Film & Television

New Slasher Parody ‘Scream Queens’ Promises Diabolical Fun

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FtenR69qmk

The first time I saw the classic horror movie Halloween, I didn’t sleep for a week. That soundtrack, that mask, those innocent (maybe not so innocent) teenagers being killed off one by one? John Carpenter’s 1978 hit started an entire teens-in-jeopardy slasher genre, followed not only by Halloweens 2–10, but by Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. It also launched the career of Jamie Lee Curtis.

Jamie Lee is the daughter of Hollywood legends Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. While her nearly four-decade career has included commendable work in other genres (not to mention yogurt commercials), Jamie Lee will always be known best as horror’s penultimate damsel in distress. So, it’s only right that she takes on a leading role in the new Fox series called, appropriately enough, Scream Queens.

The series premieres tonight with a special 2-hour pilot. Billed as horror-comedy, it’s the brainchild of prolific front runners Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan. If it feels like the crossroads of Glee and American Horror Story (with a bit of Nip/Tuck for good measure), there’s a reason. The new series owes much to the team’s earlier disparate — but equally outrageous — fan favorites.

On the surface, Glee was a celebration of music and dance and preserving the arts in high school. Underneath, the writers managed to address everything from homophobia to teen pregnancy, bullying, eating disorders, alcohol abuse, bigotry, domestic violence and more. (Even the show’s most ardent supporters sometimes decried how preachy it could be.) But what remained strong through the show’s weaker seasons was the snarky politically-incorrect dialogue. A typical back and forth between show choir members went like this …

Mercedes: “Can we try something a little more. . . black?”
Kurt: “I agree. We do an awful lot of showtunes.”
Rachel: “It’s glee club, not crunk club.”
Mercedes: “Don’t make me cut you.”

Of course, the absolute snarkiest, least politically-correct (and consequently most delicious) character of all was Sue Sylvester, arch-villain and cheerleading coach, played to the hilt by Emmy-winner Jane Lynch. It is in her fictitious footsteps that Jamie Lee Curtis, as Wallace University’s Dean Munsch, follows. A determined dictator, Munsch hates the Greek system and, in particular, the snooty sorority Kappa Kappa Tau. She vows to bring it down, along with its queen bee president Chanel Oberlin. In an act of unfathomable horror, the dean declares that any girl who wants to be accepted into the elite sisterhood must be. (“What fresh hell is this?” Chanel wonders aloud, channeling Dorothy Parker by way of William Shakespeare.) But, the sorority may have other more life-or-death issues to deal with than protecting its charter or accepting loser pledges.

You see, at Wallace University, getting into the right sorority can be murder. Literally. A serial killer, dressed in red with a devil mask, is stalking the Kappa girls, gruesomely killing them off one-by-one. Is it a disgruntled new pledge? A fraternity brother from down the road? The dean herself? Or is it somehow related to the death of a pledge twenty years earlier (she miscarried in a bathtub during a party; she thought that extra weight she’d gained was just the “freshman fifteen”)? The series promises to reveal the killer in its final episode, showering us with red herrings and fresh-faced corpses until the bitter end.

Like its predecessor American Horror, Scream Queens won’t shy away from graphic violence. In fact, a somewhat bemused Ryan Murphy has noted that it was far easier to get all the gore past industry censors than any intimations of college coed sexuality. But, the producers (and preview audiences at Comic Con) have repeatedly reassured the public that the blood and guts will play a backseat to smart, biting humor. As with their earlier projects, Murphy and his team will salute a variety of familiar properties, including Animal House, Heathers, Mean Girls and Sorority Row. Recently, Curtis tweeted a picture of herself on set recreating her mother’s famously infamous shower scene from Psycho. The creators and cast of Scream Queens are obviously deriving great joy in parodying — and paying homage — to the seminal horror classics of our collective culture.

Curtis is joined by a colorful cast of young people, led by Emma Roberts as Chanel. (She’s clearly embraced her role, greeting her team at Sunday night’s Emmy Awards with a quote from the new show: “Good evening, idiot hookers.”) Fashionable and flippant, Chanel rules Kappa with a pearl-encrusted glove. She’s too lazy or too self-absorbed to learn her sorority sisters’ names, so they’re called Chanel #2, Chanel #3, #4 and #5. (There seems to be a bit of homage to Dr. Seuss here too.) Roberts played a similar role in American Horror Story: Coven, and like everyone else connected to the new project, can’t say enough good things about Scream Queens.

Two of Chanel’s henchwomen are played by now-grownup child-star Abigail Breslin and pop singer Ariana Grande. Her motley crew of pledges includes Glee’s Lea Michele as a nerd in a torturous neckbrace and Akeelah and the Bee star Keke Palmer, among others. The formula’s requisite ingenue, Grace Gardner, is gamely played by Skyler Samuels, an American Horror alumna and more recently a mean girl herself in The DUFF. She laughs that when Murphy approached her for Scream Queens, he told her to draw on her own experience as a college student and sorority sister. “But, in our sorority,” she’s insists, “We don’t actually kill each other.”

And where would a self-respecting sorority be without fraternities? Nick Jonas takes his turn as frat brother Boone, while real-life twins Aaron and Austin Rhodes portray TV twins Rodger and Dodger. HBO’s recent Emmy-nominee Niecy Nash is also generating buzz as a hilarious — and possibly doomed — campus security guard.

Because, be advised, whether a Scream Queens actor is a superstar or an unknown, don’t get too attached. Who dies and who lives to see another episode is a classified secret that even the show’s cast members aren’t privy to.

We’ll just have to keep coming back for more — and, hopefully, have a devil of a good time doing so.

Scream Queens, the “to die for” new series, airs tonight on Fox TV at 8:00 pm. Subsequent one-hour episodes will air at 9:00 pm. Scream Queens will also be available on-demand through your local cable company and at fox.com.

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