From Scream to Scream Queens – Eli Dolliver investigates the tradition of the self reflexive horror.
The horror genre – perhaps more than any other – refers to itself constantly, playing on its generic conventions to enhance its cinematic universes, communicating with the audience in a way other genres can’t. The best example of this is of course Scream, the 1996 Wes Craven masterpiece in which the young citizens of Woodsboro are terrorised by the anonymous slasher Ghostface. The film effectively satirizes the clichés of classic horror while still managing to function as an effective horror in its own right. The teenagers of Woodsboro, horror fans themselves, are aware of their presence in a slasher film, and the rules they must obey to survive. In the famous party scene these rules are recounted; don’t pick up the phone, don’t have sex, don’t drink or do drugs, and never, ever, say you’ll be right back. Because you won’t.
Since the original in 1996, a chain of Scream movies have traced the development of the horror/slasher film. Scream 2 satirizes the tropes of the horror sequel, Scream 3 mocks the horror trilogy, and Scream 4 breaks somewhat from tradition in a more modern adaptation, defining the new rules; the killer incorporates technology to immortalise his acts, and horror audiences know the rules, so they no longer apply. Everyone’s at risk. Scream Queens, released 18 years after Scream, carries on this dedication to parody. The series features a cast of satirical characters who instead of parodying classic horror, hold up the genre of the campus slasher horror for ridicule; movies like Sorority Row, Splatter University, and Scream 2. Produced by the minds that created both Glee and American Horror Story, the show is a morbid combination of extreme violence – the first episode featuring a lawn mower running over a deaf girls head – and delightfully bitchy caricatures of American college students. The Red Devil replaces Ghostface as the anonymous slasher who terrorizes campus in this ridiculous, delightful series. It’s Scream for millennial girls.
The ‘Chanels’, modern day ‘Heathers’, march around campus in feathers and fur, clumsily navigating the horror movie landscape, exemplified in the scene where the sorority sisters sit in red satin cloaks before a mountain of candles to try to summon Odin; “I just googled blood oath and this is what came up”. Featuring Emma Roberts of Scream 4, and Jamie Lee Curtis, the original scream queen from the Halloween series, this show carries on the tradition begun by Scream of bringing horror to a more female audience. The series freewheels through exaggerated character tropes and plot devices; the lunatic escaped from the asylum, the butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth good girl with a mysterious past, the bitchy sorority chicks, the dickhead frat boyfriend, the loveable weirdos. The series received mixed reviews from critics, with Rotten Tomatoes calling it “too tasteless for mainstream viewers and too silly for horror enthusiasts”. But Scream Queens continues a tradition of horror comedy that asks: “why does murder have to be so serious?” If you’re looking for some light murder comedy this Halloween, look no further.