“Penny Dreadful” Season 1 – Horror Camp, Problematic and Fun

Season 1 | Penny Dreadful Wiki | Fandom

    “Penny Dreadful,” Season 1 was quite enjoyable. I’ve read all the books it pulls inspiration from “Dracula,” “Frankenstein” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray” to name a few and I like the twist it took on the characters from these stories while creating it’s own lore. The casting for this show is absolutely fantastic. Eva Green could have carried the show on her own but Harry Treadaway, Billie Piper and Timothy Dalton bring so much nuance and depth to the characters they inhabit. There are problematic areas of the show that come out in the time period it takes place in (The Victorian Era of England) and I’ll get into that deeper into the review.

The show was created by John Logan who produced the show along with Sam Mendes.

The story follows Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) and explorer Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) as they recruit others in their quest to save Malcom’s daughter Mina from a mysterious supernatural force.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Mysteries – There are a few mysteries that provide the basis for the show. There is the mystery of who has Mina (we learn it is Vampires), what is the aim of the evil force that inhabits Vanessa, What is Dorian Gray’s endgame? Who is responsible for the brutal murders? (It looks like both vampires and later on we see werewolves as a possible culprit too). These are the mysteries that drive the show and from these mysteries what choices it will prompt our characters to make.

Dorian Gray – Reeve Carney plays Dorian Gray and like Dorian Gray from the book he is a character who is all about new experiences and doesn’t care about people beyond how he can use them. This makes him an antagonist or at least an anti-villain but we don’t know his aim beyond the seeking of new experiences. He ends up sleeping with half of the main cast and each time it is when they are at their most vulnerable and in the case of Vanessa triggers her possession. His very nature is dangerous and Reeve plays him so well as this unaging, intelligent, beautiful and selfish man. I’m curious to see where his story will go in Season 2.

The Team – The Team works largely because of their relationships with each other. You have Sir. Malcolm and Sembene who have history in Africa together and Sembene holds him accountable to having to possibly kill Mina if she can’t be saved. You have Vanessa who was Mina’s friend and is like an adopted daughter to Sir. Malcolm. You have Ethan who is running away from his past in the United States and holds a dark secret but connects and falls in love with Brona a woman dying of tuberculosis. You also have Dr. Frankenstein and the 2 creatures he makes and his history with both of them.

Dr. Frankenstein, Proteus and Caliban – Harry Treadaway does such a fantastic job of making Frankenstein a man disconnected from people and obsessed with creating life of his own. We see him succeed in this when we first meet Proteus who he creates and who he lets name himself and we even see Proteus begin to recall the life he lived before his death. Sadly it is cut short by Frankenstein’s firstborn creation Caliban. Caliban is tortured and was born out of pain and holds nothing but resentment for his creator. This changes when in the end the only person he can turn to is Dr. Frankenstein and they come to an understanding. These two relationships are complicated and illustrate how broken Dr. Frankenstein is as in the end his creations are reflections of him in the actions they do and the actions he does for them.

Ethan and Vanessa Ives – One of the healthiest relationships on the show is that between Vanessa and Ethan. Vanessa is the one who is willing to believe in Ethan and he believes in her in turn. They have a deep friendship and in the end it is Ethan who rescues her for rescuing him when he is able to cast out the possession with a trinket Brona gave him as she was dying. It is a powerful scene and I appreciate how honest their relationship is. He tells Vanessa about Brona and she supports their love. It is touching and really the only healthy relationship on the show.

Ethan and Brona – Ethan and Brona is a sad tale. They become a couple pretty fast but run into trouble when Dorian triggers Brona’s self-doubt as he had slept with her earlier and it is after her lashing out at Ethan that he also sleeps with Ethan. Neither of them know this about one another but they are both running away from their guilt about their pasts. In the end Brona is killed by Dr. Frankenstein who promises he will bring her back in immortality, of course Ethan doesn’t know this and it is her death and his isolation from the team as well as being hunted by men sent by his father that trigger him turning into a werewolf and him slaughtering an inn…leaving him as the possible secondary antagonist next season.

