Welcome to the Dollhouse: Inside the Chucky TV Series

Chucky’s upcoming TV series will put a new spin on the Child’s Play franchise thanks to his dedicated creator, Don Mancini.

Zackary Arthur As Jake Wheeler In Chucky
Image: Steve Wilkie/SYFY

After seven films and an ill-advised reboot, Chucky is set to deploy a new torrent of neighborhood carnage. The killer doll has gone through several reinventions over the years, but  now that he’s back in the hands of original creator Don Mancini, he’ll find yet another unsuspecting family to terrorize in his very own TV series.

Chucky has certainly navigated a wild path to the small screen. The Child’s Play franchise started out playing the character straight by charting his efforts to get his murderous psychological hooks into innocent little Andy Barclay, but films one through three were also embracing a slasher genre that appeared to be on its last legs. 

Even Mancini thought he may have reached the end of the road with 1991’s Child’s Play 3, but when the horror game changed with Wes Craven’s meta movie Scream in the late-‘90s, Mancini suddenly found a way to bring Chucky back from the dead.

“That was really inspiring to me,” Mancini says. “We were able to reinvent the franchise with Bride of Chucky as a horror-comedy and embrace the absurdist particulars that are really endemic to the material. Rather than try to keep denying it, we thought, ‘what if we embrace that and acknowledge it and use it as part of the fun?’”

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After Bride of Chucky came Seed of Chucky, which Mancini used to brand the horror franchise as LGBTQ-inclusive. “I wanted to find new stories to tell and new ways to make it interesting for myself as a writer and then eventually director, but also for the audience.”

Mancini then took some time to consider where the flame-haired horror icon might fit into the zeitgeist going forwards. 

“With Curse of Chucky, we decided to bring it back to a more traditionally straightforward Gothic horror movie, and that was also successful,” he explains. “It showed me that continual reinvention is a good way to keep a character and a franchise alive.”

Discovering fresh ways for Chucky to manipulate any new owners could be seen as quite the challenge after over three decades of slashing, slicing, and dicing, but the doll that contains the soul of maniacal serial killer Charles Lee Ray will use his TV series to start a conversation about bullying that will advance the franchise’s exploration of LGBTQ issues: the show’s protagonist is a gay teen called Jake Wheeler, who is struggling with his sexuality. 

“The culture of bullying that exists in recent years among today’s youth is in itself a true life horror story,” Mancini says. “We use Chucky as a metaphor, as the ultimate bully. He is charming and he’s funny. Bullies can appear to us in that guise and be seductive. That’s one of the things we’re doing in the TV series that’s brand new.”

Chucky will see an entire town thrown into chaos after the cursed doll turns up at a yard sale and sets out to commit a series of horrifying murders, exposing deep hypocrisies and hidden secrets. Old friends and foes from Chucky’s past also return and threaten to reveal the truth behind his mysterious origins. But while Chucky will bring back familiar Child’s Play franchise stalwarts like Jennifer Tilly, Alex Vincent, Fiona Dourif, and her father Brad, there are some new faces in the mix, including Final Destination and Idle Hands star Devon Sawa. 

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Mancini says he’s always been a big fan of the actor, and that Sawa was such an instant hit with the established Chucky family that we’ll likely see him pop again in the future. “One of our habits that we’ve developed over the course of the films is adding to our family, and finding ways to keep them around. I would certainly like to do that with Devon.”

Mancini also reveals that the series has allowed him to take the brakes off in a way that he wasn’t able to with the films. Having eight hours of storytelling real estate to play with has given him an opportunity to delve into the serial killer’s disturbing backstory – one that core fans have been patiently awaiting for decades. Although Charles Lee Ray’s origins have been explored before in Matthew Costello’s problematic Child’s Play 2 novelization, Mancini reassures us that they’ve gone in a different direction with Chucky.

“Fans have been asking a lot of questions about Chucky’s origins ever since he first appeared in ’88,” Mancini teases. “How did he become a killer in the first place? How did he come to dabble in voodoo? I think people will find all of that stuff really interesting.”

Those same fans might be wondering about an elephant in the room: the 2019 Child’s Play reboot movie, where Mark Hamill was brought in to voice Chucky and Mancini was essentially pushed out of the conversation. At one point, he was concerned that the reboot would take hold and that there might end up being two Chucky franchises running at the same time, so when plans to make another movie with the rebooted cast and crew fell apart, Mancini found working on the new series cathartic and validating.

“I never bore any kind of ire toward the filmmakers themselves because I know that they were doing their jobs and it was an exciting opportunity to get a toehold in the industry with a franchise character,” Mancini says. “I get that. But at the same time, I’m relieved how it all worked out.”

In the last decade Mancini has fielded writing jobs on the likes of Hannibal and Channel Zero and he still has irons in the fire when it comes to non-Chucky-related projects, but he says he’s embraced his prolific role in the horror genre regardless.

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“When you’re an actor, you can get pigeonholed. That happens with writer-directors too. It can be challenging, but at the same time I’m grateful for it. The older I get, the more I realize it’s good to have a niche. I’m honestly really thrilled that I still get to do this after thirty-odd years.”

Chucky will premiere on Syfy and the USA Network on October 12.