FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Frankenstein Chronicles Season 1

The Frankenstein Chronicles Debut is a Hidden Gem

by Kristin Battestella

The 2015 British series The Frankenstein Chronicles follows Thames Inspector John Marlott (Sean Bean) and his runner Joseph Nightingale (Richie Campbell) as a floater composed of other body parts leads the police to body snatchers, abducted children, street pimps, and even author Mary Shelley (Anna Maxwell Martin). Someone may be copying her novel Frankenstein, and the home secretary wants the case solved before pesky newspaper reporters like Boz (Ryan Sampson) print the sensational tale.

Capsizing dangers, muddy chases, vomiting police, and a stitched-together body reassembled from at least seven children set the 1827 London dreary for “A World Without God.” Rumors of grave robbing abound and selling the dead to medical institutions is not a crime – this is a seller’s market doing good business despite still superstitious folk fearing science, medicine, and what happens to a body after death. Our inspector goes through several protocols and technicalities to research whether this butchery was done by a man of science or some layman out to prevent the new anatomy laws, invoking a mix of morose period noir with British lone detective angst. He’s canvassing the dirty streets for a meat market kidnapper while parliament spins grandiose hot air on rights to autopsy versus personal penance. Cholera, prayers, shady men at the docks with carts full of stolen bodies – is someone murdering to procure fresh dead to sell? The hands of the deceased seem to move when touched in “Seeing Things,” and William Blake quotes death bed whispers and sing-song visions wax on the beast with the face of a man. University hospital demonstrations on bioelectricity show how to reanimate the nervous system, however, those medical seminars and the subsequent Sunday sermons are not so different from each other. Higher up officials don’t want to hear about god fearing motives and scientific suspicion coming together as unauthorized doctors run unapproved clinics with their own ideologies. Investigation leads cut too close to home, and a fireside reading with narrations from the Shelley text invoke a self-awareness meta. An open copy of Frankenstein laying on the desk steers our course as the linear tale expands into a more episodic style with incoming regular cast high and low aiding our inspector or rousing his suspicion. Ghostly winds, flickering candles, and blurry visions create eerie, a supernatural clarity that helps connect clues while books such as An Investigation into the Galvanic Response of Dead Tissue in “All the Lost Children” provide handwritten sketches with blood in the margins. Religion versus science abominations, laws of God versus tyranny and oppression, and defiance of deities to defeat death layer dialogue from the author herself along with pregnant teens, abortion debates, and gory late-stage patients who may as well be monsters with their deformities. Past baptisms, dead families, and uncanny nightmares escalate the inner turmoil while hymns, market chases, and back-alley fights add to the well balanced mystery, life and death themes, precious innocence, and making amends.

Underground tunnels and unscrupulous business transactions in “The Fortunes of War” would have young girls sold at thirty-five guineas for ‘company,’ and the disturbing abuses create frightening silhouettes and threatening villains even as the uncaring uppity argue over chapter and verse regarding bastards and police refuse extra men on a sting gone awry. Screams, gaseous brick houses, and skeletons lead to arrests that unfortunately don’t solve the initial case butchery – only will out one small piece of a larger twisted picture. The aristocracy is shocked at the Frankenstein life imitating art scandal as fact and fiction strike the press, politics, police, and the author herself for “The Frankenstein Murders.” Drunken mad science, candlelit pacts, and monstrous machines bring the eponymous inspirations full circle as blackmail and the triumphant anatomy act provide a free supply of corpses for those who will now do whatever they wish. Threats, revelations, and suspicions swept under the rug keep the underbelly dark while disastrous scientific pursuits go awry. Blue currents and electricity experiments try to conquer death as the noose tightens. Red herrings and key pieces of the mystery come together as the audience completes the puzzle along with our constables thanks to erotic clues, nasty denials, ill pleasures, and warped dissections. The detectives must use one crook to catch another with cons, betrayals, and confessions that seemingly resolve the brothel raids, set ups, and scandals. Prophetic calendars, apparent suicides, and emergency parliament sessions make room for plenty of dreadful hyperbole – grotesque body snatchers have used murder to procure and defile corpses and the dubious press thinks it’s all thanks to popular fiction! This public medicine reform may banish the body trade, but lingering questions remain in “Lost and Found.” Constables need proof that the deceased aren’t staying dead and buried, and someone has known it all along. Conflict among friends and lies will out reveal the hitherto unseen beastly in plain sight as underground discoveries, powder misfires, and final entrapments lead to tearful trials. No one’s left to believe the truth thanks to corruption and condemnation blurring the fine line between genius and blasphemy. Last rights go unadministered when one is guilty of much but denies the crime at hand, and The Frankenstein Chronicles escalates to full on horror with frightfully successful dark science abominations.