Sir. Malcolm and Vanessa Ives – This is the most toxic relationship on the show that eventually pays off into some sort of balance. Sir. Malcolm uses Vanessa to find Mina but in the end chooses her over Mina who has been lost to the darkness and become a vampire. The arc getting here involves the two of them hurting each other so much as they both reel from how they hurt their family and one another. Vanessa is willing to confront her guilt and Sir. Malcolm truly isn’t until the end. Vanessa is a good character where I’d say Sir. Malcolm is not, at best he’s a protagonist who functions as an anti-villain because of his past and current actions.

The United States Colonialism – Through Ethan we learn about the death of the indigenous people in the Indian Wars in the United States and thankfully it isn’t glorified. Whenever it is talked about it is with shame and guilt and Ethan clearly has PTSD for fighting in the wars. We learn about the children missionaries stole from their tribes and lost generations…I hope we learn more as this is a huge part of Ethan’s identity and I appreciate that the show recognizes the atrocities that it was.

The Cons:

Sir Malcolm’s Colonialism – Sir. Malcolm goes to Africa with his son and we learn that he raped and pillaged his way across the continent. The only time this is called out is when Vanessa is possessed, no character calls out Sir. Malcolm for the evils he committed in Africa has a colonial “explorer.” This is easily the most problematic element of the show and I really hope next season calls him out. I’m also left wondering where Sembene’s story falls into this and I hope we get the story of why he follows Sir. Malcolm.

The Era’s Sexism – Sexism is a fairly common trope in this series and it is largely expressed in how Vanessa is “protected.” The way Brona is used by Dorian Gray and others in her past (her abusive fiance) and Sir. Malcolm’s dismissal of any woman but his willingness to still use  and abuse them. It is disgusting and again, Sir. Malcolm is not called out which I hope happens later…same goes for Dorian Gray.

I enjoyed “Penny Dreadful” a lot. This is my kind of horror trash and the casting perfection and mysteries are largely what make it work. I can’t wait to see where these character arcs go as I care about them. My favorites are Vanessa and Brona but even the other supporting characters have nuance and depth to them even if they are nothing more than awful people. In the end I’d say this show is worth checking out, you should just know the problematic elements going in as it is the biggest problem I have with the show.

Final Score: 7.7 / 10

The Rental (2020): Interesting Concept That Needed a Better Story

The Rental (2020) - IMDb

  “The Rental” is a horror film that managed to hold my interest but not much more beyond that. This is a film where the characters aren’t really explored beyond their base motivations and even with how well they are acted the film cannot be saved. The premise is really neat and the film is beautifully shot but it really could have been more. This is one I won’t recommend though as it needed more to even be fully enjoyable.

This was directed and co-written by Dave Franco who co-wrote it with Joe Swanberg.

The story follows two couples Charlie (Dan Stevens) and his wife Michelle (Allison Brie) go for a weekend getaway with Dan’s brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White) and his girlfriend Mina (Sheila Vand) as relationships begin to fall apart and the house is not all it appears to be.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Concept – The idea of a rental home being the trapped location for a horror movie is brilliant. It works and it makes sense. Especially with the popularity of AirBnB.

The Cinematography and Environment – The cinematography is dark and mist and fog are used beautifully to mask characters. This ties into the theme with all the lying going on in the film but that is about the only depth this film has.

The Cast – All of the cast does an amazing job, especially with the stock horror tropes they are given. Allison Brie especially does an amazing job as the loving and conflicted wife with the selfish husband and Dan Stevens is great as that selfish husband. They have moments of history we are told that give them complication but they never grow beyond that. The cast again is great but they weren’t given enough to

The Cons:

The Characters – The characters are all tropes. Charlie cheats on Michelle with Mina. Josh is a social outcast and Josh and Mina bring their dog to the rental where one of the rules was no dogs. Mina has regret and is the last of the characters to get killed by the nameless villain and feels outcast from her work but the characters themselves don’t exist beyond tropes. Michelle is the suburban housewife who needs things organized and is trusting and loving. Charlie is the player who is trying to grow. They are all tropes in the end whose arcs remain unfulfilled as the nameless villain kills them all in the end.

The Villain’s Motivation – We never learn who the villain is we just see that he installs cameras in apartments, homes, etc. He is a serial killer but we never learn why he is the way he is or even see his face. There is nothing there and he doesn’t work as a force of nature. We needed more.

