Say hello to our favorite HorrorAddicts.net 10iversary television blogs!
Say hello to our favorite HorrorAddicts.net 10iversary television blogs!
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.
The teaser for the book hints at a perfect autumn read:
The teaser for the book hints at a perfect read for autumn: “Rumor has it that the abandoned house by the cemetery is haunted by the ghost of a witch. But rumors won’t stop carpenter Mike Kostner from rehabbing the place as a haunted house attraction. Soon he’ll learn that fresh wood and nails can’t keep decades of rumors down. There are noises in the walls, and fresh blood on the floor: secrets that would be better not to discover. And behind the rumors is a real ghost who will do whatever it takes to ensure the house reopens. She needs people to fill her house on Halloween. There’s a dark, horrible ritual to fulfill. Because while the witch may have been dead … she doesn’t intend to stay that way.”
Everson’s novels are dark and visceral, often blending horror with the occult and taboo sex. The Illinois author won the Bram Stoker Award for a First Novel in 2005 for Covenant. His sixth novel, Nightwhere, was a Bram Stoker Award finalist in 2013. Check out Everson’s website by clicking here.
In an exclusive interview with HorrorAddicts.net, Everson discusses his new novel, his past works, and what scares him.
HORROR ADDICTS: Your 10th novel, The House by the Cemetery, arrived October 18th from your new publisher Flame Tree Press. Does this release personally feel any different than your previous releases in terms of anticipation and excitement? Or do all of them feel the same?
EVERSON: They’re all a little different, but this one is special because it’s the debut release on my fourth major publisher. My first couple novels debuted in hardcover on Delirium Books, a small independent press, and then made their big “mass market” paperback debut a couple years later on Leisure Books, which put them in bookstores across the country. Both of those debuts were big because – first book ever, and then first book ever in bookstores. Then after the dissolution of Leisure, my sixth novel NightWhere debuted on Samhain Publishing, which was my second “paperback” home. After four books with them, I am now with Flame Tree Press, which is issuing The House By The Cemetery in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audiobook. That is the first time I’ve ever had a publisher do all versions of a novel, so… it’s a big release for me!
HA: You set The House by the Cemetery in Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, one of the most haunted sites in Illinois and near where you grew up. What part of the cemetery’s history or legend intrigued you the most?
EVERSON: I am always fascinated by ghost stories, so I love the stories of the Madonna of Bachelor’s Grove, a ghostly woman sometimes seen walking with a child, and sometimes on her own. I wrote a short story about her for the Cemetery Riots anthology a couple years ago. And she’s really the inspiration (along with a famous gravestone) for one of my earliest stories, “Remember Me, My Husband.” But the ghost story that inspired the novel is that of a mysteriously appearing house, which people see in the back of the cemetery. I decided that for the novel, the house would be a real, physical place. But the combination of the ghost stories about that, the Madonna, and the devil worship legends about dark things that occurred in the cemetery 40-50 years ago, really fueled the book though they were inspirational, not directly “retold.”
HA: With horror movies breaking records at the box office and tons of quality horror fiction being released the last couple of years, the media is reporting that the horror genre is more popular than ever. Does it seem that way to you or is it just hype? Have any movies or horror fiction blew you away in the last couple of years?
EVERSON: Horror as a film and TV genre does seem more popular than ever. The popularity of series like Stranger Things and The Walking Dead, in particular, has galvanized a huge fan base. I haven’t seen that turn into a huge fan base for horror novels, because at this point, published horror fiction is still divided between Stephen King, Anne Rice and a few others published by the major labels, and … everyone else being published by independent publishers. When you walk into a bookstore, you’re not blown away by the preponderance of horror books, at least not in any of the stores I walk into. I hope that changes because certainly, this is the age of horror video. And without “writing” there are no films and TV shows!
