By Jeff Pfeiffer
When creator Don Mancini’s horror film Child’s Play debuted in theaters in 1988, few people, perhaps not even Mancini himself, might have anticipated how it would launch a multimedia franchise that has continued in the decades since.
That franchise has consisted of six sequels (not counting a 2019 reboot produced by a different creative team), comic books and assorted merchandise associated with its central monster — Chucky, a kids’ doll inhabited by the soul of a serial killer. Looking like a psychotic Dennis the Menace and with actor Brad Dourif’s voice memorably providing his diabolical dialogue and trademark insane cackle, Chucky has remained a fan-favorite movie slasher, a creepily compelling combo of Jason Voorhees’ indestructibility and Freddy Krueger’s macabre one-liners.
The Chucky-verse is now expanding into its first TV series — the appropriately titled Chucky, which airs Tuesdays on Syfy and USA Network beginning this week. Mancini is creator and showrunner, and he has brought along familiar faces (and voices) from the films like Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Fiona Dourif and Alex Vincent, as well as new cast members.
In the series, when 14-year-old Jake (franchise newcomer Zackary Arthur) buys Chucky (voiced again by Dourif) at a yard sale, it throws his idyllic suburban town into chaos with a series of horrifying murders. Meanwhile, friends and foes from Chucky’s past creep back into his world and threaten to expose the truth behind his mysterious origins.
“It is a continuation of the [Chucky] mythology,” Mancini explains. “We begin by establishing some new characters in small-town America. But gradually, we start to bring back the fan-favorite characters, all of whom were left on multiple cliffhangers in [the 2017 film] Cult of Chucky.”
Among those faves is Tilly’s character Tiffany Valentine, Chucky’s equally homicidal “bride” who is still possessing Jennifer Tilly’s body, as she did when the films left off.
“It’s mostly me, Jennifer Tilly, in all my fleshly glory,” the actress says of her primarily live-action, meta role as a fictionalized version of herself via Tiffany in Chucky. “There’s a little of both [live-action and voice-over], but if Tiffany is running around doing diabolical things, she is actually in my body. … I’m really enjoying it.
“I think the original Chucky fans are going to love [the series]. It’s chock full of Chucky goodness. … I think that we’re [also] going to find a whole new generation of Chucky fans.”
Tilly confirms what Mancini says about the show’s gradual escalation. “It starts out, it’s almost like a coming-of-age story about these kids and their problems at school, and falling in love and the problems with their parents.
“Then Chucky comes in, and it gets really demented. Then the OGs, as I call them — me, Fiona Dourif, Alex Vincent — start to arrive in town one by one, and the @#$& just hits the fan. … This evil starts to infiltrate this small town, and it gets absolutely bonkers.”
It seems like it might be hard for the creative team to get even more bonkers than the wildly inventive Chucky films and maintain that over the course of 10 episodes, but Mancini found it the opposite.
“I would say that the switch to a new medium stoked our creativity,” he says. “One of the things that has allowed us to keep [this franchise] alive and thriving all these years is that we’ve managed to reinvent it several times. And by taking it to television, this is arguably the biggest reinvention of the franchise. … We have much more time to delve into characters and relationships that people have been following for decades. … I think the switch-up to television was very invigorating.”