With the popularity of series like The Walking Dead (2010), the horror genre finally seems to be making a successful break into television. Horror fans – rejoice! You no longer need to trek down to the cinema to see some decent slasher action.
Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Fulchuck are well known for their work on Glee (2009) and American Horror Story (2011). With the former’s high-school setting and the latter’s preoccupation with everything blood and gore, it seems Scream Queens is an attempt to collate these two great series into one big, bloody cliché-fest.
The show fits wholeheartedly into the slasher genre, and despite co-creator Fulchuck’s protests to The Hollywood Reporter that they were ‘very consciously trying not to do what… the Scream movies did’, it’s difficult not to draw comparisons from the infamous slasher franchise. It’s like trying to talk about politics without mentioning any presidents. Suffice to say it is, obviously, a bit like Scream – but covered in glitter.
The story is pretty standard to teen movies: a college sorority house, Kappa Kappa Alpha Beta Gamma Beta – or something – is full of wealthy, “bitchy” girls who only accept pledges of a similar pedigree. However, the mischievous Dean Munch (Jamie Lee Curtis) decides to mix things up and soon “dorky” girls, who often have the potential to be transformed – see any chick flick ever for previous examples – are thrown into the mix. But then all sorts of murderous shit starts going down and anyone who thought they might watch Scream Queens for the romance, or because they heard Ariana Grande was in it, should probably stop there.
Like American Horror Story – the series with the most “meta” title ever – Scream Queens is steeped in self-awareness of its genre’s tropes. It makes a mockery of these, as horror often does, with varying degrees of success. Flirting with the murderer in the scary costume? Foolish but hilarious. Making a Facebook status as you’re being murdered? A bit try-hard.
Yes, some of the scenes border on the ridiculous, but it’s often almost artistic in its insanity. I mean, they have the college golf club walking down a deserted street in all-white outfits, to the tune of The Backstreet Boys track ‘Backstreet’s Back’, whilst chainsaw maniacs approach from all angles. What isn’t to love? And how do I get into the meetings where they come up with this stuff?
Although I’ve suggested Scream Queens is drawing on some well-worn methods, it has a lot of fresh components to offer. The script is sharp and full of funny jokes – particularly those of the Mean Girls, stereotyping variety. The casting has also been done pretty perfectly, although not at all predictably. Unlike many horror productions, where all disposable characters seem fresh from acting school and/or porn, Scream Queens has many familiar and respected faces. Emma Roberts, niece of Julia Roberts, has been cast in her classic “queen bitch” role – which is lucky as that seems to be all she can do from the other productions I’ve seen her in. Meow! Who’s the queen bitch now? But she does do it so well.
Glee’s Lea Michele has completely changed direction in this show and pretty much placed her career in the hands of the creators. She told Entertainment Weekly: “You want me to wear a neck brace and talk about how I love having sex with dead bodies? I’m all yours.” So, whilst still attempting to avoid spoilers, that’s the sort of messed up shiz you need to be prepared for folks.
Meanwhile, Curtis – a surprising face to see in this sort of show – absolutely steals it. She has the twisted, crazy cougar character down to perfection and delivers some of the best lines. She walks into every scene with a manic smile, like that asshole at a party who’s pissed in someone’s bag for a laugh and no-one knows yet. But it somehow fills me with this warm sense that she’s going to screw with everything and everyone.
All this said, Scream Queens isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s a long way off. The pilot episode in particular is a real let-down, with a few jokes falling flat and the introduction of the show’s villain, ‘The Red Devil’. I don’t know if the Red Devil is meant to be scary, but in the OTT latex suit, he/she looks more like they’re going to start some sort of stripper routine than do anything creepy. Sure, there’s the odd jump-scare, but if you’re used to horror films, this guy isn’t going to frighten you – if that ever was the intention. Additionally, with so many characters introduced – presumably so they can kill hundreds of them off – the storylines create a pretty messy structure overall. Sometimes you forget characters or B-plots even exist, as an episode races through events; I doubt all of it interlocks or makes sense. My advice would be not to try and follow them all, and never, ever get attached to a character because they probably won’t last long.
But hey! Although it may not be terrifying, it’s absolutely fun to watch, unquestionably entertaining, and with the relative lack of horror on TV up until now, there isn’t anything else quite like it.