As far as what’s blown me away … I don’t have a frame of reference because I don’t watch most modern horror films and I avoid TV series – because while they may be great, I just don’t have the time! I can either watch TV or write … and I choose writing. I have seen Stranger Things, which is awesome. But that’s about it for me on the screen over the past couple years. My movie watching (which happens every Friday or Saturday night around midnight in my basement!) is centered around older horror, giallo, and exploitation films, particularly from Europe, from the ‘60s-’80s. At the start of the year, I did see and love the films The Shape of Water from Guillermo del Toro and Endless Poetry from Alejandro Jodorowsky. Ironically, both of those films also look backwards in time, to other ages. My favorite things that I’ve seen lately are Hitch Hike, a 1977 film by Pasquale Festa Campanile, Death Occurred Last Night, a 1970 film by Duccio Tessari, and Pets, a 1973 film by Raphael Nussbaum.
HA: You’ve written a horror trilogy titled The Curburide Chronicles about a reporter named Joe Kieran battling demons. What about Joe caused you to return to his story two more times?
EVERSON: I never intended to. After the first novel was initially finished in 2000, I wrote a few short stories, and a year or two passed as I tried to find a publisher for Covenant, the first book. One day in 2002, I heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I thought … what a great way to jumpstart a book – write 50,000 words in four weeks? That’s insane! But I took the dare. I had an idea about what happened to Joe after Covenant, and in some ways, it felt like a better, more adventurous story than the first novel. So…I decided to use NaNoWriMo as my prod to knock out a big chunk of a novel. I still hadn’t sold the first book – and didn’t know if I ever would! – so I tried to write Sacrifice as a standalone novel, though it directly follows the first book.
So … when I finished Covenant I hadn’t had any thought of a sequel. When I finished Sacrifice, though, I thought almost immediately of how I might want to return to the world again, because I’d left a couple characters in limbo. However, the publisher wasn’t interested in a third book (third books in a series don’t usually do great unless you’ve got a mega-bestseller thing going on). So I had to sit on the idea of the third and final book in the series for almost a decade. A couple years ago when both Leisure and Samhain had collapsed and I found myself without a publisher, I decided, “what the hell …” and I dove in and finally wrote Redemption, the final chapter in the trilogy.
HA: I cite The 13th as one of the best horror novels I’ve ever read and one that’s influential on my own writing. Do you have a favorite amongst your children (why or why not)?
EVERSON: I don’t have a favorite, but I have a few that I tout a little higher than others. Ironically, those are the ones that seem to have either sold less or been reviewed harder than the others! I am really a fan of Sacrifice, though it hasn’t sold half as many copies as Covenant. I love The 13th because it’s just over-the-top crazy horror fun (I think!) I really was proud of Siren, which had a dual narrative structure that was adventurous for me and dealt with some personal themes that also were important to me. While I’ve seen some people call it their favorite, that novel has faired the poorest in overall reviews (a lot of people are not happy with the ending), though personally I think it’s one of my strongest pieces. NightWhere is a big one for me because it dealt with dark, taboo themes that I was afraid to write about (and sign my name to) for years. But when I finally did it, I was really proud of the way it turned out (and it turned into an award finalist and has been reviewed pretty well).
HA: Was there one of your works that kind of fell through the cracks that you wished more people would’ve discovered?
EVERSON: Redemption. It had everything going against it – it’s the third and final part in my Covenant trilogy, but it was released a decade after the second novel, and it was released on my own independent Dark Arts Books label – the only book I’ve done that with on a first run, because the original publisher of Covenant and Sacrifice was gone. So … most of the thousands of readers of those first two novels have no idea the finale exists, and there’s no way to let them know unless they’re actively looking for it. But I think it’s one of my best books, and really ties up the threads of the first two books. It’s also my longest novel.
HA: Taboo sex plays a large part in the plots of almost all your novels, but it’s also popular in a lot of other horror novels. Why do you think sex and horror are so intertwined in horror fiction?
