Chucky from Child’s Play is the actually the modern Universal Monster

This October, the Criterion Channel is showcasing a number of cherry-picked Universal horror movies from the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, highlighting the fact that Universal’s monsters haven’t been a multiplex fixture in decades. This hasn’t always been for lack of trying. Sony produced unofficial adult-oriented reflections of these monsters in the ‘90s, with R-rated versions of Dracula FrankensteinThe Wolf Man (in) and. Wolf(). Universal created The Mummy into a successful series of late ’90s/early 2000s adventure movies, but its Wolfman remake lost money. The studio attempted and failed to kickstart a new Universal Monster Cinematic Universe with the Tom Cruise version. The Mummy in 2017, which bombed, but led to Leigh Whannell’s excellent redo of The Invisible ManThis led to the notion that Universal would adopt a filmmaker-focused approach towards its monsters moving forward.

Since the original monsters have not been created in any ongoing series, the Universal Monster is now more of an iconic trope. However, it does not get much use in modern horror movies. Broadly speaking, a Universal-style monster is a creature with qualities both monstrous and human — often too beastly to serve as the movie’s protagonist, but human-like enough to generate a queasy fascination. The individual levels of empathy they generate may vary, but they’re all doing warped imitations of humans: The stitched-together Frankenstein’s Monster, the undead Dracula and Mummy, the half-animal Wolf Man, the humanoid Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Invisible Man whose humanity fades away with his physical form.

Bride of Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster holding hands

Universal Pictures

Finding the perfect balance between monster and human qualities can be hard. Most zombies, despite their obvious human roots, don’t have enough personality. Movie ghosts don’t have consistent enough form. Masks are too common for slashers. Modern cinema has the Universal Monster more often appearing in superhero stories than horror films. Venom and the Hulk are more closely capturing this type of monster/human duality, with the horror bonus that their Jekyll/Hyde personalities add. However, there is one great unsung Universal Monster of recent years who actually appears in horror movies released by Universal: Chucky, the murderous sorta-doll from the Child’s Play movies (and, as of this month, a television series).

It’s not that Chucky languishes in obscurity — although, despite his heavily promoted eponymous show, he’s never been quite as popular as some of his presumed contemporaries. Only five of his seven movies have had theatrical releases, and even the three of them that could be described as hits didn’t consistently reach Nightmare on Elm StreetNumbers Elm StreetThis is a simple comparison because of the fact that it’s the first Child’s PlayThis movie was released in 1988. It was also the same year Freddy Krueger achieved his highest box office grossing with. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, The Dream Master With Child’s Play 2 It was 1990 Child’s Play 3The series, which was released in 1991 as a late entry to the slasher movie market, saw little interest and dwindled in popularity. Freddy Parallels: Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare Just a few more weeks later, the six-movie original series was completed. Child’s Play 3 (Flooped.

Chucky acts like a slasher in early movies. He’s really serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), who seems to commit murder for the sheer, insane sport of it, and whose soul possesses an innocuous-seeming “Good Guy” doll after a desperate voodoo ritual. The basic Child’s Play story is easy to remember, because the movies repeat it several times: The possessed doll finds its way to a kid (in the first three movies, the exact same kid), the doll befriends/stalks the kid while killing other people, and no one believes the kid when he tries to warn them. The first three Child’s Play pictures have the repetition of a post-HalloweenSlasher is a genre where there are primary variants in the execution of each kill and the convolutions that allow the killer to come back to life.

Child’s Play 2: Chucky holds a stake

Universal Pictures

Chucky, like many other classic horror villains continues to fight. The fourth entry, 1998’s Chucky Bride, is known for introducing Jennifer Tilly’s equally murderous Tiffany (who eventually becomes a matching doll partner for Chucky), along with a more explicit sense of self-mocking humor. It’s also where the Universal Monster connection grows stronger, from the title on down. Writer Don Mancini — who has worked on all seven Chucky features and the series, moving from screenwriter to writer-director — has Tiffany rapt and even weeping as she watches Bride of Frankenstein during her big death scene. Later, in her doll form, Tiffany sagely quotes the part of the film that she found so moving back to Chucky: “We belong dead.” Chucky Bride is as much a comedy as a horror movie, making it all the more impressive when it gives Tiffany a twisted depth of feeling by acknowledging the couple’s misfit status. He mixes dark comedy with queer subtexts (or both). Get Seed of ChuckyMancini connects to James Whale in the following (queer actual text). Bride of Frankenstein Invisible ManDirector whose influences added similar subtext to the original Universal Monsters Series.

It’s appropriate, then, that BridalThis was a pivotal moment in the series’ history. Chucky changes his look with Frankenstein-style facial stitches. Get Seed of ChuckyAs well as DTV Follow-ups Curse for Chucky Chucky’s CultThis is the final. Gradually, Charles Lee Ray — who spends much of the series attempting to find a human body to repossess — more or less disappears, and Chucky becomes a personality distinct from his originator, hybridizing his human and plastic forms. It’s a plot twistChucky’s Cult allows the murderer’s soul to be divided and subdivided, creating more Chuckies that aren’t exactly the same thing as more Rays while they’re clearly more alive than a simple army of plastic dolls.

Despite this, Chucky movies have more continuity than most Universal Monster series, they’re fairly inconsistent about the physical makeup of Chucky. In the early movies, he’s a doll who’s supposed to become more human as he’s possessed longer; in the later ones, he seems to have a beating heart, or at least some other organs underneath the plastic-looking casing. The little physiological details, especially when they aren’t uniform, make Chucky feel more uncanny in the long run. Chucky is a living, breathing toy that can be disturbingly sexually activated at times.

Zackary Arthur holds a beaming Chucky doll in Syfy/USA’s horror series Chucky

Photo: Steve Wilkie/USA Network

Emotionally, Chucky doesn’t generate anywhere near the empathy of fellow human-monster hybrids like the Wolf Man or the Creature from Frankenstein; he’s certainly not as presentable or seductive as Dracula. His doll body makes him seem more monstrous, which is probably because it condenses the human uglyness. Though we don’t see much footage of the “real” Charles Lee Ray in action, Chucky seems to become progressively more foulmouthed and wisecracking as he spends more time in the doll body; he sounds more like a crass, curmudgeonly insult comic in Get Seed of ChuckyHe does more in than he does out Child’s Play 2

It’s easy to mistake this for a slasher development — specifically, for a Freddy Krueger knockoff, and sometimes Chucky does play that way. But his films change their shape and give this wideness new contexts. The SeedOr the gothic melodramas of Curse — and his movies playing up the comedy factor recall the days of various monsters meeting Abbott and Costello. The new ChuckySyFy shows that his human side is being developed further in the series. Chucky is still a nasty person, but Jake (Zackary wheeler), seems to be able to see beyond the crude tricks and manipulations he used in the film.

Amazing longevity and surprisingly good quality! The Chucky franchise is guaranteed a place in the monster pantheon due to its remarkable longevity (and surprisingly high quality!) It is not clear where that spot will be located, even though Chucky remains at the original monster studio. Universal acquired the rights to this series from the beginning with Child’s Play 2Chucky has remained loyal to them throughout the years. He is also a regular at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights. Still, the closer association with Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, and the like lingers — understandably, given when Child’s PlayIt first appeared in cinemas. But Freddy and Jason, at least, haven’t re-emerged in over a decade. They’re absentee monsters, unsure of how to haunt us in the 21st century. While the killer doll is a skilled in parenting, marriage and counseling teen girls, it has also dabbled with parenting. Chucky can be found everywhere, however strange it might seem.

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