There are many delightfully grotesque scenes that followers of the “Child’s Play” horror movies will devour in “Chucky,” the new show based mostly on the popular franchise. The bloody death by dishwasher is a doozy.
But newcomers to Chucky, the foul-mouthed killer doll who first terrorized viewers in 1988, is perhaps more stunned by what occurs in Episode 2. In it, Jake (Zackary Arthur), a 14-year-old boy who unknowingly purchases Chucky at a yard sale, is miffed that the little maniac has read his diary entries about his crush on a classmate, Devon (Björgvin Arnarson). That’s when Chucky tells Jake about his own queer and gender-fluid child.
“You’re cool with it?” Jake asks.
“I’m not a monster, Jake,” Chucky replies.
He is a monster, after all — an icon of horror cinema with a seven-film canon. But Chucky is also a PFLAG dad.
For Don Mancini, the homosexual man who created the Chucky character, “Chucky” (premiering Tuesday on USA and Syfy) is more than simply the franchise’s first foray into episodic television. Its eight episodes offer an opportunity to pursue some deeply personal themes, together with a homosexual boy’s pet love, that he wasn’t in a position to discover when “Child’s Play” hit theaters 33 years in the past.
“I wanted to create a final boy instead of a final girl,” said Mancini, 58, in a video call from his home in Los Angeles. “It’s not something I ever saw when I was Jake’s age. Fortunately the world has turned.”
Television isn’t any stranger to homosexual teenage characters in 2021; given the frank depictions of teenybopper sexuality in shows like “Euphoria” and “Sex Education,” Generation Z may greet Jake’s needs with a yawn. Arthur, who lately turned 15, said in an electronic mail that it was “an honor to represent” L.G.B.T.Q. youngsters onscreen.
“I would be friends with Jake,” he wrote.
Mancini, who created the TV series, is aware of that Jake’s sexuality may rattle some horror followers. It could be, he said, as “if Frankenstein came out as bi.” He has acquired death threats from a fan who was upset to study Mancini was homosexual.
“But I’m in a position to do it, so why not?” he said. “The idea of causing some people’s heads to explode was catnip to me.”
Buzz round “Chucky” has been constructing since 2018, when Mancini first announced the series. Production was delayed by a conflict over rights to the Chucky character, a battle that resulted in a 2019 “Child’s Play” reboot that Mancini needed nothing to do with and that Chucky followers largely disregard. (Mancini co-wrote “Child’s Play” and wrote the opposite six movies which are thought-about a part of the character’s canon, and directed three of them.) Then got here the Covid-19 pandemic, which delayed taking pictures till March of 2021.
The show’s earliest seeds, nevertheless, were planted long in the past. Mancini grew up together with his mother and father and 4 sisters in Richmond, Va., and he caught the horror bug watching the proto-queer Gothic cleaning soap opera “Dark Shadows.” He got here out whereas learning film at U.C.L.A. within the ’80s; Mancini remembers listening to about fights over Cabbage Patch Kids on the time and thinking “about using a doll as a metaphor for marketing gone awry.”
Two movies from 1984 were touchstones: “Gremlins,” with its creepy animatronic creatures, and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”
“Freddy was a villain with a very distinct sense of humor, someone who could taunt victims verbally,” Mancini said in a 2019 oral history of “Child’s Play.” “I was quite consciously influenced by that with Chucky, the idea of an innocent-looking child’s doll that spouted filth.”
Mancini may have loved the worldwide success of the “Child’s Play” franchise and called it a night. But even after a number of a long time of Chucky, he wasn’t carried out.
“I love the character of Chucky, and I don’t get tired of him,” he said. “But in order to keep it alive this long, it can’t just be about a killer doll.”
After working in a few writers’ rooms (NBC’s “Hannibal” and Syfy’s “Channel Zero”), Mancini started thinking about a series as a way to take the Chucky-sphere in new instructions — “in a subversive but positive way,” he said. In addition to its homosexual teen story line, a nonstarter for mainstream horror in 1988, “Chucky” also offers followers a long-requested childhood again story for Charles Lee Ray, the killer who supernaturally possesses Chucky.
What finally offered the networks on the show was authenticity, said Alex Sepiol, govt vp for drama series at NBCUniversal Television and Streaming.
“When he told us about centering this chapter of the story on a gay teen and how personal that was to him, we embraced the notion,” Sepiol wrote in an electronic mail.
Once taking pictures lastly started, in Toronto, it took about 100 days to finish. A gaggle of six or seven puppeteers at a time labored in close quarters to carry Chucky to life — the doll is “99.5 percent puppet,” Mancini said — which made following coronavirus protocols additional vital. (An actor typically performs as Chucky’s double.)
Mancini’s choice for sensible results over computer-generated ones goes again to the primary film.
“I’m old school, but I think it’s much more fun to do things practically,” he said.
The queerness of the series received’t shock longtime Chucky followers: “Child’s Play” would be the queerest of the large horror franchises. A homosexual supporting character died a spectacular death — a horror badge of honor — within the fourth film of the series, “Bride of Chucky” (1998), which also signaled a pivot to campy horror-comedy. “Seed of Chucky” (2004) launched Chucky and his bride, Tiffany (voiced by Jennifer Tilly), to their transgender child, who goes by Glen and Glenda (a shout-out to Ed Wood’s B-movie “Glen or Glenda”). Other homosexual characters seem in “Curse of Chucky” (2013) and “Cult of Chucky” (2017).
Mancini loved “consciously injecting” queer content material into the movies, he said, but “Chucky” is “the most autobiographical” work of his profession. It’s there in small particulars, like the poster of the cast of “The Outsiders” that Jake has in his bed room, the same one Mancini had as a child. (Unlike Jake, Mancini didn’t cling it subsequent to a Pride flag.)
But there are darker recollections embedded in “Chucky,” which follows the doll as he terrorizes Hackensack, N.J., with a view to shield Jake from bullies. (It’s not as heroic because it sounds.) Mancini skilled bullying and abuse from his own father for being homosexual, he said; one specific scene from the pilot, in which Jake’s father (Devon Sawa) hits the boy during an argument over Jake’s sexuality, was notably difficult.
“The actors and crew were aware that this was very personal to me,” said Mancini, who wrote and directed that episode. “It was cathartic to see it acted out.”
To help him swim in such emotional waters, Mancini brought again longtime collaborators from the “Child’s Play” universe, together with Brad Dourif, the original voice of Chucky, and Alex Vincent, who reprises his function as Andy, Chucky’s young proprietor within the first two movies.
Also returning is Tilly, a close friend of Mancini’s and a significant participant within the franchise, having portrayed Tiffany in 4 movies. (His chunky gold necklace that reads, “CHUCKY DADDY”? It’s from her.)
Tilly said that she believed “all people who are disenfranchised” will really feel seen within the show’s underdog by way of traces and complicated family dynamics.
“The show has really important lessons, but it’s not like an ‘After School Special,’” she added. “In its humanity, it’s going to show people how the world is and how to behave.”