EVERSON: Horror is in a lot of ways, a “Christian” genre (there are people bristling all over reading that!) in the sense that, because a lot of horror is based on the crime and punishment philosophy of “people who do bad things – like have sex before marriage – are punished by DEATH!” There are a lot of “sin and retribution/punishment” themes in horror. Being punished for killing someone … and being punished for cheating and/or premarital sex are big themes that horror tales frequently tackle. Horror has always explored the “what happens when you cross the moral line” factor.
And I think that sex comes into horror a lot too because – when are you at your most vulnerable? When you completely open yourself to another human being. We’re afraid of the potential danger of that intimacy, and thus … horror stories!
HA: I know you’re a music lover. Does music influence or inspire your writing at all (how)?
EVERSON: Music is a huge part of my life and I don’t ever write without it. I can’t say that music influences my writing direction in a way (I don’t hear a song and write a story about it) but I do put on types of music if I’m writing particular scenes. Most of the time I have on ambient “dreampop” kind of bands like Cocteau Twins and Delirium and The Cure which set a particular “mood” for writing. But if I’m doing very aggressive scenes, I might put on mixes of harder techno stuff, from Covenant to Rob Zombie to Marilyn Manson.
HA: What music are you listening to now?
EVERSON: I’m listening to a MixCloud mix by one of my favorite DJs, DJ Mikey. I have bought so many CDs because of his mixes! I listen to this particular one all the time at night because it’s nice and lowkey. Here’s the link: https://www.mixcloud.com/strangewaysradio/space-between-us-dreampop-dj-mikey/
HA: Are you binge-watching anything on Netflix?
EVERSON: The only thing I’ve ever watched on Netflix was Stranger Things … which is actually the only reason I subscribed (the rest of my family now won’t let me cancel it). I’m not a fan of most streaming services because their libraries aren’t deep enough for me. I have a lot of niche, cult film tastes and really, the only way to get most of those movies is to buy them from the cult film companies that remaster and produce them for Blu-ray and DVD. Plus, one of my favorite things about watching an old movie is to watch the bonus DVD extras – all the interviews about the making of the film. You don’t get that stuff on Netflix or Amazon Prime.
HA: Have you read any fiction recently worth recommending?
EVERSON: The last novel I finished was David Benton’s Fauna, which is excellent!
HA: When you’re not working, writing, or spending time with your family, what do enjoy doing with your downtime?
EVERSON: Watching cult 1970s/80s horror, giallo and exploitation films – often from Europe – is one of my favorite things to do. Give me a beer and a new discovery from film companies like Vinegar Syndrome, Severin, Raro Video, Mondo Macabre, Shameless or Synapse, and I’m a really happy guy. If I’m not going to collapse in a comfy chair to watch obscure movies in the dark, I also love to cook and garden and occasionally even do some woodwork – I’ve built an oak bar for my basement and a couple of DVD cabinets.
HA: Give me some breaking news about your next project or tell me something your fans don’t know about you?
EVERSON: I’m currently just a few weeks from wrapping my 11th novel, The Devil’s Equinox. It’s an occult-based Rosemary’s Baby kind of story that maybe shares a few themes with NightWhere, The Devil’s Equinox, and The 13th.
HA: What scares you?
EVERSON: People! I’m a big fan of the core message of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In the end, it’s really not the monster that’s dangerous.
Penny Dreadful Season Three a Disappointing Finale
by Kristin Battestella
I loved me some Penny Dreadful. Previously, I watched the First Two seasons twice or more before writing my reviews a few months after I had simmered in the immersion of all things sophisticated Victorian macabre. I re-watched the entire series again when finishing this obviously late review, but Season Three’s still blindsiding finale and haphazard resolution of the series undermines the glorious potential that was yet to be found in Penny Dreadful.
