Scream Queens episode 4 review: Haunted House

Scream Queens is slick, engrossing slasher TV, even if its body count hasn't yet risen to the expected heights...

This review contains spoilers.

1.4 Haunted House

At its heart, Scream Queens is a slasher series. Strip away the high-camp tone, the starry cast and the satire, and what you get is a show about young people getting stalked by a serial killer. And part of a slasher show’s job is to keep its audience on edge, to keep them always anticipating the next episode and fear for the lives of their favourite characters. Up until this point, I’ve been looking forward to Scream Queens for the almost schlocky entertainment factor. The mystery had yet to catch fire but Haunted House, the first of several Halloween-themed episodes (always a good thing in my eyes), changed that and upped the ante considerably.

We start off with perhaps the show’s funniest sequence yet. Chanel, being Instagram-famous, celebrates Halloween by gifting her loyal online followers seasonal goodies; she calls it “Chanel-O-Ween”. It seems a little like Ian Brennan (who penned this week’s script) was poking fun at Taylor Swift and her boundless generosity to her fanbase but I could be reading a bit too much into it. The Chanel-O-Ween sequence was detached from the rest of Haunted House but it was still had me tickled pink and really set the tone for what followed.

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It’s something I commented on after the premiere but it bears repeating. Scream Queens has a sizeable cast at its disposal and it seemed likely that characters would be dropping left, right and centre. Instead, Haunted House and, to an extent, Chainsaw last week failed to live up to the standard set by the pilot and Hell Week. In the last fortnight, we’ve only seen a couple of characters offed and those were two individuals introduced and killed in their respective episodes. University mascot Coney was topped by the Red Devil after being on-screen for all of three minutes and former Kappa Kappa Tau sister Mandy appeared to provide some answers for Grace and Pete before being murdered with disappointing haste.

Still, I’m not complaining. The lack of any major kills means that Scream Queens hasn’t lost any significant suspects and at least the show is bumping someone off weekly no matter how nugatory. Its spiritual sister show, MTV’s Scream went without any deaths for almost half of its first season. Scream Queens is committing to at least one murder a week and Chanel made the excellent point this week that Halloween is an apt time for the Red Devil to strike – and with several spooky episodes planned, who knows how many people could fall prey to said killer at Halloween.

Haunted House did a remarkable job at juggling Scream Queens‘ multiple storylines and giving everyone enough screen-time to develop (one of the advantages of not dispatching any important characters). Writer Brennan did it so well that this might have been the show’s best instalment yet. The mystery of the Red Devil and what happened in KKT twenty years ago edged forwards with the discovery that the bathtub baby was a girl (not a big surprise given Scream Queens‘ predominantly female cast) and that Dean Munsch single-handedly covered up its mother’s death.

However, the most shocking revelation of the night was undoubtedly the identity of the ‘Hag of Shady Lane’. Haunted House finished off with a tease to the audience, showing us Gigi Caldwell in full ‘hag’ get-up contented in a rocking chair. We now know that Caldwell raised the bathtub baby back in the 90s (although intrepid sleuths Pete and Grace don’t) but the full ramifications of this news remain to be seen. What connection does Gigi have to the Red Devil? And does she know who the now-grown-up baby is?

Another important development in Haunted House was the announcement that Zayday was running for president of KKT. Chanel was evidently riled and it looked like we were going to witness a bitter and funny election but, this being Scream Queens, Zayday was promptly kidnapped by the Red Devil. As a big fan of Zayday, it was a shock to see her abducted by the killer, her fate now uncertain, but this twist let Scream Queens apply a layer of tension hitherto unseen on the show. What’s suspicious is that the Red Devil chose not to kill her there and then, going against the MO established in previous episodes. And it was rather convenient that Zayday was taken during her presidential campaign. Given that the Red Devil guise is clearly used by more than one person, could it have been Chanel or one of her henchwomen that kidnapped her?

While we’re on the topic of the Chanels, the scene in the cafeteria was something I’d like to see more of. Despite verbally undermining Women’s Studies, it was pleasing to see Chanel and her cohort violently take down a couple of sexist frat-boys. Scream Queens  boasts an extensive female cast but there have been few feminist moments (and quite a lot of infighting), so hopefully the show will deliver more like this.

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Chad and Hester’s relationship is blossoming by the episode (and they got to feature in Haunted House‘s most gruesome sequence) even if it is over their shared, uh, necrophilia. Chanel herself seems determined to recapture Chad’s heart and with Hester secretly vying for it, it is only a matter of time before the pair come to blows. In another brief scene, inept security guard Denise Hemphill got some fleshing out this week as we discovered she was rejected from KKT when she attempted to join back in her youth. It felt suspiciously like the writers were trying to shoehorn in a potential motive for the security guard and add her to the list of suspects, so it’s likely it won’t result in much. But it would be quite the twist if the show’s most high-yielding source of comic relief turned out to be the mastermind behind the murders.

Into week four, Scream Queens remains engrossing television and Haunted House greatly improves things by spicing up the core mystery. The performances are consistently strong (there are almost no weak links in the cast and if we have one grumble, it’s that Jamie Lee Curtis is being underused) and it’s a slick production through and through, well directed by Bradley Buecker this week. Haunted House was moreish and had me itching for the next instalment more than ever before.

Oh, and as for Diego Boneta’s pitch-perfect Matthew McConaughey impression? That simply made the episode. 

Read Patrick’s review of the previous episode, Chainsaw, here.

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