This is a horror film that had so much potential to be good. None of the characters are given any nuance even though all the actors do a fantastic job in what they were given. We never learn about who the slasher is or why he is doing what he is doing. It is trying to pull a “Halloween” without putting in the work. The script and characters needed more work to truly get beyond the tropes as even the good performances can’t save empty characters. I wouldn’t recommend this one. There are better horror films out there.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10 The actors really deserved a better story.

Halloween (1978): A Masterpiece of Tension and Horror

halloween-original

    John Carpenter is one of my favorite directors of all times and this is partially due to him not only being a great director but being an amazing writer and composer too. The original “Halloween” that spawned a franchise is living proof of this. I was originally going to do a comparison of the old “Nightmare on Elm Street” with the remake, but I wanted to take a risk and watch a movie I knew would be good versus the almost always crappy quality that comes with most remakes (though the Original “Nightmare” is terrible too so mostly I just wanted to watch something good). Suffice to say, I’m glad I did. This is a movie that is a classic for so many reasons that I look forward to going into more detail on, later in the review.

      “Halloween” was directed and co-written by John Carpenter while being co-written and produced by Debra Hill.

      The story starts with 6 year old Michael Myers killing off his teenage his sister in 1963. Fifteen years later he escapes his asylum when he takes advantage of a storm and the asylum preparing to bring him to court to go to trial. From here he returns to his original home and begins to kill again, leaving it up to Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) to stop him.

The Pros: The World – The world of “Halloween” is fascinating because it is like ours but also not quite like our world. Myers isn’t all human it is implied and the reaction to him escaping is downplayed from the beginning showing people in authority in this world don’t actually care that much about risks or most people…with the exception of the Dr. We see this in our world and sometimes it is worse or better but it still exists completely in the Universe Carpenter and Hill created.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is gorgeous as the light of fire from pumpkins or the light from a lamp that can quickly go dark, putting our characters into a dark shadowy world where we see enough to get the humanity of the victims or the inhumanity of the monster. The film is gorgeous and captures how open environments are where you are safe from the monster and closed environments when the monster hunts.

The Soundtrack – Carpenter created a beautiful and iconic score that I plan on using for my own writing. The film reminds me most of “Psycho” as there is an overlay of tension that pervades it and feeds into the silence when silence is used.

The Writing – The writing is fantastic! Our characters are real and sympathetic and very much who they are, Loomis is a Dr. who knows Myers and is paranoid because of it, the teenagers are different levels of free within themselves and their relationships or bound by their duties and responsibilities and all of them care about each other even as they do the crappy things teens and people sometimes do to each other. The writing in this is golden and illustrates showing rather than telling.

The Characters – As I said in the writing segment, most of the characters feel fully defined and real and it makes them compelling even as you know they are going to die as they play into the tropes and the types of people that Myers kills (sexually active teens like his older sister when hew as six). The dimension they have, even if it is only a little showing them both as selfish and selfless, gives the story shape.

The Teenagers – The teenagers are selfish and selfless and manage to feel like real teenagers, not adults playing teens, which is a lot to say of any film, but especially horror films that have bland stilted teens who are there to die. Here they exist as characters rather than props.

The Kids – The kids are there to show the mystery and terror of Halloween as it is one of them who notices Myers and calls him the bogey man. They also end up protecting the main teen protagonist Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) as she is babysitting and isn’t going over to the party house where Myers is slowly killing off her friends.

Dr. Loomis – Pleasence does a fantastic job as Loomis and isn’t the traditional hero as is unable to save most of the teens and only saves Laurie because she’d fought Myers prior, slowing him down and sent out the kids for help. He’s human through it all and you get why people don’t trust him as he is overly frank and sounds paranoid.

Michael Myers – Myers is one of my favorite monsters in cinema now. From the beginning he is messed up kid with sexual hangups and targets those because of it. It’s established from the beginning he doesn’t have humanity but there are elements of humor to him too, such as when he dresses up as a ghost or reacts to the environment around him. He’s threatening and as far as we know unkillable, but he is still defeatable and he’s better because of it.

The Theme  Music – The theme music is as iconic as “Jaws” and captures the beauty and tension of the this film so well. It is simple and accomplishes so much, which is a great analogy for the script and direction. You don’t need complex or big to scare or tell a great story.

Halloween and the Holiday Theme – The theme of Halloween is huge as that was when the first killing happened and in it the trick or treat theme as one could easily see the ones who are killed after having sex getting the trick after the treat they’d shared. It is those who are already cautious and ready for the trick (Laurie and the kids) who survive. Also the theme of masks and fear are big too as Myers panics when Laurie tries to pull off his mask when he is trying to kill her.