Year Three hits the ground running with some delightful circumstances in “The Day Tennyson Died.” Our quirky little family of evil fighters – Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), and His Monster (Rory Kinnear) – is scattered about the globe from London to the Old West and Africa to the frozen north. Their townhouse base is shabby with covered furniture and piled mail before the titular solemn and lovely poetic references reconnect old friends with tenderness and sympathy. After all they’ve been through, those in London are allowed to stew and cry – unlike the unforgiving railroad and lawless land of the New Mexico Territory. Though blindingly bright compared to the British bleak, there’s an underlying ominous to the witches and werewolves among the lawmen. Letters from Africa with burials made right also find Chiricahua Indians in the most unlikely Zanzibar alley while faraway frozen trawlers debate cannibalism and melodies remind monsters of when they were men. Famous names face racism at Bedlam as pale minions with anemia excuses lurk. Penny Dreadful has a lot to do but does it with superb conversations, new allies, and bloody vignettes. “Predators Far and Near” adds vintage photography, jurisdiction technicalities, a modified barber’s chair for experimenting on patients, and fear of the gramophone cylinders recording one’s sin. Therapy confessions recount prior indiscretions, but the prescription for godless loneliness is doing something innocent and happy no matter how small. Women debate on light and dark souls while men bond over their love of daughters and a son not birthed to them but bound with their suffering. Talbot family history, ritual chanting, and colorful vision quests counter the sophisticated Victorian science lectures and whimsical memories of adventures the likes of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. Unfortunately, our dreadfuls are more familiar with lunatics and monsters rather than childhood heroes, with Jekyll and Hyde-esque transformations on crazed victims, deceptively charming courtships, a wise Apache woman reminiscent of the fortune teller in The Wolf Man, and a desert full moon to aide one’s bone cracking escape.
Unholy alliances between witches and the Wolf of God continue in “Good and Evil Braided Be.” Is it the beast or angel, good or evil that’s the real persona? Does the mind create phantoms and demons to explain the darkness and pain? Do you bury the animal inside or unleash it? Between the werewolf curse, divided locales, tug and pull father figures, and hints of Hyde, Penny Dreadful creates superb dual themes alongside several racial moments and of the time derogatory Native American comments. Sophisticated light and dark visuals and good and evil motifs are interwoven against crudeness, triumphing over those who define what’s black and white or right and wrong solely based upon skin tone rather than soul. The audience isn’t hit on the head with the social commentary, but one scene beautifully addresses the sadly still lingering attitudes upfront. New, risky hypnosis techniques further retrace past darkness and despair in Episode Four “A Blade of Grass.” Memories and present offices blur in a dreamy act with current doctors and familiar faces in unexpected places uncovering new revelations of a forgotten padded white room. In camera foregrounds and backgrounds accent the confined or expanded four walls as needed with overhead views, zooms, face to face close ups, and wide angle warped. Finite descriptions of precious few details, amplified sounds, and demon shadows match the kindness of an orderly or the evils that await. Precious blankets are taken away amid growling, crying, straight jackets, and water torture. Can God find you in a place like this or are you alone? Our patient fears the evil within and wants to die over the betrayals and sins committed, yet the tender bonding with her jailer turned poetic advocate provides an unlikely compassion. Whether you can face yourself in the mirror or not, these fugue state manifestations overcome evil with the truth at Christmas in one excellent parable. The least amount of effects, minimal characters, and few locales leave nothing but the emotion and anguish upon their faces. It’s divine, just everything television should be and perhaps the best episode of the entire series.
And then, somehow, Penny Dreadful went to shit.
