Book vs. TV: Hemlock Grove

He had not actually known what to expect in coming here tonight, much less that it would reveal to him two essential truths of life: that men do become wolves and that if you have the privilege to be witness to such a transformation
it is the most natural and right thing you have ever seen.

Original cover of Hemlock GroveWhen I first read Brian McGreevy’s book, Hemlock Grove,  a couple years ago, I fell in love with it. It was one of those nice surprises that I sometimes find on the library shelves — completely unheard of up to that point, a complete unknown. Recently I re-read the book for a book club, and I have also watched the two seasons of the TV series on Netflix. This particular work is interesting to me in that the TV series (the first season, anyway) actually seems to be a very nice complement to the book. Reading the book again I often found myself thinking, oh, I guess that was in the series and not in the book. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, the book.

At it’s heart, the book is a murder mystery — a serial killer murder mystery. Someone is killing young girls in Hemlock Grove and tearing them up, limb from limb, much as a wild animal might. Teenagers Peter (a gypsy werewolf) and Roman (an upir, a kind of vampire) team up to find and stop the killer, as well as prove Peter’s innocence of the crimes. Other characters in the book are Roman’s sister, Shelley, who is a Frankenstenien creation; Roman’s mother, Olivia, a seemingly ancient and ageless upir; Roman’s cousin, Letha, who is experiencing a “virgin” pregnancy; Peter’s cousin, Desi, who is a cross between a seer and a voodooist; and a variety of other interesting characters that round out the quirkiness of the town. What makes the book special is not only the fun that McGreevy has had playing with various horror tropes, but also the relationship between Roman and Peter, whose dialogue is often just very clever, realistic, and cool at the same time.

McGreevy’s prose is hard to describe. A few paragraphs will go by and you will think that you have it — matter-of-fact descriptions befitting the teenage protagonists of the work.

“The only reason we started burying the dead in the first place was to keep predators from getting a taste for human flesh,” said Roman.
“Is there like a summer camp for serial killers?” said Peter.
Roman shut up. They dug.

But then, bam! He will throw out some gorgeous lines that stick in your head like poetry

“Today I have seen the Dragon …” said the man.
She held out her hand.
“Don’t –” said Roman.
But the man took her hand and held it, a flower known to be extinct.

or

The fact was he could provide no rational explanation for why he was here. Last night his crying wife had left the room and he had remained seated and his child had taken his hand across the table with the grace of the sunrise, and in that moment when there wasn’t another comprehensible thing left to him he had a feeling.

or he’ll throw in some heartbreaking realism from the point of view of an older character

Their first time had been on this floor many years ago. If it had seemed like he couldn’t have felt worse about it then it was because he had been too young a man to know yet that time is cyclical, that there is no upward limit to the number of times you can make the same mistake.

The book is crafted well, and it kept me guessing almost to the end. The reveal and capture of the killer is handled in an interesting fashion, and because of the character development throughout there is still room afterwards for a few more reveals.

Roman and Peter in Hemlock Grove

So, it is clear that I loved the book. And, I was actually pretty excited to see what Netflix would do with it. The series was well cast with Landon Liboiron as Peter, Bill Skarsgård as Roman, and Famke Janssen as Olivia. The first season follows the book to the end, and does a pretty good job of sticking with the story. I liked several things especially well:

  • the werewolf transformation — good special effects along with an interesting take on all of the intricacies of disposing of human skin, etc.

Peter's transformation into a werewolf

  • the changes made to Shelley’s character — these had the effect of making her more believable, sympathetic, and creepy all at the same time.
  • the changes made to the plot surrounding the Godfrey Institute and Ouroboros
  • the way that Roman and Peter’s friendship was handled — lots of comedy along with the scary, which I think is actually pretty hard to pull off

As mentioned before, I have found that the book and the first season work well when you have experienced both. The TV series works to flesh out some of the ideas in McGreevy’s book that were only hinted at, or which were given a more minimalist treatment. But, without McGreevy’s book, you miss out on much of the character development, back stories, and that beautiful prose. I recommend both iterations of the story for the best experience.

