Monstrous Femme

Chucky and Queer Horror

Chucky and Queer Horror

Child’s Play is the most daring, consistent franchise in horror. Every entry builds on the last while also justifying its own twisted existence. Sure, the voodoo rules get increasingly wonky (probably on purpose) and the tone veers wildly from gothic horror to gleeful camp (definitely on purpose), but no other series is as focused on honoring the past while always trying something new.

This is all thanks to Chucky creator Don Mancini, who has guided the series from the beginning. As an out gay man, Mancini uses his creation to discuss queer issues in a way that no other horror franchise would dare, all culminating in Chucky the Series, one of the gayest shows on television.

Queerness has been baked into the franchise from the beginning, offering representation that has only become more overt over time. There was nothing explicitly gay in the original Child’s Play, but look at where it all starts: A lonely, imaginative little boy just wants a doll for Christmas. That’s pretty gay, right? Andy is six in the first film, so sexuality is obviously not addressed, but even as his character grows up in future installments, we never learn much about his relationships. He builds strong platonic friendships with female characters, but the implication is that the horrors of his childhood have forced him to focus on his own survival instead of personal happiness. Who knows what kind of person he would’ve grown up to be if a killer doll hadn’t ruined his life?

By Child’s Play 2, Andy is still just a kid, and the series starts focusing on the themes of “found family.” The relationship between Andy and his foster sister Kyle is the core of the film, and many of the later installments mirror this kind of platonic, heterosocial dynamic between haunted boys and kick-ass girls.

This is continued in Child’s Play 3, where an aged-up Andy is placed in a military academy. The movie doesn’t do a lot with the homoerotic subtext of this location, but it establishes a new friendship between Andy and da Silva, another tough, possibly lesbian-coded character. This time, the pair are both teenagers, but the movie pointedly avoids any romantic connection between the two. Again, it’s all about a found family of outsiders banding together to protect each other.

So far, the subtext has been pretty sub-, but Bride of Chucky marks a huge shift toward queerness. We’re introduced to absolute icon Tiffany, a hopelessly romantic psychopath in a dysfunctional relationship with her androgynous goth boyfriend. She’s depicted as straight (so far), but her introduction adds full-on camp to the series. Part 2’s candy-colored aesthetics inched the series in this direction, but Bride is the first movie to really feel gay. It’s also the first movie to actually be sexual, often connecting erotic moments with over-the-top violence. (Just look at the ceiling mirror death scene, or the electrocution via bubble bath.)

Notably, Bride also introduces the series’ first out gay character, David. He’s a supportive friend to the central straight couple (Jade and Jesse), and his sexuality is just part of his character. He dies in a very Final Destination-y car accident, but he definitely doesn’t fit into the “bury your gays” trope. He’s treated just as mercilessly as the other, straight side characters, and he’s a lot more sympathetic and interesting than either Jade or Jesse, whose relationship seems almost purposely boring compared to all the craziness around them.

After Bride’s success, Seed of Chucky goes even further, turning into a full-on comedy. (Chucky masturbates!) At the time, a lot of fans though it went too far, but its reputation has definitely improved over the years. Bride had a few meta jokes, but Seed’s metatextuality is baked into the premise itself, focusing on real-life Jennifer Tilly trying to make a comeback in the midst of another Chucky killing spree.

We have gay icon John Waters getting brutally murdered. We have multiple jokes about lesbian classic Bound. And, of course, we have Chucky’s non-binary child, Glen/Glenda. Both Chucky and Tiffany try to push their child into the standard gender boxes, which only leads to disaster for everyone involved. The inclusion of Glen/Glenda was and is revolutionary in horror. Out of all the films so far, Seed has the most to say about sexuality and gender identity, even if the movie forgets to give us any real scares. (Great gore, though.)

As a reaction to Seed’s divisiveness, Curse of Chucky ditches the camp, instead embracing a gothic, old-dark-house vibe. There’s still the inherent ridiculousness of a killer doll spouting one-liners as he murders people, but Curse is probably the most straight-up horrific since the original. We’re introduced to Nica, another kick-ass heroine (and probably the unluckiest character in any horror series). We also have Barb, a lesbian character cheating on her husband. Barb and her girlfriend don’t have a huge impact on the franchise as a whole, but it’s nice to have yet another queer character who isn’t afraid to be a genuinely terrible person.

From there, Cult of Chucky shifts from gothic to something a little wilder. It has clear giallo vibes, but it’s still not quite camp until the final act. Tiffany has a slightly bigger role here (though we could always use more of her), and Andy’s big return helps the franchise connect to its roots. This time, the gay side character is a well-meaning male nurse, whose sympathetic portrayal is a nice counterbalance to Curse’s Barb. Though great films, both Curse and Cult feel tamped down by studio notes trying to distance the franchise from Seed. (Tellingly, Glen/Glenda go unmentioned.) That said, the ending of Cult plays out as Mancini’s subversive way of slowly inching back toward ridiculousness.

From there, we can politely ignore the unnecessary remake and move onto both seasons of Chucky the Series, by far the queerest entry in the franchise. From episode one, a gay teen romance is front and center. Unlike Andy, whose trauma has led to an isolated, aromantic life, Jake and Devon find strength in each other, and their (often imperfect) relationship is a key part of their character arcs. Other gay characters (Father Bryce and probably Junior) stay in the closet and suffer because of it.

Thankfully, the show brings back the campy tone, particularly in the second season. And as the show pays tribute to all the films that came before, we’re blessed with a ton of representation. The human versions of Glen and Glenda are now fully embraced by their psychotic parents. (In Chucky’s warped moral code, he’s queer-positive while also being a proud murderer, which is pretty awesome.) Tiffany is now canonically bisexual, as is Chucky, who shifts between male and female bodies throughout each episode. The show pushes past boundaries left and right, all while telling a gory, glorious horror story filled with messed-up characters of all identities.

Perhaps that’s the most revolutionary part of the franchise: The queer characters in Chucky aren’t just victims. Sure, a lot of them get horribly murdered, but never as punishment for their sexual identity. Instead, the queer characters can be supportive friends, psycho killers, cheating spouses, heroes, villains, and everything in between. In the heightened world of Chucky, sexuality and gender presentation is just a part of life, not something that defines you.

No other horror franchise is brave enough to have queer characters exist like this. Don Mancini has created a world where gay teens can fall in love for the first time while a bisexual doll-woman kidnaps and dismembers her crush, where a killer doll can melt John Waters’s face while casually standing up for his nonbinary kids. Now that’s representation.