How Chucky Became My Friend Till the End at Universal’s HHN

It took a hurricane in Southern California to make me sacrifice the sleep necessary to binge the entire Child’s Play and Chucky franchise in a single weekend—a crucial part of preparing myself to face my biggest childhood fear as part of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Orlando.

That’s right, the impossible finally happened—no, not the hurricane in LA, but my inevitable confrontation with Chucky the killer doll. Horror is one of my greatest loves in all of its sub-genre goodness; slashers, body horror, found footage, folk, paranormal, witchcraft, and clowns—I’m totally okay with all of those. Dolls? I’d run screaming like I did when I was three or four years old and was made to sit through Tom Holland’s Child’s Play. I had teen cousins who’d put on horror films when they’d get stuck with the littles at family parties. Oddly enough, when they put on Faces of Death I was fine, but Chucky? The moment that babysitter flew out of the window, Don Mancini’s creation (memorably voiced by Brad Dourif) saved my parents money, because from then on they never had to buy me any porcelain dolls, wooden puppets, or big-eyed plastic babies. Barbies and small-scaled Disney Princesses only for me!

Over the years I’d dodged Chucky at Halloween Horror Nights; he had a section in a couple Titans of Terror houses and studio tour experiences that I’d run through with my eyes closed. Even outside of haunt events or Halloween, I’d have to fight the urge to drop-kick anyone dressed as Chucky. Oddly, enough I did manage to watch Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky in an attempt to get over my fear, since the franchise was leaning into more of the dark comedic horror route at that point, but it didn’t quite work. The nightmares would return, always the ones where I’m running from Chucky in a trash landfill or in my childhood home where he’d be sitting still and suddenly he’d be under the bed.

It was ridiculous, I’ll admit, but things changed when The Conjuring universe’s Annabelle came along. Suddenly I could handle the horror of dolls in the sense that they seemed to be the only scary movies that would frighten me in a fun way. The rest of the horror genre I simply just enjoyed and sometimes would get spooked (thanks to Faces of Death, I guess). Then came M3gan, Akela Cooper’s hilarious and violent AI bestie nightmare, which really turned things around to the point where I stan our dancing gay icon. So when Chucky announced his haunted house at Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights last fall, I figured why not finally face the doll that started it all.

That was a year ago—and sure, I did put off the binge until my home in Los Angeles was under a massive hurricane alert that I was so anxious over I considered asking my doctor to up my Lexapro dose. Maybe turning to horror was a way to help me cope with the unimaginable as it had been all my life. Fortunately, the hurricane ended up not being such a big deal once it made landfall—but channeling that stress into focusing on overcoming my fear of Chucky ended up being really fun. The original Child’s Play is a stone cold horror film with the tension and reveals just ramping up act by act. Funnily enough, I did find myself recognizing tics I developed, like being afraid of sitting in the passenger seat while no one was in the backseat in the dark (Chucky is so nifty at getting into cars), or venturing too close to windows while babysitting, or the general dread of having my soul taken by any doll. (One of the first shorts my husband and I bonded over was Rodrigo Blaas’ Alma because of that shared fear. I think that’s the last time I was really scared by a doll film.)

The rest of the Child’s Play movies hit the horror sequel notes as expected, but it was Mancini’s Bride of Chucky-to-Chucky-the-series pipeline that made me a big fan. Me? Thirty years after Chucky ruined my sleep as a child, ruined toy store aisles, and ruined the notion of wearing stripes with overalls. Suddenly, I found Chucky and Tiffany’s demented family endearing, and fell in love with Glen/Glenda; I also enjoyed the meta nature of the films which set up their own fun universe rules. Jennifer Tilly as herself and Tiffany is a tour-de-force in every movie and episode the genre queen shows up in. And the new kids in the Syfy’s Chucky series have also won my heart. The show has such a defined aesthetic (with big Hannibal vibes, a series Mancini worked on with Bryan Fuller) and singular tone, driven by Mancini’s deft handling of its darkly comedic horror and fulfilling mythology call-backs and set ups. I love it and can’t wait for season three next month.

So all in all you’d think I was ready right? Well, last week during the opening of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Orlando, I was invited out to visit the event and experienced Chucky: Ultimate Kill Count, Universal’s haunted house celebrating Chucky’s iconic kills throughout his franchise and in the show. Taking a page out of the series’ premise—what if Chucky could put his soul in more than one doll?—you’re led through a house filled with screen-accurate Chucky doll attacks and encounters that left me reeling, laughing, and screaming.

Here’s the video with some house spoilers for HHN Orlando (strobe light warning for those who are sensitive):

So there you have it! I didn’t close my eyes and did face Charles Lee Ray head on. Did he get me? Clearly, yes. Am I afraid again? Hardly (maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Lexapro). Would I own a Chucky doll? Nah, best I can do is a Hello Kitty Chucky plush. Are Chucky and I friends till the end? Only if I can bring him down with me, of course. Let’s see if I conquer round two at Universal Studios Hollywood’s HHN Chucky house, which I’ll be checking out later this week.

If you’re a fan of Chucky and booking a trip out to Universal Studios Orlando for Horror Nights, be sure to check out Chucky’s Twisted Playground at the mid-century inspired Cabana Bay Resort, open to guests staying there for their HHN trips.

Here’s a gallery of that experience and a look at the theme park Chucky treats you can find during HHN.

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