The Strangely Linear and Reasonable 30-Year History of Chucky

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Photo: Ronald Gran/Universal Pictures/Everett Collection

Somehow, the Child’s Play franchise has persisted for 30 years. Its star, a maniacal doll named Chucky, is not always counted among his 1980s horror-villain brethren — Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Leatherface, Freddy Krueger. And yet, the seventh installment of the franchise, Cult of Chucky, in theaters now, is the second chapter in a row to receive strong critical praise, suggesting that Don Mancini’s deranged creation has accomplished a rare feat: a horror franchise that’s actually aged well.

Chucky has never been rebooted or remade or reinvented. The ’80s-kitsch design of the doll has barely changed in three decades, because, as the doll himself tells us in Bride of Chucky, “a true classic never goes out of style.” Mancini has written every Child’s Play since the beginning (and directed the last three), giving the chronicles of Chucky a more “logical” narrative progression (contextually, at least) and consistent mythology than any of those bad-guy franchises mentioned above. You can actually draw a straight line through all the movies, which is not something The Texas Chainsaw Massacre can claim.

That consistency is on display in Cult, with Brad Dourif returning to voice Chucky for the seventh time, and series favorite Jennifer Tilly appearing as the killer’s paramour and co-conspirator for the fourth time; even the actor who played Chucky’s first target, Andy, has reprised his role to settle scores with his “friend till the end” once and for all. But before you dive back into the franchise’s uncanny world, brush up on your Chucky history with this guide to the previous six films.

Child’s Play (1988)

Child’s Play opens with our first look at the Lakeshore Strangler, Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), as he flees from the police. Lee runs into a toy store before being gunned down, but right before he dies, he recites a voodoo spell that transports his soul into a Good Guy doll with burning-red hair, freckles, and little overalls. Little Andy Barclay wants one of those Good Guy dolls for his sixth birthday, but Karen can’t afford it, so she buys one for cheap in a back alley near her work. Andy is over the moon about his new “friend till the end,” who reveals to only the boy that his name is actually Charles Lee Ray, or Chucky for short.

Chucky starts killing people almost immediately, and essentially framing Andy for it. During a house call to his voodoo instructor, John Bishop, Chucky learns that to get back into a human body, he must transfer his soul into the first person he told his secret to. After a climax in which Karen confronts said voodoo instructor about Chucky’s sentience — and in which Chucky’s possession of Andy is thwarted and the doll is set on fire — the the possessed toy is finally killed after being shot in the heart by a police officer.

Child’s Play 2 (1990)

Ever since Karen Barclay insisted that a child’s toy went on a killing spree, she’s been locked up in a psychiatric care facility. Andy, meanwhile, has gone into foster care, and the Play Pals company that makes the Good Guy dolls has decided — for some reason — to refurbish Chucky instead of just incinerating his charred remains, which have, as you may recall, been shot through the chest. This means Chucky is coming back — and since he’s basically been reincarnated, he has a new chance to make Andy his human host before the fusion between his soul and the doll becomes permanent.

Naturally, once Chucky finds Andy, he mutilates his foster parents; the living situation wasn’t really working out, anyway. Chucky does, at last, get his tiny hands on Andy, but by the time he recites the prayer to Damballa, it’s too late. His soul is stuck in the toy, so that means he has to kill Andy (and the foster sister who’s taken a liking to her new foster sibling).

One of the best things about the Child’s Play movies are the spectacular ways that Chucky is killed over and over again; this time, Andy vanquishes him in the Good Goy toy factory by spraying him down with molten rubber, and then shoving an air tube into his mouth, causing his body to expand until it explodes.

Child’s Play 3 (1991)

It’s now 1998, and 16-year-old Andy is going from foster homes to military school. At the same time, Play Pals has decided that enough time has passed since the PR disaster wherein one of its dolls became a serial murderer. As such, they can confidently relaunch the extremely profitable Good Guys toy line. The old factory where Chucky was killed gets dusted off and fired up again, and when his body is melted down and repurposed, a new incarnation of Charles Lee Ray is born. And once again, he’s coming for Andy. (Before that, though, he kills the Play Pals CEO, and Dourif delivers one of his best lines of the franchise: “Don’t fuck with the Chuck.”)

Chucky finds Andy in the Play Pals database and ships himself to the Kent Military Academy, where he’s intercepted by a little boy named Tyler. Chucky realizes he doesn’t need Andy if he tells Tyler his secret, so he does, but is thwarted before successfully finishing a game of “hide the soul” with him. In the final battle between boy and doll — which takes place inside a ride at an amusement park — Andy shoots Chucky multiple times before throwing him into a giant ventilation fan and dismembering him. Andy will get a 19-year break before being summoned for Chucky duty once again. (For the actor, Alex Vincent, it will be a 26-year break.)

Bride of Chucky (1998)

Bride of Chucky opens on the evidence locker where Chucky’s dismembered body is being kept; we also see the masks of Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, as well as a chainsaw, and Freddy’s blade glove. We watch as a cop smuggles out Chucky’s remains because a woman paid him to — but he doesn’t know that woman is Charles Lee Ray’s ex-girlfriend. Enter: Jennifer Tilly as Tiffany Valentine.