Producer Sean Bean’s former soldier turned inspector John Marlott doesn’t like crooked police and his lack of fear is said to aide his quality undercover work. His gruff silhouette contrasts the posh officials, for they dislike his methods, deduction, and research on tides or time of death – questioning where others do not think to look makes him a somewhat progressive investigator even if he doesn’t care for books, poetry, or famous names of the day. Marlott has no problem with instructions, but feigns stupidity and says his conscious is his own, playing into people’s sympathy or religion as needed despite privately lighting candles to his deceased family and carrying sentimental lockets. The Frankenstein Chronicles is upfront on Marlott’s past, telling us how his syphilis caused his wife and baby’s deaths – he knows what it is to grieve and the prescribed mercury tonics add disturbing visions to his prayers. He’s uncomfortable at white glove luncheons as well as church services and cries over his past, perpetually tormented by his late loved ones while this barbaric case puts more burdens on his shoulders. He crosses himself at seeing these ghastly sights, recoiling from the morbid even as his own sores worsen. Marlott’s reluctant to use a dead boy’s body as bait to catch grave robbers and gets rough in the alley brawls when he must, acting tough on the outside and going off the book with his investigation after he steps on powerful figures who would manipulate him for their own political gain. Despite his own fatal mistakes, Marlott is a moral man in his own way, dejected that making the city safer tomorrow doesn’t help the children already dead. Now certainly, I love me some Sharpe, and in the back of my mind, I chuckled on how The Frankenstein Chronicles could be what really happened to Sharpe post-retirement. So, when Marlott says he was in the 95th rifles and fought Bonaparte at Waterloo, wears the same boots, and dons the damn rifle green uniform in a flashback funeral, I squeed! Marlott’s not afraid of death and ready to meet his family, not stopping even when the case is officially closed – ultimately breaking out that old Sharpe sword when it really comes to it!

Reprimanded and insulted by superiors, Richie Campbell’s (Liar) Joseph Nightingale is assigned to Marlott because they don’t really care about him or the investigation. The character is initially just a sounding board, however, Marlott confides in him, laying out the procedural methods in lieu of today’s police evidence montages. Nightingale does leg work for the proof needed, following a tip and getting roughed up when tailing a body snatcher. He argues with Marlott, too, countering his witness protection strategy before earning Marlott’s apology and his blessing to marry. Sadly, both share different angers when plans go wrong and people get hurt. The Frankenstein Chronicles offers a fine ensemble of familiar names and faces also including Anna Maxwell Martin (North and South) as Mary Shelley – a sassy, outspoken writer who says outwardly genteel appearances can be deceiving. She tells Marlott her book came from a nightmare, however, she knows more than she admits. Shelley is well-informed at a time when women weren’t permitted to be as cosmopolitan as their male peers, and great one on one scenes make her an interesting antithesis to Marlott. Ryan Sampson’s (Plebs) hyper young Boz is likewise a persistent little reporter who won’t give up his own sources but wants the police scoop. He circumvents Marlott, working all the angles and exposing the bodies found. Boz belittles him for not knowing Frankenstein was all the rage but he is on Marlott’s side in bringing the truth to light – so long as it’s a fantastic story. By contrast, Charlie Creed Miles (Essex Boys) and his mutton chops match the Burke and Hare-Esque thuggery. This body snatching businessman keeps track of his livelihood, for its just honest supply and demand. Pritty’s reluctant to snitch, but Marlott’s blackmail forces him into helping, becoming a useful, if crooked character. Vanessa Kirby’s (The Crown) initially snotty Lady Hervey comes to find Marlott is surprisingly honorable, confiding in him about her family’s title but little wealth even as she wonders if he is playing her for a fool. Jemima grows closer to him yet remains committed to a loveless marriage for money if it helps her brother’s charity hospital. Unfortunately, Lady Hervey is a woman of God who is sorely mistaken when she puts her trust in all these men of science. Ed Stoppard (Upstairs, Downstairs) as Daniel Hervey speaks out against early medical laws and technicalities with disturbingly contemporary theories when not performing abortions behind his sister’s back. Being a starving, homeless prostitute burdened with a child is not life, he reasons, only more suffering. He scoffs at charlatan surgeons and the home secretary’s grandstanding but offers Marlott a new medicinal spore for his syphilis instead of the harmful mercury, doing what he can for those less fortunate whether the Anatomy Act would ruin him or not.

