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Is Jennifer Tilly the best thing to happen to the Chucky franchise?
The Child’s Play films are a true rarity in horror, not only for successfully jumping from subgenre to subgenre but also because seven of the eight films are the product of the singular vision of one creator: writer and director Don Mancini. Yet, as with all films, there has been a lot of help along the way, and some of the best moments of the franchise have come through collaborations.
Enter Jennifer Tilly — who, since her first appearance in the fourth film of the franchise, has come to define much of what we now consider to be intrinsic to the Chucky universe. Throughout a series of films that have eternally swerved between horror and comedy, Tilly's performance as the murderous Tiffany has been perhaps the main figure who managed to bring the perfect merging of those things to the screen.
In The Beginning, There Was A Murder Doll
While Mancini has been on board with the franchise since the first film, his original script eventually underwent revisions and rewrites by others. The original Child’s Play is undoubtedly a horror classic, and it's unfortunate that no small part of Mancini’s vision of an ongoing commentary on the darkly humorous horrors of modern consumerism was lost in the cut. However, it wasn’t until Mancini took on the role of director in the sequel, Child's Play 2, that this overarching theme became more definitive within the series.
While the basic premise of a talking doll is fairly ubiquitous in film and television, the Child’s Play franchise has gone above and beyond to keep it fresh. Chucky has gone on to become arguably the most infamous of all fictional evil dolls, as well as one of the best and most recognized examples of the trope.
And Then There Was Tilly
In Bride of Chucky, we are introduced to the great Tiffany, a former lover of Charles Lee Ray, the murderer whose soul became trapped in the body of the doll called Chucky. Tiffany found a ring the night Ray was killed, and under the assumption that he had intended to propose to her, she struggled for 10 long years to find a way to bring him back from the dead. When she finally does just that, after stitching the Chucky doll from the previous movie back together, he laughs in her face when she mentions this, and that leads to Tiffany trapping him in a cage, which he quickly breaks out of, killing her and resurrecting her in the body of a doll shortly thereafter.
Looking back, Bride of Chucky is a pretty brilliant movie, and it’s full of references and homages that show a great love of the horror genre in its entirety — perhaps none quite so notably as the Bride of Frankenstein theme that backs the plot of the film. As Tiffany, Tilly is a revelation, swinging from demure to demonic at the drop of an ill-placed comment.
Tilly returned in 2004 for Seed of Chucky, in which Tiffany and Chucky are brought back from the afterlife yet again and reunited with their child. Obviously, these two are nightmarishly bad parents, and they quickly involve their offspring in complex murder schemes and attempts to place their consciousnesses into new, already occupied human bodies. In this film, the person Tiffany targets as the body she desires to possess is none other than her favorite actor, Jennifer Tilly. This unleashes a flood of fourth-wall-breaking gags that make Seed of Chucky one of the greatest horror comedies of all time. When Tiffany overhears Jennifer Tilly speaking, she turns, exclaiming, “I’ve never heard such a beautiful voice!”
Despite her clearly evil attempts to replace Tilly’s consciousness with her own, this is the film where Tiffany questions the morality of her gleeful murder sprees. In her attempts to make amends for her evil past, she picks up the phone and starts calling the family and loved ones of the people she’s killed, letting them know she’s in a better place now. That, of course, retraumatizes everyone, but Tiffany continues blithely along, believing herself to be truly good now. This scene is simply one example of the brilliance of the script, as well as Tilly’s excellent comedic delivery.
The next two films took a turn back toward a darker, more unsettling and classic horror-oriented franchise, but if anything, this only gave the crew, and thereby Tilly, more to work with. In Curse of Chucky, a Tiffany-possessed Tilly embraces her murderous roots once more and becomes genuinely terrifying, reminding the audience that this is absolutely a remorseless mass murderer. This thread continues in Cult of Chucky, in which Tiffany has become completely removed from reality and utterly obsessed with returning her lover to his human form. Playing a possessed version of herself must have been a trip, but with the Tiffany persona, Tilly comes across as a twisted and murderous version of Harley Quinn, dropping puns while casually killing everyone who crosses her path.
One thing that is always obvious is that Jennifer Tilly has a great time making these movies. In interviews, the playfulness of the cast and their interactions with Mancini are a perfect mix of heartwarming and hilarious that you sometimes don't see from film crews working in so bleak a genre as horror.
Not long ago, it was announced that Mancini, Tilly, and Fiona Dourif will all be working together in a Chucky TV series spin-off with a tentative release date of 2020. Tilly once said that she’s convinced she’ll likely be playing Tiffany until she’s 90, and we certainly hope that to be the case, because 15 years in, she remains one of the best things that ever happened to this franchise.