Wednesday, May 1, 2013

BH: Why SEED OF CHUCKY is the Radically Queer Film We All Need Right Now

Yet another article rescued from the gaping hole that was once

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but things are getting a little heated out there in the political realm these days. As much as we’d all like to avoid it, not everyone can. A vast majority of the political rhetoric this year has concerned certain immutable aspects of people’s identities, especially when it comes to racial, religious and sexual minorities. Personally speaking, I find that – as a member of the LGBT community – a large part of my identity is inherently politicized by the world around me, and that’s something I can’t escape from in my daily life. Which is why I turn to the movies.
Although it’s important to remain an outspoken and supportive member of your community, sometimes it’s nice to hit the brakes for two hours and step into the world of cinema. I’ve recently found myself gravitating toward loud, proud queer films that celebrate the fluidity of identity and the struggles that come with it in a safe, jubilant fashion, like HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH or the extended works of Pedro Almodóvar. But one horror film in particular always seems to rise to the surface of my mind. Now, bear with me. It’s SEED OF CHUCKY.
The fifth movie in the CHILD’S PLAY franchise, SEED OF CHUCKY is generally maligned as the worst of the lot, and I can understand that. It’s certainly an acquired taste, and the tone is radically different from its predecessors. However, I think its detractors are failing to look past the film’s blood-covered surface to the radical queer masterwork it truly is.
Before we dive into analysis, let’s take a look at SEED OF CHUCKY’s bona fides. First off, it’s written and directed by franchise screenwriter Don Mancini, an openly gay man. Second, it draws very heavily from the long history of queer trash cinema, embracing the crude and over-the-top in both its humor and its horror. SEED OF CHUCKY, with its scatological humor and psychosexual pleasures, would hardly be out of place in John Waters’ filmography. In fact, Waters himself appears in the film as a nosy paparazzo, giving the film an ironclad stamp of approval.
It’s not exactly the most sensitive portrayal of these topics, but for a trashy comedy – and especially for a mid-2000’s horror flick – it’s astoundingly transgressive.
First thing first, and it’s a massively major thing, SEED OF CHUCKY is literally about gender in a way that very few mainstream movies dare to be. The spawn of the serial killing dolls Chucky and Tiffany (voiced by Billy Boyd) is a genderless creation, completely Ken doll smooth down there.
Thus, the kid is a blank slate, referred to alternately as Glen and Glenda (a winking callback to Ed Wood’s self-starring 1953 gender-bending epic GLEN OR GLENDA). Chucky calls his kid Glen, because – as the father – he would prefer to have a boy. Tiffany calls the kid Glenda for the same reasons. So right here, in the first act of the movie, we already have a seamless analogy about growing up outside of the norm. Glen/Glenda just wants to figure out who they are on their own terms, but they’re facing pressure from their parents to behave in a certain way befitting whatever gender they’re assigned.
“Sometimes I feel like a boy. Sometimes I feel like a girl. Can I be both?” proclaims Glen/Glenda in a particularly down moment. But of course, that isn’t allowed. Chucky and Tiffany, standing in for society, would rather have their kid be one way or the other. No shades of grey allowed.
Of course, this is a crazy horror movie, so this idea is taken one step further: Another major aspect in Glen/Glenda’s identity formation is murder. As a pacifist who was born to two parents who uncontrollably butcher almost everyone they come across, Glen/Glenda struggles with figuring out the difference between who they are and who their parents want them to be.
That’s a struggle that almost anyone can relate to, though thankfully most real life family troubles don’t involve mutilations with kitchen knives and voodoo-possessed living dolls. Eventually, the strain snaps Glen/Glenda’s fragile psyche, sending them into a homicidal drag queen rage spiral.
Because of the movie’s supernatural angle, we’re allowed a mighty interesting conclusion to this struggle. Glen/Glenda’s soul is literally split into two twin vessels: a little boy, Glen, who embodies his sweet, innocent side, and a little girl, Glenda, who is fueled by bloodlust and rage. This is their twisted happily ever after, rending their personality apart to embody both genders simultaneously.
It’s the dark consequence of living in a society that tries to force people into boxes, but it’s also a freeing fantasy of getting to live one’s purest truth the only way possible within said society. This idea isn’t just confined to gender, either. Chucky himself experiences a similar revelation when it comes time to return his soul to a human body:
“If this is what it takes to be human, I’d rather take my chances as a supernaturally possessed doll. It’s less complicated… I don’t wanna be your chauffer! As a doll I’m f**king infamous! I’m one of the most notorious slashers in history! And I don’t wanna give that up. I am Chucky, the killer doll! And I dig it! I have everything I want! A beautiful wife. A multi-talented kid. This is who I am. This is me!”
When Chucky exists outside of the norm (and that includes his literal human form), that’s when he truly becomes himself. Returning to the constraints and regulations of the human world would simply weigh him down. Of course, he doesn’t realize he’s putting these pressures on his own kid until it’s too late. When Glen/Glenda is dismembering their own father with an axe, all Chucky can say is “Attaboy, kid. Attaboy…”
Tiffany’s parting words are much the same: “Be a good girl… Or boy… Whatever. Don’t make the same mistakes your mom and dad made. Especially your dad.”
Everyone has finally come to terms with themselves and each other, but at the cost of their family quite literally being torn apart. That might sound tragic, but it’s a great button at the end of a wet, wild, violent horror movie that doesn’t take death – or life, for that matter – too seriously.
SEED OF CHUCKY is an incredibly layered movie, to the point that I could write an entirely separate article about how the meta joke of the Chucky-movie-within-a-Chucky-movie and Jennifer Tilly playing herself commingle with the overarching themes of out-of-the-box identity and queerness.
I’m not asking that you like SEED OF CHUCKY. Goodness knows it’s too nutso to be up everyone’s alley. All I ask is that you approach thinking about it a little differently. It might not be the perfect sequel to CHILD’S PLAY or even BRIDE OF CHUCKY, but it’s a giddy, refreshing burst of violence and fun that explodes gender norms in a major, radically important way, long before other movies this relatively high-profile thought to do so.

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