The Art of Tension and the Slow Burn – Myers doesn’t start killing immediately, there is a slow build up as he stalks the teenagers and hunts and gets to know his old home and town again. We have him breathing deeply and him always being far enough away to disappear but close enough to get our protagonists creeped out. This makes when the killings finally happen as we see him always out of site and isolating his quarry all the more suspenseful and scary.

Fear In What Isn’t Seen – Rarely do we see the killings happen, it is always out of sight and quickly and usually done in the dark. This adds mystery and terror and us reading whatever we want into Myers. He is the unstoppable and large threat who we see is capable of anything (as established at the beginning) and may not be human. We fear him because of not only what little we see but because we don’t see so much except only what little we are shown.

The Killer’s View – Tied into fear in what isn’t seen is seeing the world through Myers’s point of view. We get the monster in his heavy breathing and in how he acts like an animal, but we know he is human. He is a monster in the stalking as we know what is coming and from the beginning this is someone who acts and is a threat.

 Elements of the Monster – Breathe, size, mask, simple elements (stabbing and strangulation) and obsession. Both the physical and mental aspects of Myers are what make him so terrifying.

Great Use of Horror Tropes – Sexually active folks get killed, responsible and taking care of the kids and fine…why this works in this film though is we see Laurie getting more isolated. She wants to be with her friends and they want to be with her, but she can’t and as Myers picks them off in different ways we see her isolation grow. She’s in a place she’d rather not be having to be responsible as her friends are doing what she wants to do. Ironically it saves her but it also her curse, she hears her friend die over the phone and see how Myers displays the bodies when she finally goes over when the kids are asleep and is greeted by a nightmare she has no control to end.

  The Cons: The Sheriff and the Other Doctors – These are the guys who are antagonistic towards the Doctor and useless as characters. They are the only stock characters in the film and the only reason I won’t rate this film as perfect as the very least they could have been was not annoying since they weren’t helping at all.

    This is a movie that is not only a great horror film (easily one of the best of all time) but is also an all around great film because it does what every film needs to do but doesn’t…it shows rather than tells and it does it through camera work, editing and dialogue. This seems simple but it is something most horror films and other movies as a whole miss. A monster isn’t scary because it looks undead or is a cannibal, a monster is scary because you don’t know what it will do, except you know it will be something terrible. I wish more movies would remember that as this movie had me on the edge of my seat and was rewarding from beginning to end. Debra Hill and John Carpenter are clearly a dream team and Carpenter is one of my Top 3 favorite directors  and this film captures so many of the reasons why he is. Check this film out if you haven’t, chances are you won’t regret it.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

It Follows (2014): An Okay Horror Film About a Sex Curse

It Follows

 “It Follows” works great as a horror idea but due to the cast being all teenagers it was hard to really care about them in the end as I would not describe this film as well acted. The creature is also still a mystery as we never see consequences of one of the rules that is said in regards to it.

     The film was directed, produced and written by David Robert Mitchell and also produced by Rebecca Green, Laura D. Smith, David Kaplan and Erik Rommesmo.

     The film is about a creature that stalks it’s victims and kills them. The creature can be any person they are just walking slow and you can make it stalk other people if you have sex with them, though after it kills that person it will go back to hunting you. Jay is the one being stalked and works with her friends to try and find a way to stop it.

The Pros: The Concept – The concept of a creature that never stops stalking you and can be anyone is pretty cool. If it had been made to look more ghostly it would have even been a little scary too.

The Creature – The idea behind the creature is pretty cool. It stalks you like an animal and kills you and after goes back to hunting whatever prior victim it was hunting before. The idea of it being a shapeshifter is pretty cool and the fact that only those who have been infected can see it. It’s like a horror STD.

The Cons: The Acting – The acting isn’t good. At times it manages to be okay but there were moments where I didn’t believe the tension or the contrived hookups where characters had to act like they had a crush on one another. This is partially the fault of the dialogue but I blame it on the acting more-so.

The Characters – See the acting, the characters are all stupid teens and we never see them get beyond their tropes. We have the skeeze guy who dies, the blonde victims, the awkward nerd who hooks up with the main character in the end and the prep with a phone/e-reader that is a shell.

