re really good friends and hang out a lot. They make music together. They play their attraction and tentative flirtation extremely well and are very comfortable with one another, as you’ll see in later episodes.
Do we get a gay kiss?
Oh yeah! Definitely. A big one!
Incidentally, Jake’s cousin Junior reads as a repressed queer during the first four episodes that were provided to screen in advance. He’s pretty reluctant to go as far as Lexy wants sexually, and he’s super salty towards his openly gay cousin. Is there a Junior revelation coming later in the season?
(Laughs) No comment. Just keep watching. Put it that way! But I think teenage boys, regardless of how they identify in this world of selfies and Instagram, are incredibly body and status-conscious. Even hairstyle conscious! I know what you’re getting at, that almost Mean Girls nastiness going on, which I really like because I think it’s true to life. I’m not going to negate the possibility [that Junior’s queer]. How’s that?
In the first half of the series, Lexy is the worst, cruelest person on the planet yet Jake refuses to let Chucky kill her, or give in to Chucky’s encouragement to do it himself. I wanted her to die so bad! She’s the next Marjorie Taylor Greene!
It’s a testament to the actress who plays her. We wanted someone you would root for Jake to kill. Kids can be awful to one another and Chucky this season represents a metaphor for bullying and I think you need to feel that seething hatred kids can feel. He’s the ultimate bully, because he’s exploiting what Lexy is doing to manipulate Jake to go down a dark path. So yes, it’s important you identify with Jake at that stage.
Before this TV series, what was the Child’s Play franchise’s gayest moment?
Probably in 2004’s Seed of Chucky, the depiction of a gender-nonconforming, possibly trans child is pretty queer. And the hot lesbians making out in 2013’s Curse of Chucky was pretty gay! But watch the show. It’s quite gay.
What sort of unexpected benefits or opportunities came out of doing Chucky as a series? Was there another concept from years ago you finally got to incorporate?
Yeah. One of the fun things about being custodian of a franchise is you have so many ideas for characters, set pieces, murder MOs, and sometimes they don’t fit into the project you originally plan them for so you put them into a drawer and pull them out in some future iteration. With the show having eight hours to fill, my initial impetus was to open that drawer and pull everything out and put it all in! Every time you [do a project], you wonder, ‘is this going to be the last one?’ I don’t take anything for granted and wanted the show to be really good and put my best foot forward, so yeah, there were a number of things that have fallen by the wayside from the franchise over the years that I put into the show, but most come up later in the season.
Including characters from earlier films in the franchise like Jennifer Tilly’s?
Oh yeah, she comes in very soon after what you’ve seen. You want the series to work for people who never saw a Chucky movie before, so the structure with the TV show is to introduce the new realm and characters first, and then gradually bring the history back in and see how they’re related. Jennifer has a big role in the show in the back half, and her character goes through a lot. Look at her Instagram. Sometimes it feels like the movie and this show only exist as fodder for her IG feed!
Will Chucky’s nonbinary child, Glen, return too?
Gotta wait and see!
Were there any kills that were deemed too violent for the TV series and scrapped or toned down?
No. Not at all. I think TV has been steadily pushing the boundaries of what they can show, which is great if you’re in the horror business on TV. When I worked on TV’s Hannibal I was surprised and encouraged by what they let creator Bryan Fuller show, and I think the reason he could push the boundaries is he stylizes it a lot. That kind of thing I find more interesting than simply throwing blood and gore around, but make no mistake - we do plenty of that too! We like to do it artfully.
I heard you refer to this in an interview as the “first season,” so is it safe to assume you already have ideas for more Chucky mayhem on TV?
Yes. We keep our fingers crossed and hope for another season and if we get it, we’re ready.
Chucky premieres October 12 on Syfy and USA networks.