Back around 21 B.C., someone took some clay and fur and molded it into their image – presumably to either play with or to transfer their soul into, or both. Our fascination with dolls continued (who doesn’t love a mini-me?), and about 2,000 years later, we got Child’s Play, featuring a killer doll named Chucky who terrorized anyone foolish enough to get near him.
Since the film’s release 30 years ago – it hit theaters November 9, 1988 – Chucky has made it into the Horror Hall of Fame with seven films, beaten only by supreme baddies like Jason (Friday the 13th), Michael Myers (Halloween), John Kramer (Saw), and Freddy (A Nightmare on Elm Street). On the 30th anniversary of the first films’ release, it makes sense to dive into why the plastic psycho endures longer than most monsters.
While other slasher favorites have noteworthy moments of backstory we’ve learned about in their franchises – Freddy was burned alive by angry parents, Jason has mommy issues and experienced bullying, and Michael Myers escaped an institution – none of the classic slashers have experiences during the films that change them and make them more than just a killer. The only villain that comes remotely close is John Kramer of the Jigsaw films. In a quasi-twist (one of many in the Saw series), Kramer, after having survived cancer and his wife’s miscarriage and death, chose to give people a chance to be grateful for their lives by putting them in his tricky traps. And yet he never changes his staunch principles. Somehow, though, the hollow plastic doll at the center of the Child’s Play films manages to keep piling life experiences on top of his urge to kill – and we see him grow and change during his series, even if he never loses his taste for blood.
In Bride of Chucky, we got more of Ray’s story before that fateful night in the toy store. It turns out, he had the kind of girlfriend named Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) who was fine with dating a serial killer. Just before he tangled with Detective Mike Norris in the first film, he had left out a diamond ring on the kitchen table, and Tiffany mistakenly thought it was an engagement ring. Even though she came to find out it was just stolen loot from one of his victims, she stays with Chucky, and over the course of Bride, they both accept each other as their far-from-perfect partners (he even eventually proposes in awe after she brutally murders a couple of con artists). Through the ups and downs of subsequent films, they remain together. Awww.
While Seed of Chucky is arguably the biggest departure of the franchise – it veers far away from horror and into absurdist comedy – the fact remains that Chucky’s child Glen expanded his horizons as a person…er, person in a doll. After proving his parentage with Chucky’s same “Made in Japan” imprint, Glen shares his insecurities about murdering people, and eventually reveals his other personality, Glenda. While Chucky never gets to the warm fuzzy kind of parenting with Glen and Glenda, he does realize that his life is forever changed and much different from where he was in the first Child’s Play film. This kind of self-realization by the villain is unparalleled in the world of horror franchises. And it wears overalls.
Some killers, like Jason, enjoy offing girls running around in white button-down shirts and that’s about the scope of it. Chucky loves living that same glamorous homicidal lifestyle, but he has an additional supernatural motivation: transferring his soul into another body. He’s a doll with goals. That stopped being interesting in Child’s Play 2, but after shoe-horning it into the other movies, both the series and the doll evolved in Cult of Chucky, where he found a new spell on the internet that allowed him to finally dole out his soul to several bodies at once. This qualifies as a Horror Homo-Habilis moment, where an established villain employed the use of tools to progress their franchise. Sure, Freddy has varied torture methods from dream to dream, but he’s always using that glove. This particular point bodes well for the future of subsequent Chucky stories, since his interactions with the world around him – and its new technologies – mean that this series could continue on well past his contemporaries. Here’s to hoping.