Series writer and creator John Logan hands Penny Dreadful over to new writers mid season – a maneuver suggesting a viable transition rather than leaving unknowns to resolve your planned finale with rushed characters and compressed stories. Andrew Hinderaker (Pure Genius) pens “This World Is Our Hell” with The West as a barren purgatory full of symbolic multi-layered pursuits on who the righteous should save or whom the evil would kill. Water is scarce among the grave sins and shame worn as redemption; forgiveness versus temptation comes in revealing fireside chats recounting past ambushes and the difficulty of serving multiple masters – fathers, duty, Lucifer. Unfortunately, these lofty topics are undone by nonsensical mysticism. Witches can summon snakes to conveniently wipe out pursuers but cannot heal injured mounts or conjure water and dying people somehow have enough energy for awkward evil sex after days of thirst. The Victorian mad science and desert shootouts jar in an anchor-less back and forth when the confrontations between our converging father figures are more interesting. Lengthy exposition on past horrors feels odd in a series that often shows rather than tells. Why not have an entire Talbot past hour the way “Closer than Sisters” showed us how Penny Dreadful really began? Otherwise the audience is left confused over who’s really at fault for the faithful turning evil. It was Ethan’s dad’s fault for making it the army’s fault who made the Apaches to blame??? Penny Dreadful always had pacing issues and uneven characters, but this Old West excursion could have ditched the dead weight characters and been back to London in half the time. I don’t think it is necessarily Hinderaker and newcomer Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ fault, but “No Beast So Fierce” throws even more at the screen with too many threads regarding who’s evil or who’s the law amid busy shootouts, vampire minions, Bedlam serums, how to kill a man tutorials, Egyptian wonders unrealized, and new steampunk introductions. What’s supposed to be important – monsters being kind to sick children or sassy sword wielding new characters? If the key to defeating evil is holding fast to loved ones, why has our family been apart all season? Perhaps one writer should have been responsible for one set of characters the entire year, as Dracula’s apparently content to wait out the cowboy adventure while other isolated and aimless immortal plans go round and round and pull Penny Dreadful apart at the seams.
Penny Dreadful has an innate melancholy – cemeteries, grave digging, mourning shrouds – but the dark romance is used for unnecessary preachy in “Ebb Tide.” Separated characters finally meet, but one knock on the door and a brief scene reconciling the past and present is not enough. Friends that could fill this empty manor and fight the bloodshed are pushed away while our team in the West doesn’t heed ancestral warnings. Despite insisting London is home, characters remain obstinate just for the sake of creating drama, leading to contrived betrayals and more speeches begging for the fast forward button. Touching conversations on who will bury whom are interwoven with weaker plots, straying from the core and repeating exposition we already know. Visions unite players who have been apart but such mystic conversations and wisdom on rescuing one another from darkness should have happened much sooner – two episodes ago, nobody cared. Krysty Wilson-Cairns writes the quick at forty-three minutes “Perpetual Night,” and it’s the shortest episode of Penny Dreadful when the series desperately needed more time. The boys rush back to Londontown amid foggy cityscapes, morbid voiceovers, tasty frogs multiplying, and rats amok. Dead wolves and toothy minions everywhere require swift blade work and fireplace pokers to stave off vampire infections – but no one thought to call Dr. Frankenstein away from Bedlam’s dungeon when people are said to be dying by the thousands? Penny Dreadful bites off more than it can chew, takes too long to achieve what matters, and spits out the excess when there’s no time left. Ironically, the “The Blessed Dark” finale also delays, saving choice moments with its stars rather than going full tilt with the dream hazy, bodies on hooks, and bats as sad lullabies over the special credits recap the sad state of our separate characters. It’s very exciting to see the reunions and werewolves fighting vampires in true monster mash up fashion as it should be – Dr. Jekyll passes by as Dr. Seward hypnotizes Renfield! As a season finale, this hour provides closing moments on some toiling plots. However, as a series finale, it barely resolves anything. Brief mentions on her destiny, his destiny, and previous prophecies don’t make sense anymore, and Victor literally bumps into the gang at Bedlam. The team is together again by accident! Major moments with his monsters earn one scene each, and none of those super strong immortals join the End of the DaysTM battle. Instead, bad ass walking down the street filler and a few ridiculously outnumbered pistols struggle with conveniently confusing action choreography. Bitter ties to the First Season become unrealized tangents, and new characters are inexplicably more steadfast than our original crew. Four episodes ago, life was worth fighting for but now isolated characters give up because the script says they should in a one hundred and eighty degree turn that’s painful to see end this way.
