Doc On The Box – Scream Queens & Scream Episode 1

ScreamScream QueensA killer in a Hallowe’en costume stalks a bunch of students and kills them one by one. That’s a summary that could describe either of these two shows. Scream Queens has just debuted on Channel 4 in the UK and Scream (based on the excellent film and not-so-bad-as-all-that sequels) has just cropped on Netflix UK. I’ve always been partial to episodic whodunit dramas – I must get round to taking another look at Harper’s Island one day – so I thought I’d take a look at the opening episode of each of these.

Scream Queens’ producers have previously worked on Glee (not watched it) and American Horror Story (definitely not watched it) so it’s not hard to see this as the love-child of those two shows. It centres around a sorority house, Kappa Kappa Tau, run by mean-girl stereotypes. After pissing off the Dean for the last time, they are forced to induct anyone who asks. But after an accidental(?) death followed by a disappearing body, someone in a red devil costume starts picking off the sorority sisters one at a time…

It starts with a long – well, it seemed like a long – focus on the deliberately unpleasant head girls, led by Emma Watson Roberts but also featuring the wasted-in-this-episode Abigail Breslin, but stick with it, because fortunately some normal characters turn up soon, along with the wonderful Jamie Lee Curtis as the Dean. There’s not a long list of suspects at the moment – the final scene removes at least four names from the whodunit list – and the humour won’t appeal to everyone. The final scene, which I won’t spoil, has a joke about a deaf pledge that you’ll think is either utterly tasteless or very funny. Similarly, the scene where the killer is texting threats to a victim and she responds to “I’m going to kill you” with a text – “Whaaat?” rather than screaming.

It’s a very strange tone overall and there are scenes that demonstrate that the director has real trouble with directing scares. The devil costume isn’t scary at all and there aren’t any “jump” moments. But the final scene though… that worked. Oh yes…

Oh and huge plus points for a complete lack of unnecessary shots of girls running around in their underwear for no good reason.

And over to Episode 1 of Scream and two minutes in, the obvious murder victim is walking around in a tiny bikini. Wasn’t it the point in the Scream films that people didn’t do that?

Scream’s creators seem to have come from Criminal Minds (watched bits of it – ick) and Revenge (not watched it). It’s definitely not cut from the same cloth as the first one, which always makes me feel like taking a shower after watching it. Oh, and the pilot episode comes from a storyline by Kevin Williamson, the writer of the films.

Anyway, once we have the brief set-up of a girl’s school-cred being ruined by a Youtube video, we have the usual Scream intro of a girl being stalked and murdered by a killer in a mask (the wrong mask, btw) – and it’s filmed much more atmospherically than anything in Scream Queens.

We’re in High School rather than at University now and it’s a completely detached story from the Scream films. A number of students were killed twenty years ago by an outcast driven to violence by unrequited love. That individual used to wear a surgical mask to hide his deformity – guess what the killer’s wearing on his face…

And then we run through a series of set-ups with a number of as-yet-underdeveloped characters teasing out motives between them. But more importantly, we hear more about the back story to the killer. If it wasn’t the “Scream” name on the series, you’d assumed that the dead-but-no-body Brandon James is indeed back from the dead, but I somehow doubt it.

“You can’t do a slasher movie as a TV series” – quote from potential victim in a film class. The character in question is our Randy character, giving sage advice about how the story is going to pay out. I’ll say this for Scream – it’s a damn sight more creepy that Scream Queens and, so far, is a bit more restrained than death by… nope, not spoiling that.

But I can’t deny that the story is intriguing. The side characters may be interchangeable psycho-fodder at the moment but the atmosphere and backstory makes it just as watchable. It’s less funny than Scream Queens (although the deep-fat fryer bit from that show sticks out as the nastiest visual) but the director knows how to crank up the tension. Oh, and if you are wondering about the phone-calls that the Scream killers used, while not present in the opening murder, Mr Ghostface (or whatever he’s calling himself) is up to his familiar tricks by the end of the episode.

So, slightly to my surprise, I’ll be sticking with both shows, even though I’m probably twenty years older than the target audience. There’s probably going to be plot-holes a-plenty as both series progress but they make a refreshing change from the current crime output on terrestrial television – I watched the first episodes of From Darkness, River and Unforgotten and while the writing and acting were top-notch, they were also grim and slow. I’ll probably watch the rest of those as well – you can’t really compare them – but don’t dismiss the two US shows. I’ll keep you updated on how they progress – and if you’ve seen more than the first episodes of either of them, please don’t spoil them for me via the comments. Cheers.

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10 comments

  1. “we have the usual Scream intro of a girl being stalked and murdered by a killer in a mask (the wrong mask, btw)”

    Part of me wouldn’t be at all surpriused if the mask was copyrighted and so only availabel for use in the films (because I woldn’t be at all surprised if this is potentially pitching for another movie). Or, y’know, maybe it’s part of the killer’s developing charatcer arc this seeason…

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    • The first episode certainly seems to be torn between the idea of “whodunit” and “is it the killer from the past” – although I have a third idea myself. The mask was worn originally due to a facial disfigurement so using the Ghostface mask wouldn’t make any sense if you’re back from the dead or making someone believe that you are. But I’m sure that having rights to calling it Scream would mean having the rights to the mask…

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      • You mean Emma Roberts! Given Emma Watson’s feminist UN credentials, I’m not sure Scream Queens is her kind of show…

        I tried to like it. I think I probably AM the target demographic, and the trailers I saw back in May made it seem like it’d be a fun, campy mystery. But it’s just an unholy mess. They can’t decide what angle they’re trying to extract the jokes from and they don’t actually seem to be interested in the mystery at all.

        Anyway, after being burned badly with Harper’s Island (which was at least atmospheric), I decided to quit while I’m ahead. I gave up after four episodes.

        I’ve not seen Glee or AHS either, but I know people who do and I gather not making a lick of sense is Ryan Murphy’s shtick. So I really wouldn’t try to use logic like “we saw that character in the same shot as the murderer so it can’t be them” to try and figure out whodunnit!

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      • You make a good point (I should refrain from commetning on TV shows I’ve not seen…which, to be fair, is about every TV show ever). Perhaps it wil be a “killer of the series” kinda show and they’ll get to the Scream mask in series 2!

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  2. I’m surprised you are getting these shows as we are seeing them first-run in the U.S. We have to wait so long for British shows to cross the Atlantic.

    I’m completely enjoying Scream Queens, and if you’re 20 years older than the target audience, I’m at least 40 years older. But the over-the-top humor just gets me giggling like a teenager again and it’s become my favorite guilty pleasure. It’s hilarious with all the Chanels running around. I began watching Scream, as I enjoyed the movies, but for some reason just didn’t keep up with it. Yes, do try Harper’s Island. It think it was a first-of-its-kind in the U.S. — just meant for one season. I thoroughly enjoyed that as a whodunnit and the resolution came as a surprise to me.

    And I also agree about Criminal Minds. It’s too disturbing a show. I prefer my whodunnits.

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