Rain, thunder, fog, riverboats, marshes, and bogs set the chilly, bleak tone for The Frankenstein Chronicles amid period lantern light, overcoats, and muskets. Eerie artwork and beastly designs in the opening credits parallel the gory sights with separated body parts, arms, and legs upon the table, bowls of entrails, and stuck pigs contrasting the organ music, ladies frocks, bonnets, and courtly wigs. It’s bowler hats, simple crates, and bare rooms with peeling wall plaster for lower men but parasols, pocket watches, top hats, carriages, luggage, and grand estates for the upper echelon. Stonework and authentic buildings accent the blustery outdoor scenery, cobblestone streets, and humble cemeteries. Sunlight and bright visions are few and far between amid the candlelit patinas and small pocket portraits – the only available likeness of the deceased – however, reflections, deformed glances in the mirror, and filming through the window panes accent the man versus monster themes. Wooden coffins, baby-sized caskets, plain burial shrouds, simple crosses, body bags, and tanks containing deformed fetuses create more monsters and morose amid sophisticated libraries, early medical gear, handwritten letters, signets, and wax seals. Bones, blood, electricity, ruined abbeys, and hazy, dreamlike overlays combine with late Bach cues for final horrors, but it is bemusing to see the same title page on that open copy of Frankenstein over and over again – as if we could forget our eponymous literary source! Although many scenes happen on the move, enough information is given with time for dialogue in reasonable length conversations, balancing the visual pace and investigation exposition rather than resorting to in your face editing and transitions. All six, forty-eight-minute episodes in Series One are directed by Benjamin Ross (Poppy Shakespeare), teaming with writer Barry Langford (Guilty Hearts) for one cohesive tone on this ITV hidden gem now of course branded as a Netflix Original.

While some elements may be obvious, my theory on the new spins in The Frankenstein Chronicles was totally wrong, and I again wish there were more gothic, sophisticated series like this and Penny Dreadful. The Frankenstein Chronicles isn’t outright horror – the macabre drama, dreary case, and disturbing mystery are not designed as a scare to frighten even as choice gore keeps the ghastly at hand for this easy to marathon harbinger. Instead, the British gravitas meets mad science combines for a Poe-Esque caper with literary fantastics peppering the intertwined crimes and Frankenstein what-ifs.

 

For More Frankenstein, check out Frankenstein: The True Story or for more scaries featuring Sean Bean, re-visit our reviews on Black Death and Silent Hill.

FRIGHTENING FLIX: Revisiting Poe Video Review

Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz (and a special feline guest) discusses new appreciations in revisiting the short fiction of Edgar Allan Poe including The Fall of the House of Usher and The Tell Tale Heart in addition to comparing and contrasting the Vincent Price and Roger Corman Poe Film Adaptations.

 

 

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Press Release: Austin Crawley releases A Halloween Tale

A Halloween Tale by Austin Crawley

THUMBNAIL_IMAGEFew Christmas stories hold as much fascination as the story, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Inspired by the classic tale, three young women decide to hold a séance to raise the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future. They don’t expect a result, considering that the ghosts are fictional, but what they call out of the aethyr gives them a creepy holiday they will never forget, if they live to tell the tale!