The second season of the series became available on Netflix in July. It picks up from where the first left off with some new characters and a continuation of one of the plot lines from the previous season. While I felt the first season was better, there were some good things about the second season, as well, and it definitely ends in an interesting enough manner to make me curious what they will do next.


Only Lovers Left Alive: My Pick for Best Movie of the Year

Poster for Only Lovers Left AliveI love Jim Jarmusch’s work, and Only Lovers Left Alive definitely didn’t disappoint. The main characters of the movie are Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), two very old vampires who are trying to make it in the 21st century. The pair are married, but are living separately when the movie begins – Adam in Detroit and Eve in Tangiers. These two characters are nicely juxtaposed. Adam is dark, brooding, and everything around him is portrayed as such from his hair and clothes to the old, dilapidated home he inhabits. Eve is light, positive, and everything around her reflects this from her semi-dreaded white-blonde hair and light tan suede pants and jacket, to her home’s New Age decor. Adam has an obsession with music and instruments. He is an elusive musician whose compositions appear on the down low, and who has worked with other artists over the years – Schubert, for example. Eve has the skill of knowing things through touch. She can read a book by running her fingers over the pages, or touch a guitar and tell how old it is and everything about it. She can read people this way, too. Added to the mix of these two main characters is an elderly vampire who is no other than Kit Marlowe (John Hurt), writer of the plays attributed to Shakespeare, and supplier of Eve’s blood diet in Tangiers. Blood supply is important to these two, and Adam gets his through an arrangement with a local hospital. This is a humorous situation, since he has not quite adapted to the new century yet, and he shows up to retrieve his blood in scrubs, operating mask, sunglasses, and sporting the name tag: Dr. Faust.

Adam and Eve in Only Lovers Left Alive

The overall plot of the movie is the relationship between Adam and Eve, which is tested by the appearance of Eve’s sister, Ava, a younger vampire who’s into partying and boys. Ava has a history of making life impossible and Adam is not a fan. She once again causes problems with her appearance, sending Adam and Eve on the run, and ultimately putting them in the position of having to start over again on their own. However, it is unlikely that this duo is going to have any problem getting on with things – a better pair I’ve never seen.

Adam and Eve on the couch in Only Lovers Left Alive

Jarmusch always has the best quirky things in his films! Some of my favorites in this one were

  • The many references to Tesla accompanied by Adam’s skill in creating machines: a car engine that doesn’t require gas, and lighting the house using a generator that pulls electricity from the atmosphere.
  • The cool, grungy, hipness with which the underground scene is depicted. Adam and Eve always wear sunglasses at night. Leather, mussed hair, and a decadence reflected in décor and lifestyle are everywhere. For these vampires, Type O- is like a drug, and when they drink they do so with the savoring of a heroin addict shooting up.
  • Ian, played by Anton Yelchin, who is Adam’s go-to human and brings him rare and beautiful instruments or procures any odd item that Adam might want. Ian has a great personality in that kind of eager, young star-seeking way.
  • Adam’s endless supply of cash. He has lots of rubber banded wads of cash that he will just pull out of a pocket, seemingly with no regard for how much he is handing out.
  • Eve’s tons and tons of books. There are stacks and piles, and scenes of her falling asleep in the middle of them. If I was a vampire, my house would look like this.
  • The settings of both Detroit and Tangiers. Dark, destitute, decrepit, cityscapes. Detroit is bare of people for the most part, while Tangiers is home to the drug scene, winding alleys, stone staircases, and cafes that appear in the middle of nowhere.
  • The music. Adam’s music is haunting and dark, beautiful. I would definitely listen to this. The music by the girl in Tangiers, though is an unbelievably cool touch. Through her you can see Adam glimpsing the precursor for a new start to his compositions, a new turn to take, a twist that will fit with this change of locale.
  • The ending scene.

Whether you are a Jarmusch fan, a vampire fan, or just love Hiddleston and Swinton, you have to watch this movie! Go get it now!