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Thursday, October 27, 2022

The Queer Horror of “Chucky”: Episode 2.04 – “Death on Denial”

Each week Joe Lipsett will highlight a key scene or interaction in S02 of Don Mancini’s Chucky series to consider how the show is engaging with and contributing to queer horror.

Leave it to “Chucky” to not only pivot at the mid-way point of its second season to become a one-off campy murder mystery in the vein of Clue, but also to do its queer homework. Yes folks, gather around as we welcome back Glen and Glenda (both played by non-binary actor Lachlan Watson) for the first time since their introduction all the way back in Seed of Chucky.

As listeners of Horror Queers know from our episode with Don Mancini, there was a lot of hesitation about bringing these characters back because they were not well received back in 2004. Obviously times have changed since the gender non-confirming twins were first introduced, but Chucky’s audience is seemingly more welcoming and responsive to its queer content.

“Death on Denial” is uncharacteristically vocal about its queer agenda; much moreso than previous episodes . Yes, we’ve celebrated Jake (Zackary Arthur) and Devon (Björgvin Arnarson) coming out to their respective parents and that sunset kiss in season one, but the show hasn’t paused the action to dissect semantics like we see here.

If anything, writers Alex Delyle & Kim Garland appear to be directly calling out homophobic critics of the show with this episode, namely via the character Jeeves (Tony Nappo). The butler-for-hire is immediately positioned as an outsider in an episode that finds Jennifer Tilly’s friends arriving unannounced at her LA home. Jeeves is an obtrusive character: the actor is tasked with keeping Nica (Fiona Dourif) hidden away from Glen and Glenda, which means he’s literally a barrier to the narrative.

From a queer perspective, however, he’s a literal stand-in for the (presumably) straight white man who feigns ignorance of and/or doesn’t care about pronouns, which is vital for an episode that reintroduces the series’ two long absent non-binary characters.

Chucky codes Jeeves as dumb and out of touch in a way that highlights the importance of properly addressing individuals. Delyle and Garland use the character’s ignorance to introduce new terminology that viewers may not have heard of or even considered, such as gender neutral terms for niece and nephew. This includes terms such as nibling, which is modeled on sibling, but incorporates the n from niece or nephew. Other terms used in the episode are sibkid (a shortening of sibling’s kid) and chibling (a combination of child and sibling). Fun fact: another alternative that isn’t said in the episode is niephling (combining niece, nephew and sibling).

While there will undoubtedly be audience members who roll their eyes at the uncommon terms or decry “woke progressiveness,” it should be noted that nibling is not a recent term. According to an editorial by Michael Waters in The Atlantic, nibling was coined by linguist Samuel Martin in the 1950s. Some folks may mistakenly believe that gender neutral terminology is a recent development, but Chicago’s first female superintendent introduced gender neutral terminology in the public school system back in 1912, a year after they were invented by insurance broker Fred S. Pond.

In The Atlantic piece, there’s even a reference to medical texts in the 1600s that used they/them to refer to individuals who did not conform to binary gender standards. Nowadays, one in four LGBTQ youth uses pronouns other than he/him and she/her (according to a 2020 Trevor Project report), which means the pronouns are a vital component of contemporary queer identity.

The conversation around pronouns in “Death in Denial” obviously has a comedic angle; the scene during the dinner is clearly poking fun at Jeeves’ outdated notions of gender. More importantly, the exchange offers a “teachable” moment to educate the show’s audience about why pronouns and gender identity matter. When Jeeves reacts with a mocking tone, Chucky makes it clear that he is the one who is in the wrong and it’s heartwarming to see the other characters quickly take the opportunity to admonish him for being a cultural dinosaur.

As Chucky demonstrates, misgendering someone is hurtful. Yes, pronouns can be tricky. Yes, they require effort and take work to get right. And yes, individuals will sometimes get them wrong, which can be embarrassing or uncomfortable. But the alternative is to look like Jeeves: a dick who can’t be bothered to get with the times.

Sadly in the real world, people won’t be murdered for their failure to respect others like Jeeves. That’s why Chucky is so satisfying: we’re as likely to get Chucky (Brad Dourif) saying fuck ten times in a row to break the censors as we are a super campy Bound reunion, but, most importantly, we’re guaranteed to see assholes who can’t be bothered to get with the times get brutally murdered.

The post The Queer Horror of “Chucky”: Episode 2.04 – “Death on Denial” appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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