Tiffany sews Chucky back together and uses the book Voodoo for Dummies to resurrect him; once he rises, she says she’s been searching for him for ten years. That means the events of Bride and CP3 happened in immediate succession, and that both movies took place in 1998.

After a brief and loving reunion, however, the couple gets into a fight, and Chucky kills Tiffany before transferring her soul into a doll body. According to the Voodoo for Dummies guide, the plastic duo need to retrieve an amulet called the Heart of Damballa if they want to take new human hosts — and since Charles was wearing it at the time of his burial, they have to go to his home state of New Jersey to exhume him and get it back. At this point, the story has moved from Chicago to wherever Kent Military Academy was to New York state, and since they’re tiny dolls that can’t drive, Chucky and Tiffany stow away with two runaway teen lovers, one of whom is Katherine Heigl. Chucky and Tiffany then force the couple to take them to Jersey, kill a bunch of people along the way, and have awkward doll sex. In a final death match at Charles Lee Ray’s gravesite, Tiffany is burned to death and Chucky is fatally shot. But, twist! Tiffany actually got pregnant from the doll sex with Chucky — and a demon spawn springs from her doll uterus before the credits roll.

Seed of Chucky (2004)

Within the Chucky Cinematic Universe, a movie called Chucky Goes Psycho is being made, following the murderous adventures of Chucky and Tiffany. This movie-within-a-movie stars Jennifer Tilly as a fading star who keeps losing roles to Julia Roberts and is thus forced to take parts like Tiffany. And remember that demon doll baby? Turns out it’s a gentlehearted creature that’s been taken captive and forced to participate in a ventriloquist act. (It’s also, inexplicably, British.) When the child, going by the name Shitface, sees its parents on TV, it escapes its cage and sets out for L.A. to find them on the movie set. Shitface managed to escape the graveyard where it was born with the Heart of Damballa, and so resurrects its doll parents once more.

(Here’s a funny thing: When Chucky and Tiffany come to life, they know their child needs a real name, but since it has no genitalia, they can’t decide if it’s a boy or a girl. Chucky insists it’s a boy, so calls it Glen, and Tiffany insists it’s a girl, so calls it Glenda. But Glend[a] basically identifies as nonbinary, saying, “Sometimes I feel like a boy. Sometimes I feel like a girl. Can I be both?” And Tiffany tells him/her, “No matter what happens, we’ll deal with it together,” which feels like a real progressive moment for a horror comedy that’s also the fifth installment of a slasher franchise in 2004.)

The movie gets pretty crazy immediately thereafter. Redman, playing himself and also a film director, gets disemboweled. A lot of jokes are made about Jennifer Tilly’s career. Tiffany and Chucky try to break their addiction to murder for Glend[a], who hates killing. Chucky forces Britney Spears off a cliff in her car, which blows up. John Waters has his face melted off with acid. Tiffany and Chucky inseminate Jennifer Tilly with his semen, which results in her giving birth to twins.

But ultimately it comes down to this: After another spat, Chucky kills Tiffany, and in a fit of rage Glend[a] kills Chucky for going after his mom. However! Tiffany was first able to transfer her soul into Jennifer Tilly, who then transfers the warring souls inhabiting Glend[a] into the new twin babies. Cut to five years later, when Glen and Glenda are celebrating their birthdays with their adoring mother Tiffany/Jennifer Tilly, and Glen receives the dismembered arm of Chucky in the mail, which attacks him. Fade to black.

Curse of Chucky (2013)

The new and old eras of Chucky collide when the doll gets shipped to the Pierce household. We’re never told how he was brought back this time around (after being torn apart by Glend[a] in Seed), but according to Curse, it’s the Pierces he’s been hunting down from the start. Chucky arrives in a box at the home of Sarah Pierce and her paraplegic daughter, Nica, and after mom is promptly murdered, the rest of the family shows up to handle her affairs. That, of course, means they’re all about to get killed by Chucky, and that Nica’s niece, Alice, is lined up to be his new vessel.

But here’s the important (“important”) part: In Curse, we learn that the night Charles Lee Ray ran from the cops in Child’s Play, he was being pursued for holding a pregnant woman prisoner in her home and assaulting her. That woman was Sarah Pierce. Turns out Charles was a family friend of the Pierces, and became so obsessed with Sarah that, after her husband died tragically, Charles showed up to play house. Sarah rejected the advances of Charles, so he stabbed her in the stomach, causing baby Nica to be born paralyzed. That all would have happened in 1988, the year of the original movie, which means that in Curse, it’s 25 years later, and Chucky is back to destroy the family he terrorized decades ago.

By the time the police arrive at the end of the movie, everyone is dead except Nica, so naturally, she is the prime suspect in the murders of her entire family (minus Alice, who escapes alive). Nica is ruled mentally unfit to stand trial and shipped off to a psychiatric care facility, and the movie ends with Tiffany returning to once again swipe Chucky’s remains from police evidence, and shipping him to Alice so they can finally play a game of hide the soul.

Cult of Chucky (2017)

Nica is under the watch of a creepy doctor. Chucky has learned how to multiply himself. Andy Barclay is all grown up with a serious case of PTSD, and Tiffany/Jennifer Tilly is still aiding and abetting her murderous boyfriend’s agenda. The classic is back, and he’s growing a whole cult around him.

The Strangely Linear, Reasonable 30-Year History of Chucky