Ever wonder how Chucky, a murderous, pint-sized children’s doll, came into being before he took his place alongside Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kruger and Michael Meyers as one of pop culture’s most infamous slashers?
His backstory is a lot more profound than you might expect.
As his creator Don Mancini tells us in a new interview, Chucky — whom the filmmaker introduced to the world in the 1988 instant horror classic Child’s Play — was born out of a reaction to consumer mass marketing (especially to kids), America's obsession over Cabbage Patch Kids and advancements in animatronics.
“It was in the wake of the Gremlins movie in 1984,” Mancini, 60, says. “And I realized with that movie that animatronics had gotten to the point that they were so sophisticated that anything you could write, puppeteers could do in terms of nuance, facial expressions, mouth synchronization of dialogue, that sort of thing. Initially, my impulse was I wanted to write a dark satire about how marketing affected children, because my dad worked in marketing and advertising when I was growing up, and so I was exposed to that world a lot. And I saw from a very early age how cynical it is, the notion of creating products and getting people to buy things that they don't really need, and how they do that sometimes to children specifically. They refer to children as ‘consumer trainees.’ [That was a term Mancini would lampoon in Child’s Play III.]
“And so then the Cabbage Patch doll craze happened in the mid-’80s, with lines down the block and literal fights breaking out in stores when they would sell out. Being a horror fan, I had seen other movies in the genre that dealt with the living doll concept, like the movie Magic and the Trilogy of Terror [anthology]… But I knew now in the wake of Gremlins that you could do it in a brand new way because the animatronics had gotten so sophisticated. So [with] all of these impulses about animatronics, and a nightmarish look at marketing to children, and the Cabbage Patch doll craze, out came Chucky.”
Voiced by Brad Dourif as a “Good Guy” talking doll possessed by the spirit of a deceased serial killer in Child’s Play, Chucky sliced and diced his way to $44 million on a budget of only $9 million. Two sequels quickly followed in 1990 and 1991, with Bride of Chucky (1998), Seed of Chucky (2004), Cult of Chucky (2017) and a Child’s Play reboot (2019) to follow.
In 2021, Mancini launched the reliably NSFW Chucky series on Syfy and USA Network as a direct spinoff of the original series. It’s been a big hit among fans, particularly for leaning into LGBTQ themes as it follows a gay teenager (Zachary Arthur’s Jake Wheeler) who becomes entangled with Chucky. The show premiered its third season earlier this month, as Chucky takes on… what else, the White House.
“I might’ve dreamed it,” Mancini says when asked if he ever thought he’d be making Chucky projects for 35 years and counting, likening the franchise’s various reincarnations to the James Bond series. “I mean, I know I dreamed it because when I wrote it, Halloween and Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street had become viable franchises and were happening at that time in the mid-eighties when I was a film student at UCLA. We were living in a world where you would get regular installments of all three of those slasher series. So I dreamed of it, but the fact that it actually worked out, I felt like I won the lottery in that. So it has just been such a gift in my life, which as I get older, I'm increasingly grateful for because I just know what a special position it is to be in.”
Chucky has racked up dozens upon dozens of kills over eight movies and two-plus seasons of television. It’s a tough choice, but Mancini can ultimately tell you his favorite.
“I think I would have to go with Tiffany's death in Bride of Chucky when Chucky electrocutes her in the bubble bath,” he says. “I really love that one. I actually had written that in the original script for what became the first Child's Play. The babysitter character played by Dinah Manoff [originally] got electrocuted in the bubble bath, but the director who also rewrote the script of the first movie, Tom Holland, changed the details so that Chucky pushes her out the window. And that was very cool in and of itself. So I had that idea for the bubble bath electrocution, put it in a drawer, and 10 years later when we were doing Bride of Chucky, played by Jennifer Tilly, I thought like, ‘Ooh, this is exactly how Jennifer Tilly should die.’”
One of Chucky’s most famous kills — er, most famous people he’s killed — came in 2004’s meta Seed of Chucky. In Los Angeles as Tilly (playing herself) shoots the movie-within-a-movie Chucky Goes Psycho, a road-raging Chucky and his son Glen (Billy Boyd) run down pop star Britney Spears, sending her off of a cliff and into a fiery explosion. “Oops, I did it again,” Chucky cracks. Spears was played by lookalike Nadia Dina Ariqat, but it’s a (fake) cameo Mancini admits he has mixed feelings about in light of more recent revelations about the singer’s struggles.
“Because the story took place in Hollywood, I just wanted a celebrity to play themselves, [and] the initial idea was Chucky would kill them,” Mancini explains. “At one point, I think we were exploring Ozzy and Sharon Osborne, but maybe they said no, or I can't remember what happened. But someone brought to our attention, this young actress Nadia Dina Ariqat … she was the spitting image of Britney Spears. I was like, ‘Yeah, that's hilarious. Chucky will run her off the road or something,’ which in retrospect, I was not aware at the time that she had any kind of emotional issues.
“And I can't imagine Britney Spears ever lost any sleep over this if she's even aware of it. But if I were a celebrity I would want to be killed by Chucky. I think that that would be fun.”
Chucky is now streaming on Syfy. Child’s Play is currently streaming on Max and Prime Video.