Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


PENNY DREADFUL Season One. 2014.

"No one in this room is kind -- that's why you're here." -- Sir Malcolm Murray.

This Showtime series takes place in 19th century London and throws together some classic characters from horror fiction -- Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway of The Disappeared), Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), Professor Van Helsing (David Warner), etc. -- and combines them into a new storyline. The protagonist -- if you can call him that -- is an American cowboy-entertainer named Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett of The Black Dahlia). He is hired by Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) and family friend Vanessa Ives (Eva Green of Casino Royale) to retrieve Murray's daughter, Mina (Oliva Llewellyn), who has been kidnapped by vampires. Frankenstein's monster (Rory Kinnear), the first of two "unliving" beings that Victor has cobbled together, hates his creator and, as in Mary Shelly's great novel, wants Victor  to make him a mate. A series of gruesome mutilation murders are occurring all over London but the killer doesn't seem to be Jack the Ripper. All we need is Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and we're ready to go ...  Penny Dreadful for the most part is a literate, handsomely produced, well-written, and very well-acted Gothic soap opera that mercifully eschews camp (American Horror Story for instance), but the series goes completely awry when it suddenly turns into The Exorcist with its very contemporary-type scenes of demonic possession -- complete with spitting, cursing, useless priests, and so on -- that smack more of the 1970's than the 19th century. The show also throws in a fairly unexpected homoerotic sequence in the episode Demimonde, that is hot but hardly ever mentioned again, and has more to do with "shock" value and snaring some gay fans than with good story-telling -- although the scene certainly plays. [Internet trolls railed that the series turned into gay porn, which is hilarious as the two men are never actually seen in bed together, and the frequent male-female couplings in the show are much, much more explicit.] There's a final twist at the end of the first season that I should have seen coming but didn't, for shame. Let's just say that it summons up images of the tormented Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolf Man. The show has just begun its third season but I have mixed emotions about watching season two -- will it retain the classy aura it exhibited in the earlier episodes or just descend into silliness? Eva Green is especially superb in this and Billie Piper also scores as Ethan's tubercular girlfriend, Brona, but everyone in this, down to the smallest role (including Alex Price as Proteus), is wonderful. Abel Korzeniowski composed the rather lush score and excellent theme music.

Verdict: Interesting, with many fascinating and clever facets, but ... **1/2.

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