Don Mancini has done what few in the horror biz have managed. In the 30 years since the release of the original Child’s Play, he has become a horror legend, and he did it by creating one of the most LGBTQ-inclusive horror franchises in the history of the genre.
I know, I know. Horror legend is a big title to throw around, but hear me out.
In 1988, when Chucky first graced the screen, no one, not even Mancini himself could have predicted that it would spawn six sequels. What he did know is that if the show did go on, he would be involved.
Child’s Play, of course, became a huge hit and by the end of its rather impressive run, the film grossed $33 million domestic, it was clear that Mancini had been onto something when he brought Charles Lee Ray aka Chucky to life.
Naturally, Child’s Play 2 and 3 followed in quick succession, releasing in 1990 and 1991, and in those first two follow-ups Chucky continued to track down poor young Andy, whose soul he was intent on stealing from the first.
And then things changed.
The advent of Bride of Chucky brought a new feel to what had strictly been an evil doll/slasher film until that point, and with it, Mancini, an out gay man, began to bring a certain queer sensibility to the franchise.
In fact, Bride of Chucky boasted one of the first positive portrayals of a young gay man I’d seen in a horror film. His name was David and he was played by Gordon Michael Woolvett.
David was an average teenage kid who just happened to be gay. It wasn’t the most important thing about him, but it wasn’t hidden or queer-coded either.
David talked to his friend Jade (Katherine Heigl) about his own relationships to try to help her with hers. It was refreshing to see, and even if David did die a horrible death, he was one among many and it didn’t feel the least bit exploitative.
Bride of Chucky also introduced queer icon Jennifer Tilly into the series as Chucky’s girlfriend, Tiffany. Tilly has enjoyed a huge following, especially in the lesbian community, since her appearance in 1996’s Bound opposite Gina Gershon.
And then there was Alexis Arquette in the small role of Damien at the beginning of the film. For those who don’t know, Alexis was born Robert Arquette and just a few years after the film premiered, she began making her formal transition from male to female. Sadly Alexis died just two years ago.
Next came Seed of Chucky…where to begin with Seed of Chucky?
OK, let’s do the easy one first. The amazing out and proud John Waters appears in the film as sleazy paparazzi reporter and photographer Pete Peters and he plays it to the hilt.
Who can forget him standing outside Jennifer Tilly’s home taking pictures while giving a running commentary about what’s going on inside the house? And his death by hydrochloric acid was perfection!
Then there was the introduction of Glen/Glenda, Chucky and Tiffany’s gender-fluid child who came with that added bonus that one of the genders was psychotic and the other was definitely a pacifist. Hardcore genre fans will also note that Glen/Glenda is a reference to the Ed Wood movie of the same name which he made in 1953!
Both Glen and Glenda were voiced by Billy Boyd, fresh from his appearances as Pippin in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and though the character has received some flack over the years, it’s still so fun to watch.
Next came 2013’s Curse of Chucky, my personal favorite in the franchise, partially because of the real darkness that it brought back to the franchise. It also introduced Fiona Dourif, daughter of Brad Dourif who’s been voicing Chucky from the beginning of the franchise, as Nica.
Though the campiness of the previous two films was gone, the queerness definitely was not. This time, Mancini upped the game however, including a lesbian affair that was happening between Nica’s sister Barb (Danielle Bisutti) and Jill (Maitland McConnell), the nanny who takes care of Barb’s daughter, Alice.
This brings us to the latest film in the franchise, Cult of Chucky. This time we’re in an asylum where Nica (once again played by Fiona Dourif) is confined after the events of the previous film.
With all that happened before it, Cult of Chucky has two major points that I want to highlight.
First up is Nurse Carlos, a gay Latino nurse working in the asylum. Carlos definitely has a lot going on in his life and Zak Santiago plays the role beautifully. He’s easily one of my favorite characters in the franchise.
And then there’s that ending!
After seven films, Chucky finally made it fully into a human body… Nica’s body! When he and Tiffany are finally reunited at the end of the film, the two women kiss and speed off together in their car which bodes well for a more fleshed out lesbian relationship going forward in the series, even if one of those women is housing the soul of a dead man.
And speaking of going forward, Mancini has just announced the plans for a Child’s Play TV series coming soon, and who knows where that will take this killer duo?
If you’ve stuck it out with me this far, I suppose you might be wondering what the point of all of this is.
It’s simple. While we’ve heard for years, now, that queer stories, actors, etc. cannot be successful in a horror franchise, Don Mancini has been proving it can for decades. He has held onto his franchise and filled it with characters and representation of the LGBTQ community, and people still clamor for each new sequel, even if a vocal minority declaim the franchise and its inclusive nature.
Is his inclusion perfect? No.
Does he continue trying, creating, and serving it up, anyway? Yes.
I’ve said it many times in this Horror Pride Month series, but I’ll say it again. Representation is important. Visibility is important.
Don Mancini is giving us both and for that he is a shining example to other queer filmmakers in the world who wish to include these themes in their work.
So, yes, he is a horror legend, but he’s also a role model and a constant advocate for LGBTQ rights. And for that, I salute him.