Penny Dreadful: The Exquisite Pain of the “Exceptional”

Penny DreadfulI recently finished the second season of Penny Dreadful and can’t stop thinking about it. I will admit – I was reticent to invest my time in this series. The first season didn’t get the best reviews (not that this has ever stopped me before), and I think that it’s entirely possible that the name of the series itself put me off a little. After all, a “penny dreadful” was a less than favorable slang name during the 19th century for serials of sensational fiction. So, basically, the name itself advertises as “cheap thrills” for the masses. But while the series does use many familiar monsters and horror tropes, it manages to do so in an often surprisingly insightful and quality way.

PLEASE NOTE: SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW.

The series has a variety of familiar names and creatures. There is Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), his monster (a.k.a. John Clare played by Rory Kinnear), Dorian Grey (Reeve Carney), a Western side-show star/werewolf (Ethan Chandler played by Josh Harnett), an African explorer (Sir Malcolm Murray played by Timothy Dalton), and a possible voodoo priest (Sembene played by Danny Sapani). At the center of it all is Miss Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), the doomed spiritualist who is possessed by demons. It all sounds far too fabulous to be put together in any manner that could work – but it does.

During the first season, a sort of team is formed by Vanessa, Victor, Ethan, Sir Malcolm, and Sembene. Together they face a variety of supernatural threats: the majority of which are vampires in the first season, and witches in the second. The first season begins their friendship and the second cements it, since now that the characters are familiar both to each other and the audience, there is opportunity to work in more development. And, the second season is definitely worth waiting for.

Victor pretty much nails the theme when he is discussing his new love with Vanessa. He explains to her that he had given up hope of being loved and thought that it was only for other people – he had resigned himself to the fate of the “exceptional”. This choice of wording is apt in describing the suffering he has undergone throughout his life due to his focus on, and success in, the realm of the mind rather than that of the heart. However, it also fits the singularity of each of these main characters, and the loneliness that plagues them. They may fight monsters together, but they are each very alone when it comes to fighting their own personal demons.

Throughout the second season, they each manage to catch a glimpse of that love that seemed so out of reach, touch it, be warmed by it – only to watch it slip from their hands. There is true torture here where love is concerned: Victor loses his love, Lily (Billie Piper) – a love that he himself created – to the more seductive Dorian Grey; Sir Malcolm is spellbound by Mrs. Poole simply as a means to her nefarious ends; and Ethan and Vanessa come together just long enough to see the other for who they are, grow to love them, and then be so devastated by the blackness within themselves that they cannot find a way to share the path going forward. Perhaps the saddest fate is that of the monster, John Clare, who is shunned by the “love” created for him by Frankenstein, betrayed by the blind girl who pretended to befriend him, and – most tragically – finally seen and loved by Vanessa, only to have her refuse to share her path with him for fear of him falling victim to the black curse that surrounds her life. The weaving together of these story lines is elegant, clever, and tragic.

In addition to the substance of the series, the cinematography is gorgeous and dark. The casting is spot on, as is the dialogue and acting. The exchanges between Josh Hartnett’s character, Ethan Chandler, and the investigator Bartholomew Rusk (Douglas Hodge) are some of my favorite, with Hartnett quickly volleying back Hodge’s questions and digs with short, terse responses.

However, all this is not to say that the series isn’t over the top in places – it definitely is. But the balance between the sensational and deep is interesting and well done. This series has the bitterness and bite of dark chocolate with the sweetest black cherry filling. I can’t wait for Season 3.

Fun Monster Horror in Blood Glacier

Movie posterI’m a fan of foreign horror, and lately I’ve been really enjoying some of the European horror out there. Blood Glacier was a movie that I remembered hearing a few good things about when it first came out. The first thing to know about this movie is that it is on the scale of a slightly better than average Syfy channel movie. But, I am someone who is often in the mood to enjoy these types of movies, and I found a lot to like in Blood Glacier.

The story focuses on some scientists in the Alps who discover a mysterious red substance on one of the glaciers. This substance begins having an effect on the animals in the area, mutating them into bizarre cross-breeds with disturbing, violent, and bloody results for the scientists. The hero of the story is Janek, who is basically the handyman for the expedition and has stayed at the outpost for more consecutive assignments than anyone in history. Janek is an interesting rogue who enjoys his liquor, hanging out with his dog, and gives no effs as to what anyone else thinks about him. A complication arises when, just as the scientists are realizing that there is a major problem, the outpost receives a visit from the Prime Minister and her entourage, which includes Janek’s long-lost love, Tanja. Eventually, Janek and Tanja must fight for their lives against the various monstrous new species that are being created.

Scientists looking at the glacier

So, here are a few things I liked about the movie:

  • some excellent creepy monsters – it seems like good monster flicks are in short supply lately, and the mutated species in this movie were actually pretty fun

Mutated creature

  • some wonderful funny lines, like “Stop eating that banana while you are crying!”
  • a willingness to just go for it – the characters are interesting, over-the-top eccentrics, which kind of works for reclusive scientist types (or, powerful government officials); the mutations are creative and reminiscent of Carpenter’s The Thing; and the ending is ridiculously over the top and end-of-life-as-we-know-it
  • the visual production quality is good and the special effects are not bad

Basically, I thought this was a fun movie with some pretty good scares here and there. It made me jump and laugh, which I like every now and then. I would definitely recommend it if you are into some of the less “horrifying” horror.