"I feel extremely lucky," says Don Mancini. It's a disarmingly sincere and humble statement, especially coming from the mind that created one of the most iconic characters in horror cinema history: Chucky, a talking doll with a wicked sense of humor and a penchant for murder.
The sense of joy and pride that comes through when Mancini discusses his creation -- and the upcoming Syfy/ USA series Chucky, which features the titular killer doll -- is apparent, and it should be. Not only was Child's Play, which introduced audiences to Chucky, an instant classic and box office hit when it was released in November 1988, but the franchise has only grown in popularity over the following three decades. It went on to spawn six sequels (and a reboot), comic books, a video game, endless merchandise, and now is set to make its small screen debut with the highly anticipated Chucky.
"The older I get, the more lucky I realize I am that this character that I created when I was in college became something popular, because there's always an element of luck that goes into that," says Mancini. "I love doing it. It's thrilling to me that the character I created has been embraced by horror audiences. And I'm legitimately as excited about all of this as they are, honestly."
The key to his longevity in the business in part comes from advice he received from a mentor, says Mancini. "The trick of becoming a successful and also happy writer is to create a sort of appropriate vehicle or mouthpiece for your vibe, or for your psychology or whatever. And I think that Chucky really is that for me."
What parts of Chucky -- who, for those not in the know, is actually a doll possessed by the spirit of a serial killer and voodoo practitioner -- vibe with Mancini? First and foremost is Chucky's signature dark sense of humor. "I really love scary and funny...I think that Chucky, with his combination of his propensity for violence but also his sense of humor, I just think that Chucky gets me," Mancini explains with an appropriately timed laugh. But Chucky has also offered the out gay filmmaker an opportunity to express his queer identity in his art, by injecting queerness into these films on various levels "dramatically, subtextually, metaphorically, [and] stylistically," he says.
"Once we introduced Jennifer Tilly's character, the Bride of Chucky, Tiffany, that brought a certain comedic camp vibe, which I think is kind of historically a hallmark of gay culture," he explains. "The filmmakers in the horror genre that I've always loved... create this really interesting, aesthetic intersection between violence and beauty and glamour. And that really attracts me. And I think there is something fundamentally queer about that, this sort of operatic viewpoint on the horror genre."
The most obvious way that Mancini infuses his films with queerness, however, is by intentionally including LGBTQ+ characters in major and minor roles. "I just have tried to go further with it with each movie and create a space of representation in this genre in a major studio product that really has a broad reach around the world," he says.
Mancini is continuing that tradition with his latest entry in the franchise, the Chucky TV series, which premieres October 12 on Syfy and USA. It's centered around Jake Webber (Zackary Arthur), a gay, bullied teenager who happens upon a Chucky doll at a garage sale. "This show is probably the most personal thing that I've done in terms of the story itself," says Mancini, who admits it's practically autobiographical at times. "The protagonist is a 14-year-old gay boy who's dealing with a lot of issues that I dealt with as a 14-year-old gay boy back in the late '70s." These are things Mancini believes still resonate today, despite the strides that have been made for LGBTQ+ people. "This show uses Chucky as a metaphor for bullying, the culture of bullying that, unfortunately, still is present in today's youth."
As fans of the franchise know, Chucky is the parent to a queer kid, who was introduced in Seed of Chucky. "When Chucky ends up in a kind of weird, toxic, bullying relationship with [Jake in the series], one of the ways he's able to manipulate this kid is by ironically expressing a kind of empathy and sympathy for him," explains Mancini. "Chucky is a psychotic killer. However, he's not homophobic, and he's not a bigot. He's an equal opportunity killer," Mancini says with a laugh.
"One of the things that people might be surprised about with the series is the amount of heart that it actually has. And one of our goals with the show is to make people not only scream and not only laugh in the expected ways, but they might also find themselves shedding a tear as well."
While Chucky will introduce new characters to the franchise, longtime fans can also rest assured that many familiar faces from the universe that Mancini has created over the years will return as well. These include Tilly, Fiona Dourif, Christine Elise, and Alex Vincent, all reprising their past roles -- and, of course, Brad Dourif returns as the voice of Chucky. With the love that Mancini has for his killer doll and for the team of returning players he's assembled along the way, he's happy to keep coming back and exploring Chucky's world. "Maybe I have deep-rooted abandonment issues and separation anxiety, and I can't let either character go, or all of the people involved, whether they're in front of or behind the camera," he jokes. "I just tend to hold everyone close. And it works for us."
This story is part of The Advocate's 2021 Film and TV issue, which is out on newsstands October 5, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe -- or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.