Austin Crawley has always had an interest in the supernatural and macabre. He has a particular interest in real life ghost stories and spends his holidays visiting places that are reported to be haunted. When he isn’t dealing in spooks, he deals in the buying, selling and cutting of gemstones. On odd Tuesdays he convinces himself that it’s because he was reincarnated from a pirate. Twitter: https://twitter.com/austinocrawley

Kbatz: The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past

The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past A Charming, Insightful Piece

by Kristin Battestella

I wasn’t sure what to make of the 1998’s The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past when I stumbled upon the DVD on Netflix. I was looking for Christmas films as well as films about books and authors. The title fumbled around in my queue, and when it finally came to the top of my list, the disc sat for a few days before I took the time to sit down and watch this ninety minute tale dramatizing how Charles Dickens came to write his beloved A Christmas Carol. Though largely fictional, the Dickensian charm and recreation of Victorian highs and lows make The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past worthy for any fan of family friendly film.

While enjoying his literary successes at a lovely party, Charles Dickens (Christopher Heyerdahl) is approached by a young fan William ( Sean Gallagher, Leap Years). Confessing of his love for Dickens’ latest work A Christmas Carol, William inquires how the story came about. The gentlemen sit down together, and Dickens shares his most intimate writing inspirations and philosophies- from how a young girl he helps in the streets helps him to his impoverished youth and its lingering shame.

 

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Although the narration is a bit much in some segments, the bookends of an older Dickens reflecting on his poor and shameful past fit The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past. We read about his strive for social reform and semi autobiographical tales of debtor’s prisons time and again in Dickens’ books, but tying these real life sad tales to the shaping of A Christmas Carol adds an extra sentimental touch. Director Bruce Neibaur (Beyond the Horizon) balances Victorian speeches with cruel action from the streets of London, giving adult viewers food for thought and swift, spooky action for the kids. Although folks in the know may recall Dickens’ real life muses and lady lovers probably aren’t so kid friendly, Neibaur’s fine script and accurate production values forgive any artistic license and film liberties.
Naturally, no one in the cast of The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past turned out to be famous. The supporting actors looks mostly like stock players from a poor man’s Masterpiece Theatre, but strangely, this fits and they serve their parts. Modern American actors just don’t look the period piece role. The hair on Heyerdahl (Stargate: Atlantis) is a little annoying, and the hackneyed accents one would expect from a Victorian London picture are mysteriously absent. The film rests solely on Heyerdahl, and he plays the part of the conflicted Dickens perfectly. Today, we would joke about the creepy nature of a society man snooping about kid’s poor houses, but Heyerdahl’s shame at needing money and his struggle to achieve writing inspiration trump any naysayers.
We’re treated to the high life of opulent Victorian parties, but The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past also gives us glimpses of England’s underbelly. The look and feel is perfect at both ends; Colorful and fun with lots of laughter against the dark, violent, smudged world of children’s workhouses. The soft score gives us plenty of cheer and melancholy heartstrings as well. There’s a touch of Christmas here naturally, but not enough to relegate The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past to December viewings only. There’s no subtitles or Dickensian features on the disc, but teachers might enjoy a viewing and discussion. Period piece fans will enjoy the stylings and sentiments no doubt. Though an independent feature, The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past doesn’t look on the cheap. Actually, it makes me wonder why more dramatizations are not made about Dickens and his rise to literary greatness. Please, sir, I’d like some more?

Unfortunately, The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past appears out of print, so netflix or another loan source might be the only way to find this film- unless you are extremely lucky in your video hunt. Fans young and old can enjoy this charming tale of bookish hopes , society’s troubles, and literary dreams.

Kbatz: Dickensian Macabre!

Dickensian Macabre!

by Kristin Battestella

For those Addicts unaware, dear old Kbatz was born on February 7 – the same day as Charles Dickens! No, not in 1812, of course, but I don’t need further excuse to embrace some classic Victorian bleak and holiday macabre. Woohaa!