Vanessa Ives begins alone, a recluse living in squalor before rising thanks to words and wits with her therapist. Eva Green’s heroine cleans up and humbly restores the manor. Despite losing her faith, Vanessa is inspired by Joan of Arc’s confidence and says she will remain resolute. Oddly, she doesn’t seem as psychic or intuitive anymore and fails to recognize evil tendencies she previously pegged so astutely. It’s sad to see Vanessa open herself, revisiting innocent things that make her happy or having a man’s company once again end in terror. She’s willingly hypnotized to face her repressed psychiatry treatment, addressing her past doubts, regrets, and battles with Lucifer. “A Blade of Grass” shows her at rock bottom before a ray of hope and renewed prayers – if you believe in evil, then you must believe God is there to defeat it. Unfortunately, Penny Dreadful squanders the Lucifer issues, fast tracks Dracula, and circumvents Vanessa’s body and soul versus the fallen brothers with a past event cheating viewers out of a current victory. Vanessa can sense and see Kaetenay when the plot says so, but her lack of psychosexual possession and failed insights inexplicably have her give up despite knowing overdue help is on the way. Green saves this sloppy writing and deserved more hardware for Penny Dreadful. I don’t blame her if she recognized the tone had changed and was ready to depart. The series could have continued in searching for an evil Vanessa as an absent lead a la Blake’s 7 rather than two scenes with bad girl red eye shadow trying to make up for rushing to resolve Vanessa’s story. Josh Hartnett’s Ethan “Lawrence Talbot” Chandler is also not only reluctant to see his real father, but he’s angry at being adopted as Kaetenay’s Apache son. Ethan knows there is blood on his teeth and his soul deserving of punishment and wears his guilt on his sleeve. Unfortunately, his history comes from three different sources – so for all this New Mexico excursion, we don’t get a clear picture. The Wolf of God also spends about fifteen minutes being evil, standing up for Hecate over Malcolm because he won’t repent and belongs in hell. Ethan speaks evil prayers at the dinner table, but isn’t this the guy who’s Latin single-handedly exorcised Vanessa? His reciting of the Lord’s Prayer in the finale feels hollow thanks to his satanic reversal just a few episodes earlier. Was Ethan’s western escapade and Vanessa’s evil each meant to be it’s own season storyline? They both have a scene or two of darkness, and one moment in the finale doesn’t make up for Ethan’s back and forth. Meanwhile, Sarah Greene as Hecate travels in white, an unassuming Gibson girl who loves horses and animals but loathes people. She wants to be evil beside Ethan, but her powers are both handy or nonsense as needed. Hecate kills unnecessary to teach him a lesson and lingers too long in this uneven capacity – crowding an already busy Penny Dreadful while not being a character in her own right. The English Sean Glider (Hornblower) may be an unusual choice as a U.S. Marshall, but his crusty ways balance the British tidiness of Douglas Hodge as Inspector Rusk as they pursue Our Mr. Talbot. Rusk may ask for tea in the bar car and insist Scotland Yard Inspectors do not carry firearms, but he doesn’t underestimate the ruthless West. He begins to believe the Occult upon his case and does take up more violence as the blood on their path increases – before a thankless end, of course.
