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TV Review: Scream Queens (Season 1, Episode 4)

EPISODE: HAUNTED HOUSE

THE APPETIZER: As Halloween fast approaches, Zayday organizes a Haunted House fundraiser so she can try to unseat Chanel as Kappa president. Meanwhile, Grace and Pete's trip to the woods to find answers to the Kappa bathtub murder mystery only induces more blood-spill.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW. IF YOU'VE NOT SEEN THIS EPISODE, STOP READING HERE!

THE ENTREE: Following a solid if seesawing succesive trio of chapters helmed by series creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan - the reins are now handed over to TV journeyman Bradley Buecker to guide us through "Haunted House", the first in a three-part Halloween event of Scream Queens. And sourly, more catty tricks than heartily macabre treats were dispensed (get it, heartily). The pre-credits opener involves a scathingly satirical montage of something called Chanel-o-Ween, where Chanel reaches out to her sad social media acolytes and completely insults them while sending them a Halloween gift. Doesn't matter, the insolence is met with crying hysteria and rejoice that Chanel even knows who her fans are, by name. A bit disjointed and out of place to start, but we then quickly resume where last week stranded us, with papa Wes pointing an incriminating finger at Dean Munsch as potential killer. Yeah well, a chummy police visit quells that notion in short order, particularly when comic-relief-rent-a-cop Denise Hemphill shows up and implicates Zayday.

Speaking of Zayday, this episode is more or less dichotomized between her storyline and Grace's. Per the titular Haunted House, it refers to the Haunted House fundraiser Zayday plans on throwing as a kick-off to her presidential run at Kappa. That's right, she's fixing to steal the throne away from Chanel's pampered anorexic ass (she does eat cotton balls in dipping sauce, mind you). This instantly draws the ire of Chanel and her devoted henchwomen (#3 and #5), even motivating her to kill Zayday entirely. Chanel even threatens such. As for the fundraiser, a Haunted House bash to raise awareness for Sickle Cell Anemia makes for a semi-creepy third act crypt full of all our dead bodies heretofore - including Chanel #2, Shondell, Coney, Ms. Bean and the newly introduced Jane Doe. The latter's death may be directly responsible for the visit from Grace and Pete, you know, in search of answers from the sorority's unresolved homicidal history. Before we tackle that though, Zayday confronts Denise about being a disgruntled former Kappa pledge out to get Zayday for the racial progress she enjoys. But Denise the killer? Please.

And that brings us to the second storyline of the episode. Grace and Pete make a visit to the sticks, where they meet a woman eager to spill her guts about what happened 20 year ago at the Kappa house. Turns out Dean Munsch went to great lengths to cover up the bathtub carnage, including expelling every witness to such - including this woman (dubbed Jane Doe) - and making them bury the dead bathtub corpse. The other major revelation made during this trailer-park visit? We learn that the baby was a girl, which discounts all of Grace and Pete's theories. My first inclination when hearing this line was to think of Gigi, who fits the age range and has shown a curious interest in Grace by proxy of her father. They've even been dating, remember. However, such suspicion is almost too conveniently corroborated in the show's final frames, which honestly, leaves me quite confused at this point and time. Anyway, Jane Doe is paid a visit by the Red Devil, yet her perfunctory offing was a major cutaway letdown...no violent gore to speak of. Hell, Grace's confrontation of her pops Wes about whether or not he is the killer showed more menace, even if he assured her she's not the tub baby.

The most memorable part of the this otherwise lackluster episode takes place in the final 10 minutes. Zayday's haunted house bash turns into a real life one replete with candles, cobwebs, rotting walls and all of our previous victims hung up like trophies. Chad and Hester witness it first and warn other not to go, but this just encourages scores of college dopes to go get their party on in the house of horrors. Unfortunately not a single additional person is felled at the party, though Zayday is apparently kidnapped. Only the sort of frightful atmosphere and decked out decor make this sequence at all worth note. A shame, as this episode seemed to favor a much more farcical and cartoonish tone where the satire takes precedent over the slaughter. The sophomoric female backstabbing (I wish) felt more like a sequel to Mean Girls than anything really horror related, and there were at least two or three scenes that felt forced and weirdly out of place. Pete impersonating McConaughey for one, the Chanel gang-assault of a lecherous frat boy another, and the Pete/Denise in tandem rap-off for a third. All gauche misses that immediately took me out of the action.

So, all in all, I'd say this is the weakest episode of Scream Queens so far. Not terrible, but certainly not up to the standard established in the pilot episode and last week's Chainsaw. The major problem for me this episode, aside from the total dearth of bloodshed, is how the satire almost echoes a disdain for the slasher genre instead of voicing its love for it. The humor is taking far too high a priority over the horror here, which sort of dilutes the whole experience. Unlike Scream The Series, which struck such a clever balance between camp, kitsch, cunning, pathos and blood, I'm not so sure Scream Queens has many characters that are truly likeable. Grace is cute and all, but her acting seems limited to a furrowed facial reaction here or there. Other than that, these are all pretty much obnoxiously vapid, materialistic dolts whose only saving grace is broad humor (Zayday has promise I suppose). Moving forward, I'm looking for more emotionally resonant horror and less snide humor.

BLOOD & GORE: How about zilch. Well, aside from recounted bodies from prior episodes splayed around a haunted house like rotting props. Even during the one fatality, not a drop of blood was let. Disappointing.

MOST BIZARRE MOMENT: No doubt, the graveyard scene where Chad Radwell forms a sexual bond with Hester over their disturbingly morbid turn-ons. After some sweet nothings whispered, Hester offers to let Radwell pump her dump. He weeps with joy (and blue-balls) as she leaves. Wow.

MOST PLAUSIBLE SUSPECTS: Even prior to the final shot of the episode, I felt the mere absence of Gigi was more than suspicious. However, when said closer alludes to her being the hag-in-black from Shady Lane, she's the most obvious candidate at this point. But as we know, obvious usually equals subterfuge. So, to take another stab at it during this early juncture, I'll go ahead and just say that Boone's running mate is someone we haven't met yet. Dubious, but then again, so was this episode.

Extra Tidbit: With a quarter of the show in the books, who do you think the killers are?
Source: AITH

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