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Bleak House – This 2005 BBC mini series adaptation boasts a dynamite looking Gillian Anderson (Scully), Denis Lawson (Wedge), Anna Maxwell Martin (Poppy Shakespeare), Carey Mulligan (Shame), Charles Dance (Game of Thrones), Nathaniel Parker (The Inspector Lynley Mysteries), Hugo Speer (The Full Monty), and many, many more. The high-end decor, low looks, and to the hilt HD style are great- complete with a brewing, spooky atmosphere and sharp editing. Instead of spending visual time on lavish scenery and scopes, numerous up close shots and tight photography keep the focus on Dickens’ players as they chase fortunes and vices while the legalese profits from it all. The decidedly not quick, full 8-hour serial format works superbly for the hefty source material-which seems slightly less well known, but is just as complex. This is both dark cinematically, with a lack of bright and colorful Victorian cheer, and saucier thematically, with slightly obvious but nonetheless juicy and illicit soap-esque twists. If only we had ongoing miniseries like this again on American TV instead of reality junk or unintentionally short and mislaid fluff with no attention to detail. It’s bemusing to see such a large cast interconnected and inescapably tied to the system- entire lives and families rise and fall on the espionage and law here. But of course, we should not be surprised how those vile at the top use legality for their gains in the same way the unscrupulous at the bottom lean upon the establishment. The unforgiving societal consequences come to the forefront with great mystery and crime plotting just to keep things interesting, too. For as the characters themselves say: lawyers…villains…same thing!

 

The Christmas Carol – I stumbled upon this 1949 half hour on one of our new retro channels- love them- and wow, found two of my favorite things together: Vincent Price reading Charles Dickens! Price is so young indeed for this very early television production, but he’s animated, suave, and even cheeky during his onscreen transitions. He’s clearly enjoying this little holiday dramatization! Though black and white, there’s also a fittingly aged, green patina to the video, which retroactively creates a further vintage. Arthur Pierson’s (Hometown Story) adaptation has all the quintessential dialogue and memorable iconography even if the acting is the dated with the expected but put on British-ness. The direction feels stilted as well, with bare bones sets, awkward cues, some choppy editing, and simple camera filming. However, most of this is forgivable considering the budding television concepts and infancy of the medium post-war. Though few, the ghostly effects are surprisingly well done for the time. With such a short time frame, the work is considerably condensed, too. The unusual looking Ghost of Christmas Past and subsequent two ghostly visitors only receive one essential scene each. Thankfully, fun music accents the paired down design, and the quick simplicity makes this one just right for the Dickensian classroom.

 

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Great Expectations – Magwitch Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort), Miss Havisham Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix), and Mr. Jaggers Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid) go Dickens 2012 with Jeremy Irvine (War Horse), Holliday Grainger (The Borgias), Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky), and Jason Flemyng (X-Men: First Class). The old time fog, bleak, and cold are felt here with threatening, dirty, up-close convict dangers and poor cruelty at home, creating a jarring juxtaposition against the potential for Christmas kindness and holding fast to doing what is right despite difficult times. Will we be rewarded at some time unknown or is there always one ready to deceive and take advantage of the goodhearted? People treat one differently when society raises him and we pretend to be something we are not. Would be lovely greenery and estates marred with decrepit cobwebs and decay accent the harsh nature and bitter nurture at play – although the chemistry between the young leads falls flat with repetitive dialogue and a Dickens-lite, Young Adult tone. Perhaps Bonham Carter seems too quirky as Miss Havisham thanks to her Burton associations, but her madcap, warped pain would be fitting if it wasn’t presented as unevenly gothic and comical – the fire scene, I hate to say it, is laughable. Big, junky jewelry and ugly hairstyles are iffy, too. Brief CGI cityscapes and modern digital saturation are unnecessary compared to appropriately crowded London streets and cramped period interiors, the score is too generic, and flashbacks on Miss Havisham’s marital cause and the Magwich back-story feel too…music video. The pace drags in time away from the elder cast, but these 2 hours move fast over the well known plot. There are better, fully envisioned adaptations – perhaps this release was simply too blink and you miss it soon after the 2011 television version – but the paired down style, elder ensemble performances, and the tough to beat story lend their appeal to contemporary eyes and a classroom discussion.