The Tropes – The characters represent some of the tropes as well as the creature being activated by sex and it killing all the victims who the main character sleeps with. It is the horror morality play that way and it isn’t really pulled off in any unique way.

   This was a good idea for a film but there were some holes that really brought it down besides the fact that i didn’t care about any of the characters. At one point we’re told the creature cannot be allowed to touch you but we never find out why as it touches two of our characters it should be hunting. It’s left ambiguous at the end whether it has been defeated. It’s a fun film though so if you like Horror Films it is worth checking out.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10

House on Haunted Hill (1959): A Classic That Could Have Been Good

house_on_haunted_hill

We continue the Halloween theme with movies in the lead up to Halloween with the original “House on Haunted Hill.” There was a later remake and sequel to the remake that I have no desire to see, given their bad reviews and the fact that I didn’t love this film. It had a lot of interesting ideas but the characters couldn’t carry it. I’ll get into what I mean in the assessment.

The film was directed by William Castle who was also one of the producers. It was written by Robb White who was also one of the other producers. This was their project.

The premise is an eccentric millionaire named Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) who invites a group of people over to the haunted house for a party he did for his fourth wife where each will get ten thousand dollars if they can survive or stay until the morning. As everyone arrives we learn about past people who have died at the house as people are haunted and plots are hatched to use the people in the house by the millionaire and his wife and the visitors.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: Frederick Loren – The fact that he’s played by Vincent Price makes him interesting, as we learn over the course of the film he’s insane and did this all as a plot to reveal his wife and her lover knowing they’d try to kill him. He wins and we see that though there are supernatural elements a lot of it is just human characters, like him playing giant puppets to make them seem real. I wish it had just been this and there hadn’t been spirits as it would have shown that the human were  the only monsters that were to be worried about. Still, Price is a great actor and he does a great job.

Annabelle Loren – His wife is just like him and they both hate and want to kill each other. She nearly wins when she fakes her own suicide and her lover the psychiatrist almost succeeds in manipulating one of the other visitors to kill Frederick. Carol Ohmart plays the calm collected role. I wish we could have seen why she loved the psychiatrist though, her reasons for hating her husband were understandably legion, but not her love for her lover.

The Haunted House – The Haunted House looks fantastic and has all the classic elements. From the ghostly groundskeepers, to heads in closets and an organ that plays on it’s own…as well as a cellar full of acid where the psychiatrist and Annabelle die. We get glimpses of other monsters too and the talk of all the murders and deaths add a sense of foreboding about the house, truly making it feel haunted.

Cinematography – The use of lighting and shadows is done really well in this film. From hands reaching around the sides of walls and hanging corpses with blank eyes…everything is just in the shadows giving it the feel of a haunting. Carl E. Guthrie did a great job.

Okay: Generic Visitors – The other four people are tropes and never get beyond that…we have the pilot who is the hero but needs to be saved, the newspaper columnist who is always drinking, the have the damsel in distress who gets used by the Psychiatrist, the millionaire and the wife, and we have the owner of the house who believes in the ghosts so is always haunting and on edge. None of them get beyond their roles and we never learn fully why they came for the money. This is where it being like Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians falls apart as in that story the motivations were fully realized. This lack of motivation just hurt the plot.

The Cons: Extended Twilight Zone Episode – From the narration at the beginning of the owner of the house and the millionaire setting the scene between human versus supernatural manipulation this felt like a Twilight Zone episode that is just long. This would be a plus if this had been made for television, but this was a feature length film, so I have to count it against it. Unrealized potential is a good way to describe this film.

Mystery Unsolved – Why is the house haunted? What supernatural creatures are there and why? Why do the characters want the money being offered? These plot holes become apparent as scares are presented since we see that the characters would need good reasons to stay…and the monsters need motivation too, even if it is just something simple. This was a major con that took a way from a classic that could have been great or even good.

I would say check out this movie if you like Vincent Price and want to see some old classic horror films. I didn’t hate this film and like some things about it, it just couldn’t carry itself all the way through. This movie’s plot holes become more obvious as the plot progresses and the reveal of the wife as a major manipulator doesn’t feel as strong because we don’t get why she loves the psychiatrist. I said this in the assessment and I’ll say it again, this movie was unrealized potential.

Final Score: 6.7 / 10. It was enjoyably okay.