‘Chucky’ Review: Syfy Series Captures the Gory Goodness of the Killer Doll Franchise
If you asked me to name my favorite horror film franchise, I wouldn’t cite the usual suspects. My go-to slasher is a pint-sized ginger-haired terror in coveralls whose Good Guy exterior hides a killer underneath. Yep, Don Mancini’s “Child’s Play” series has terrified me, dazzled me, and given me many an opportunity to champion its progressive disability politics. (Seriously, go watch “Cult” and “Curse of Chucky right now. I’ll wait.) So a series based around Chucky navigating Generation Alpha was always going to be my personal catnip, but thankfully it delivers.
Jake Wheeler (Zackary Arthur) has had a rough go of things. After the death of his mother, Jake’s father, Lucas (Devon Sawa), spends his days drinking and berating Jake for being gay and a loner. Jake wants to be an artist and his recent sculptures have focused on dolls, so when he spies everyone’s favorite possessed plastic creature at a yard sale, it gives Jake the opportunity to complete his latest piece. Unfortunately, Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif) isn’t up for being art, instead enacting a string of murders that might land Jake in hot water.
Creator Don Mancini has a handful of ambitions with “Chucky”: He’s telling a new story for audiences who might not have grown up with the titular character, while giving longtime fans an origin story they’ve yet to see play out. Each episode is balanced between Jake’s story with Chucky and flashbacks to 1960s Hackensack, New Jersey where a young Charles Lee Ray (David Kohlsmith) became the serial killer we now fear (you know, pre-doll). Depending on the episode, there’s a desire to stay in one story over the other, but the general consensus is that every entry is killer good fun.
The series’ tone feels akin to “Creepshow,” wherein the Hackensack of today is one where people are generally phony, hiding their cruelty and hatred behind the facades of their houses. This inner torment is manifesting outward through Hackensack’s high crime rate, dutifully recounted in a podcast hosted by high school detective Devon Evans (Bjorgvin Arnarson). Jake is a particular punching bag for almost everyone in his orbit, from his drunken father to the school tyrant, Lexy (Alyvia Alyn Lind). So it’s understandable why he’d be the perfect companion for Chucky, with the doll trying his best to take Jake under his wing and teach him the finer points of killing.
Brad Dourif’s voice work has always been what makes the character so distinctive and, at times, extremely funny, so the actor’s inclusion here pays big dividends. The scripts never go for the cheap shots of Chucky dealing with progressivism or being out of touch. After all, as he’ll be the first to tell you, Chucky’s own son is gay (and non-binary if you’ve seen “Seed of Chucky”). Instead, Chucky’s motivation here is a misguided sense of righteousness; he kills people who have it coming and, honestly, that’s Jake’s entire town. The cruelty of these characters is shockingly overt, especially from Alyn Lind’s Lexy who has no compunction with doing things that should easily get her expelled.
There’s an absurdism that comes through in the show’s depictions of evil. Lexy’s reign of terror goes unchecked due to her mother being the mayor, yet there’s just as much villainy found in Lexy’s own home. Her parents moon over Lexy’s younger sister, Caroline (Carina Battrick), with all the obsession of someone who believes their child’s a prodigy. The audience should be able to buy these moments wholeheartedly because that’s the topsy-turvy world so often seen outside their window. (Honestly, I don’t know if this show would have the same punch coming out just a few years ago.)
But we know that evil has been around for generations, which makes the dips back in time to the late-1960s feel fresh. We meet a young Charles Lee Ray as a seemingly average boy, but right around Episode 3 things take a turn, and it’s easily one of the series’ most exciting moments. Not only is that absurdist humor on display, but the spoiler-y choice just makes so much sense for a character who we’ve known for years yet haven’t seen go back this far. If Mancini wanted to make the “Young Charles Lee Ray Chronicles,” I’d support it. There are also a few Easter eggs here that, if you’ve followed the series this long, you’ll appreciate.
The rest of the cast comes off as victim fodder for Dourif, whose voice work enhances some fantastic puppet work that makes Chucky feel like a real character. Arthur is good as the young boy trying to find himself and just enjoy life, until a killer doll ruins everything. His father and uncle (both played by Sawa) are men trying to shape Jake, but who fail to understand his true identity. Critics were only privy to the first four episodes, so here’s hoping Sawa gets a bigger chance to shine. Alyn Lind is also good as the rich princess who makes everyone’s life hell.
If you’re a long-time fan of Chucky, then you probably already have the series set on your DVR. But even if you’re not a long-time supporter, this is the perfect slasher series for you to watch this Halloween season.
“Chucky” premieres Tuesday, October 12 at 10 p.m. ET on SyFy.
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