When Chucky pledged to be a “friend to the end” in the 1988 slasher Child’s Play, who knew he was talking to the LGBTQ+ community? In the 2021 Chucky TV series, now available on Sky Max and NOW, the possessed doll falls into the hands of 14-year-old Jake Wheeler (played by the authentically teenage Zackary Arthur), a bullied aspiring artist who has a crush on his classmate Devon Evans (Björgvin Arnarson). Yes, the Brad Dourif–voiced doll still has a penchant for electrocuting, defenestrating and stabbing his victims with inventive glee, but Chucky also has a lot of heart. And not merely one he’s ripped out of someone else.
At Chucky’s core is a tender coming-of-age story (billed as a “coming-of-rage” tale), and Jake’s burgeoning queerness is cleverly presented as both instrumental and incidental to the plot: it’s naturalistic and matter-of-fact that his first love happens to be male, while Chucky arguably represents (and the doll itself manipulates) his inner-turmoil. After Jake is taunted by his abusive alcoholic father (Devon Sawa), for playing with dolls and being a loner, he snaps back: “You don’t care that they think I’m weird. You just care they know I’m a fag”; and Chucky kills him – a bump-off-the-homophobe revenge moment that’s an inversion of the bury-your-gays trope.
In episode two, Chucky notes he has a “queer kid”, a call-back to his genderfluid offspring Glen/Glenda who was introduced in 2004’s Seed Of Chucky. When Jake asks: “You’re cool with it?” Chucky responds: “I’m not a monster, Jake” – a nice gag on prejudice. And, as we’ve come to expect from Child’s Play post-1998’s Jennifer Tilly-introducing Bride Of Chucky, the show is hella camp, with Tilly returning to leave teeth marks on the scenery and Fiona Dourif vying for her MVP crown by playing a young version of her father Brad’s character Charles Lee Ray, the serial killer who is transferred, via blood magic, into Chucky. At one point, Chucky even demands “Kill the twink!” – a line destined to be repeated by anyone over 30 waiting to get served at the bar at G-A-Y Late.
Little of this should be any surprise to those who have followed the series throughout its seven films (discounting the 2019 big-screen reboot which isn’t canonical as creator Don Mancini wasn’t involved). Chucky has never just been about a maniacal doll. He’s a metaphor that’s malleable – whether it’s for consumerism (as in the 1988 original film) or bullying and queer ostracisation (Chucky).
Mancini, who’s gay, has said he’s infused his work with a queer sensibility: be it in the black humour, representation through LGBTQ-supporting characters, or how Seed Of Chucky shows Glen/Glenda trying to figure out their gender identity – while ensuring it’s Chucky’s bigoted views that are the plastic-butt of the joke. Tilly recalled how producers deemed Seed Of Chucky – which features John Waters, Britney Spears (a lookalike), and er, Hannah from S Club 7 getting despatched by the doll – to be “too gay”, although to be honest hiring the effortlessly camp Tilly then complaining your movie is “too gay” is like somebody carping a film with Santa Claus in is “too Christmassy”.
But in a genre with queer auteurs – such as Kevin Williamson (who claims his Scream movies are “coded in gay survival”), Hellraiser’s don Clive Barker, and Final Destination creator Jeffrey Reddick – gay references traditionally had to be subtext: and one of the joys of Chucky is that it gives outright representation to ‘80s slasher-film fans who previously had to find it piecemeal where they could – usually in villains. Thanks to the Hays Code, from 1934 to 1967, the film industry censored anything of a “perverse nature”, meaning queer characters could be smuggled in if they were evil. Hitchcock’s antagonists were often famously gay – such as in 1940’s Rebecca, 1948’s Rope or 1951’s Strangers On A Train, while the grandaddy/mummy of the slasher film, 1960’s Psycho laid down the Norman Bates’ cross-dressing maniac trope – which stubbornly endured throughout the likes of 1983’s Sleepaway Camp, and perhaps most famously, 1991’s Silence of The Lambs.
In terms of coded films, the most cult of all is 1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, which earned the title of “gayest horror film ever” on first release. Rather than star a traditional Final Girl, they cast a Final Boy, in Mark Patton to play teenager Jesse Walsh and he was shot in the objectified style associated with women. Screenwriter David Chastin admitted in 2010, after years of denials, that the plot – concerning dream-invading villain Freddy Krueger trying to take hold of Jesse’s body to embark on a murder spree – was deliberately intended to be about him struggling to suppress his nascent sexuality just as much as his killer instincts; although it was done to add an extra layer of exploitation to the horror, capitalising on surging Aids-crisis homophobia, rather than for any valiant intentions. Patton, who was then a closeted actor, claimed the movie – which involves an S&M death for a leather-daddy coach and the memorable line: “He’s inside me and he wants to take me again!” – destroyed his career, and examined its complicated legacy in his 2019 documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street.
Thirty-six years later, and Chucky’s Jake gets to do what Jesse was denied: not only be a rare Final Boy, but one who (spoiler) survives and wins the guy. Even though horror has become much more diverse in recent years, there’s still something quietly revelatory about anchoring a 33-year-old stab-happy franchise to a well-drawn adolescent gay love story, and it further cements Chucky’s legacy as a gay icon who, quite literally, slays.