With hits like high school muscial saga Glee and the meme-spawning anthology series American Horror Story, TV showrunner extraordinaire Ryan Murphy relies on labyrinthine plots and distinct premises to carry his shows — as well as a formidable and diverse cast of women. Beyond bringing Jessica Lange back into pop culture (for which we cannot be grateful enough), Murphy has cast women of all ages and backgrounds in his shows, and his next series shows will be no exception.
Murphy and his AHS partner Brad Falchuk’s latest project: Scream Queens, a “horror-comedy anthology” that will take place on a murder-ridden college campus. The full cast, announced this week, is a typical Murphy mix: stars from his other shows (Emma Roberts, Lea Michele), musician guests (Ariana Grande, the recently-announced Nick Jonas), a veteran female star (Jamie Lee Curtis), and a former werewolf (hey there, Joe Manganiello). Rounding out the casting announcements thus far are new additions Keke Palmer and Abigail Breslin.
While there’s plenty to speculate about already, the most interesting part of the upcoming series, set to air on the Fox Network, is the pairing of the series name with the casting of Jamie Lee Curtis. Curtis, is the iconic “scream queen” from the ’70s and ’80s, having cemented a spot in film history with the role of Laurie Strode in the Halloween franchise.
Let’s backtrack a little bit: what is a scream queen, and what does it mean that the current Scream Queens cast is almost all women? The easiest image/sound to summon is the infamous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Psycho, in which Janet Leigh (Curtis’s real-life mom, no less) lets lose a shriek right before her demise. Scream queens are the sirens of the horror genre, wide-eyed ingenues who often end up as a victim but who sometimes memorably become heroines in their own right. Such is the case for Curtis’s Strode, a character who survived the first Halloween film and launched Curtis’s acting career.
The role of the scream queen is, like any character archetype, either a complete cliché or an elevated subversion based on who they’re surrounded with and how the plot unfolds, and at least on the former point, Murphy’s Scream Queens are in good company. Roberts, Michele, Palmer, and Breslin are all seasoned young actresses, and more importantly, they’re together in whatever twisted shenanigans will surely be thrown at them.
Gone are the days of the solo damsel waiting either to be slaughtered or saved — and when fall comes around, you bet we’ll be watching as this slasher sisterhood, under one of the genre godmother’s watchful eye, takes on network TV, one messed up murder-mystery at a time.