 

The Mystery of Edwin Drood – Dickens’ final incomplete tale seems to have garnered new attention with recent stage and literary off shoots- even if it is perhaps impossible to conclude this murder and romance plot befittingly of Our Man Charlie. However, this fine 2012 television attempt has the proper mood lighting and cinematography, a shadowy Victorian underbelly style, and a few twisted villainous personas for good measure. The cast- including properly pissy Tazmin Merchant (The Tudors), stuffy and fun Ian McNiece (Rome, Doctor Who), and a creepy freaky Matthew Rhys (Brothers & Sisters) – does solid as always in these imported PBS/Masterpiece period projects. There are some intriguingly modern suggestions from Dickens, with opium-addicted choirmaster Jasper and his lecherous looks upon young ladies easily garnering a shudder or two. Even with such thematic darkness, screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes adds darker complexities and contemporary suspense designs, and the approach simply isn’t as taut or interwoven as work straight from The Man Himself. The conclusion here takes what seems to be a fairly easy way out- the 21st century twist rather than Victorian happenstance, justice, and irony. Fortunately, the very unfinished circumstances that can hinder any Drood adaptation also make this one a worthy witness for any Dickensian fan or scholarly seminar.

KIDNAPPED BLOG, Loren Rhoads: Where Horror Lies 1

halogokidnappednotdateThis time of year, when the veil is thin, is a great time to make a pilgrimage to thank our forefathers in horror.

RayRay Bradbury, Westwood Village Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California

Seeing Stars says, “If you had to choose only one Hollywood cemetery to visit, Westwood Village Memorial Park would be your best bet.” In addition to all the movie stars, Westwood has its share of writers. Author of In Cold Blood  Truman Capote’s ashes are in a niche facing the cemetery entrance. The ashes of Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, are in the Room of Prayer columbarium beyond Marilyn Monroe. Billy Wilder, screenwriter of Sunset Boulevard, has a headstone that reads, “I’m a writer, but then nobody’s perfect.” Near him lies Ray Bradbury, whose headstone remembers him as the author of Fahrenheit 451 but to me, he’s the author of Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Charles Dickens, Westminster Abbey, London, England

Westminster Abbey has served as the site of every British coronation since 1066. The tradition even predates the modern Gothic building, which was begun by Henry III in 1245. The abbey is stuffed nearly to bursting with mortuary sculpture, which is — unfortunately — forbidden to photograph. The abbey’s website says, “Taken as a whole, the tombs and memorials comprise the most significant single collection of monumental sculpture anywhere in the United Kingdom.” Charles Dickens — author of A Christmas Carol, the most-filmed ghost story in the English language — was interred here against his will, rather than being buried alongside his family in Highgate Cemetery.

Lafcadio Hearn, Zoshigaya Reien, Tokyo, Japan

In the last half of the 19th century, Harper’s Magazine sent Lafacadio Hearn to Japan. Although he soon parted ways with his editors, he loved the country and wrote book after book describing it to Western readers for the first time. While his tales drift in and out of fashion in the West, he is still revered in Japan. His most famous work is Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, a collection of Japanese ghost tales comparable to the work of the Brothers Grimm. Those stories inspired Akira Kurosawa’s 1964 movie of the same name, which won a Special Jury Prize at Cannes and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film. Hearn is buried under his Japanese name, Koizumi Yakumo.

Washington Irving, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Tarrytown, New York

Walking up the hill from the parking lot between the Old Dutch Church and the Pocantico River, you’ll find the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Just shy of the crest of the hill, Washington Irving rests inside a simple iron gate emblazoned with his family name. A plain marble tablet, streaked green with lichen, marks his grave. According to a bronze plaque placed in 1972 by remaining members of the Irving family, the “graveplot” is now a national historic landmark.

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CIMG0977-headshotLoren Rhoads is the author of The Dangerous Type, Kill By Numbers, and No More Heroes, the In the Wake of the Templars trilogy published this year by Night Shade Books. She’s also the author of Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. You can follow her morbid antics at http://lorenrhoads.com