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Get Ready for Showtime's Supernatural Chiller 'Penny Dreadful' with Creepy New Trailer (REVIEW)

by Beth Hanna
April 21, 2014 1:12 PM
1 Comment
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Eva Green in 'Penny Dreadful'
Eva Green in 'Penny Dreadful'

One of the more inspired aspects of this year’s SXSW was the newly added Episodic program, a showcase previewing yet-to-debut TV series. Episodic original content has clearly been undergoing a revolution. Indeed, the conversations surrounding small-screen content often eclipse what’s being said about big-screen fare. While, say, Jane Campion’s “Top of the Lake” and Sean Durkin’s “Southcliffe” debuted as one-offs in the festival world, expect this new sort of collective programming to catch on -- and fast -- at other major fests.

I took a break from scouring the admittedly underwhelming narrative competition film program to check out the first hour-long installment of Showtime’s supernatural period chiller “Penny Dreadful,” starring Eva Green, Josh Hartnett and former 007 Timothy Dalton.  (Watch a new trailer for the series, which hits Showtime May 11, below.)

Executive produced by Sam Mendes, all eight episodes are written by “Skyfall” scribe John Logan. (This finds similarity with the “True Detective” model of auteur-oriented series creation; that show is written in entirety by Nic Pizzolatto and helmed by Cary Fukunaga. Meanwhile Steven Soderbergh has the promising-looking ten-episode “The Knick,” starring Clive Owen as a turn-of-the-century surgeon, which arrives on Cinemax this summer.)

Penny Dreadful

Juan Antonio Bayona, who directed 2007’s “The Orphanage,” helmed the first two episodes. Bayona spoke before the screening, mentioning that a few last sound and post-productions additions were yet to be made to the version we would see, but that the tone was true to what would bow on Showtime come May 11.

So, about the tone: Based on the first episode, “Penny Dreadful” is an elegant, creepily crafted horror opus, liberally mixing classic frighteners (Frankenstein’s Monster, Dorian Gray and Dracula, for example) to create a late 1800s London with a ghastly demi-monde just below its surface.

And “demi-monde” is just the way it’s described by the haunted Vanessa Ives (Green) when she recruits sharp-shooter traveling circus-man Ethan Chandler (Hartnett) for some monster slaying. Vanessa is the accomplice to prominent explorer Sir Malcolm (Dalton), who’s lost his daughter to the city’s malevolent creatures and is hell-bent on recovering her.

Dalton is good, while Green is the standout; she’s apparently relishing the morbid stares, low-rumbling register and feverish altar prostrating that are all part of her character. (Hartnett, however, could be the weak link of the series -- his line delivery is about as wooden as the circus wagon Ethan rode in on.) Harry Treadaway plays Dr. Frankenstein, revealed in the episode’s strong final scene when he brings a young, very un-Boris Korloff-like corpse (Rory Kinnear) back to life.

The London inhabitants of “Penny Dreadful” think Jack the Ripper has returned, leaving bloody body bits at increasingly gory crime scenes. (We know that more sinister forces are at play, however.) Bayona’s visuals are appropriately shadowy and drenched in deep reds, a refreshing shake-up from the usual over-lighting that plagues TV series.

If “Penny Dreadful” follows in the footsteps of its first episode, it will be some shivery good fun for fans of Gothic noir, macabre period pieces and smart horror alike.

1 Comment

  • Jared | April 30, 2014 4:33 PMReply

    Hartnett's character is going to be eventually revealed to be the man, the legend, Jack the Ripper. Note that Jack the Ripper's true identity was never discovered(in real life), and a scene in the pilot episode shows Hartnett overhearing women talking about the new murders being the return of Jack the Ripper. The scene I refer to seemed to have been written to be the moment that Hartnett's character decides to go back and look further into helping Miss Ives and Sir Malcom. My guess is Hartnett's character has some kind of psychopathic bipolar thing going on, like Hek/Hyde type deal; he lost control at one point and committed the murders of Jack the Ripper. After likely hurting someone he cared about, or coming to some clarity, he learned to control his dark side. But knowing of the innocents he killed, he his struck with great regret and deep guilt. Naturally, he seeks redemption, and upon hearing the ladies talking about these murders being the return of Jack the Ripper, sees the offer from Miss Ives to assist in fighting evil as his opportunity to atone for his sins. Also, creator John Logan previously mentioned that real world historical characters might be in the show, noting specifically that Jack the Ripper may be one of the characters. I'm not exactly grasping at straws here: Hartnett's character Ethan Chandler not only has a checkered past, but the show went out its way to show us that he is hiding his past while simultaneously holding onto it, they made sure we knew this guy has some mystery to him, that he isn't exactly moral, and that he doesn't flinch when asked whether or not he believes in the dark underbelly of the world he lives in, he does. Add in Jack the Ripper never being found in real world history, the several references to the Ripper during the first episode, Hartnett seemingly being moved or affected by the women who refer to the Ripper's return, and the creator and writer of the show mentioning the possibility of the Ripper being a character; I'd say either Hartnett is the ripper, or is in some way related to the Ripper or one of the Ripper's victims. The reason I came to this hypothesis is because of the fact that when I considered the possibility, I salivated over how perfect the real world character of the Ripper fits into this fictional horror story. The main thing being that the Ripper's identity was never discovered, a rarity when it comes to famous serial killers. The other aspect is that the murders, those attributed to the Ripper by those with professional studies on the matter, took place over a short period of time and then stopped, never to be repeated again. Hence, a fictional character with a mysterious past, who lost control from some dark psychotic break, who stopped murdering, and moved on to travel and avoid his past fits perfectly into this story and the Jack the Ripper history.

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