Don Mancini's Queer Inclusion
This pride month I want to talk about Don Mancini, and his work on the iconic Chucky franchise. Mancini has written all seven Chucky films (minus the upcoming remake), and has directed three of them. The Chucky films started with the release of the Child’s Play franchise in the late 80s and early 90s, and has continued to live on, with films starring Chucky being released in four different decades. However, I want to focus on 1998’s Bride of Chucky and 2004’s Seed of Chucky. These films are not only some of the most brilliant examples of franchise revival we have in the genre, they’re films that continue to reveal more and more meaning to me as I grow in my queer identity.
Despite having its fair share of critics, Seed of Chucky has always had a special place in my heart. I was not allowed to watch horror movies when I was younger. I began to discover horror in early high school, when my family still had a lot of control over what watched. Many of my early experience with horror come from a time when the Scifi channel (now rebranded as SyFy) would marathon horror movies every Saturday.
One Saturday I was flipping through the movies scheduled to run that day, and saw Seed of Chucky listed for a 3:00am airtime. I got myself up at 3:00am to watch it, and that became my first introduction to a Chucky film. I loved the movie, and spent several months obsessing over the Glen/Glenda character, at the time because I thought Billy Boyd’s accent was very nice. Years later, I began to learn that there was a real term, or identity, that fit my own “weird” gender experience, and it became a whole new reason to mull over the complex character that is Glen/Glenda.
Finding out that Glen/Glenda’s name was inspired by a 1953 film about transgenderism, called Glen or Glenda, was a recent discovery for me. Glen or Glenda is a pseudo-educational film that follows the stories of a crossdresser, named Glen, and a trans woman, named Anne. The ideas about gender nonconformity presented in Glen or Glenda are outdated, and even hurtful at times, but the overall message is one of love, acceptance, and compassion. During the film, Glen’s fiance, Barbara, finds out he enjoys dressing as a woman. The pair go to a psychiatrist to treat Glen’s habit. While the idea that gender nonconformity is caused by childhood problems, and therefore can be cured, is harmful, this scene is surprisingly touching.
The psychiatrist tells Barbara that she needs to love and accept Glen. She mustn’t deny him his drag persona. She asks the psychiatrist what would happen if Glen never stops dressing as Glenda. The psychiatrist asks if that really would matter to her. She responds that she loves him and his happiness is what matters. The actor playing Glen is Ed Wood Jr., who also wrote and directed the film. Dolores Fuller, who plays Barbara, was Wood’s girlfriend at the time. Wood was someone who liked to dress in drag, and Fuller was unaware of this before the movie was filmed. When we know the context behind the film this scene no longer feels like watching a spewing of outdated ideas, instead it feels like peering into someone else’s daydream; a dream where they don’t have to live in secret and are accepted by the ones who matter to them.
While Seed of Chucky, is far from being similar to Glen or Glenda, it does have connections beyond just a character’s name. In both films, the Glenda version of the character wears a blonde wig, in both the mother encourages the woman persona, and both are presented as horror films. However, the most interesting similarity is how Glen/Glenda’s gender is described. In Glen or Glenda, the narrator describes Glen as “not half man, half woman, but nevertheless man and woman in the same body.” In Seed of Chucky, Glen/Glenda expresses being similarly torn between feeling like a girl and boy, saying “Sometimes I feel like a boy. Sometimes I feel like a girl. Can I be both?” Being Genderqueer, or non-binary, means that one does not identify exclusively with a masculine or feminine gender, instead one’s gender exist outside of a strict man/woman binary.
There are many different ways a non-binary gender can be experienced, some examples are: a mix of feminine and masculine (“I feel like a boy and a girl”), neither feminine nor masculine (“ I don’t feel like a girl, but I don’t feel like a boy either”), or sometimes being feminine and sometimes being masculine (“Sometimes I feel like a girl, other times I feel like a boy”). A non-binary term, called Two-Spirit, used in the culture of some Indigenous peoples means to have both a male and female spirit inside you. Whether intentional or not, the Glen/Glenda characters of both films fall quite obviously into how non-binary genders are defined, even across cultures.
Although neither depiction is an ideal representation of being genderqueer, it is interesting, and even uplifting, to see these characters created in a time before non-binary genders were widely acknowledged in western culture. There are people who believe genders other than man and woman are new inventions, fads of the 2010s. However, we can see that this gender experience has existed in the past. Ed Wood did not invent it for Glen or Glenda. Don Mancini did not invent it for Seed of Chucky. It was in those movies because it was present in our society, even if it wasn’t widely named at the time.
The connection between Seed of Chucky and Glen or Glenda is not the only queer easter egg in the Chucky movies. Both Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky contain imagery from queer-coded horror films of the past. In Bride of Chucky, Tiffany attempts to kill Chief Warren by launching nails into his face, giving him a look reminiscent of Pinhead from Hellraiser (1987), a sexually charged film by gay writer and director Clive Barker. Seed of Chucky opens with Glen/Glenda killing a family. His murder of the mother is similar to the famous shower murder in Psycho (1960). The title Bride of Chucky is a homage to Bride of Frankenstein, a 1935 film directed by the openly gay James Whale. Many of Whale’s horror movies have become queer classic due to their camp. Tiffany also watches a scene from Bride of Frankenstein right before Chucky kills her to become his bride.
Mancini enjoys bringing queer icons into his films. In Bride of Chucky, trans activist Alexis Arquette plays Damien, Tiffany's admirer. In Seed of Chucky, transgressive, gay director John Waters plays a nosey photographer killed by Chucky. Jennifer Tilly, who plays Tiffany, has also been called a queer icon for her role in the lesbian crime-drama Bound. Similar to Seed of Chucky having a queer character in Glen/Glenda, Bride of Chucky has David, the gay friend of the main characters.
There has been many pervasive misconceptions about horror films throughout the years. One that I have found particularly insulting is the notion that horror is a masculine genre, and that it’s fans are mostly straight men. There has been a long history of both queerness and women characters found in horror films. The ways in which women and the LGBT+ community has been represented in horror has not always been progressive or positive, but that doesn’t mean fans who fall into those communities haven’t found comfort in identifying with horror films. Don Mancini is a gay horror lover and creator who intentionally includes his community in his work, and I feel love and connection when I watch his films because of that.
Vincent Bec is a writer whose sentences are often too long. They hope to one day have a doctorate to back up their ramblings on the representations of gender and sexuality in horror films. They regularly contribute to Anatomy of a Scream and Grim Magazine. Their writing has also appeared on the websites Screen Queens and Scriptophobics.
You should follow them on Twitter.