The beard is back for Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm, and even if he doesn’t know all the details, he’s ready to respect Wes Studi’s (Geronimo: An American Legend) Chiricahua Kaetenay if it will help save Ethan. Like an oasis in white in the mostly unlikely place, it’s wonderful when Malcolm and Ethan finally meet up for some shootout action. However, Malcolm really doesn’t have a whole lot to do this season beyond listening to Kaetenay. Most of his dialogue is responsive filler, and even before the surprise series finale, I suspected Dalton would not be returning for Season Four. You don’t keep a talented name without giving him quality writing, and Malcolm ends up repeating the same plot. Chasing after lost lamb Ethan, fighting a vampire to rescue Vanessa – he’s again saving his family even as his travels keep him from his home and any relationship with Victor. Malcolm could have returned to London post-Africa, maybe to meet Catriona sooner or dislike Dr. Sweet, as it’s a disservice to reduce him to little more than Kaetenay’s sidekick. That said, yes please to more of Studi’s set in his ways Apache. He still scalps because old habits die hard, but he doesn’t drink and believes one can’t die until his purpose is served. Granted, Penny Dreadful is trading the mystical negro trope for the mystical Apache stereotype, but the moonlight visions and enigmatic destiny talk tie the blood, suffering, and wolves together. Kaetenay pushes on after Ethan no matter what – he and his people have endured much but he’s prepared to face this darkness over London. There should have been more time for his revelations, and Penny Dreadful only makes use of Kaetenay when needed. It takes seven episodes for Ethan to heed his warnings about what is to come, and he should have mystically connected with Vanessa from the start. As Ethan’s father, Brian Cox (Coriolanus) also has some great one on one’s with Malcolm. They are wonderfully alike, right down to the conquest map on Jared Talbot’s wall, the mountains named after him, and an empty home as the cost. However, a boat load of family history that Ethan already knows is repeatedly told rather than seen, leaving Talbot Senior unevenly written with sorrowful or crazed exposition amid one gunshot and stand off after another. Had we seen the first terrible shootout that has him so angry, then this second battle in his ranch chapel would have had much more meaning. Kaetenay provided connecting visions when necessary, so why not have some kind of mystic Talbot dream that showed the betrayals and horrors causing all this pain?
Fortunately, Rory Kinnear’s Creature aka Caliban aka John Clare has some superb redemption on Penny Dreadful. He won’t harm a dying cabin boy, recalls more about who he was, and realizes who he may yet be after touching moments in the Fourth and Fifth episodes showing his life before his death and resurrection. He is again at the window or in the eaves, on the outside peering in on those that think he is dead. The Creature risks rejection and reaches out despite the pain, blossoming from being an angry violent child to almost the man he used to be. His resurrection allows Caliban to find his family – only to loose it again thanks to innocence versus the unnatural. This season, Clare is almost totally separate from everyone else, alone on this sympathetic journey beyond too brief moments with Vanessa, erroneously on the fringe without even seeing Dr. Frankenstein. He may piece together his past, but not enough was done with the connection between Vanessa and the Creature. She recognizes him, but not him her, and Penny Dreadful cops out by resolving their past in a flashback. Again, just because we the audience saw it does not mean the characters themselves received any current resolution. Why didn’t Caliban ever knock on Malcolm’s door? He would have been welcome in this misfit family dang nabbit! Reeve Carney’s Dorian Gray and Billie Piper’s Brona cum Lily Frankenstein, however, should have stayed home. By his very nature, Dorian is a supporting character that never changes. They aren’t missed when absent but Penny Dreadful uses him and Lily to shoehorn in some kind of modern feminism vengeance that goes nowhere fast with repetitive, ad nauseam speeches. Whether it is justified man hate or not, the appearance of Jessica Barden (The End of the F***ing World) as Justine perhaps a la the de Sade wastes time with back alley torture, nudity, and bloody threesomes. The warped justice is all over the place with even less to do Dorian getting stabbed for funsies before he gets bored from having seen such depravity already. Episodes grind to a halt with their round and round male behavior psychoanalysis, briefly tossing in suffragettes and violence that makes them just as bad as the abusers from who they claim to rescue women. Penny Dreadful has done better psychosexual themes, and compared to Caliban’s soul searching, Lily realizes her humanity too late in one great soliloquy that should happened the moment she was reborn, and Ethan never finds out Brona has been resurrected!!!!
Harry Treadaway’s junkie Victor Frankenstein becomes a mopey little piss ant bent on proving his superior science can conquer death, and he arrogantly thinks he can perfect on Jekyll’s methods. Maybe there’s a parallel between his wanting to create angels instead of monsters and Lily’s superior woman army, but their uneven storylines barely intersect beyond a few redundant stalker scenes and never factor into other plots. Victor goes about getting Lily back in the worst way possible, becoming like his originally angry Creature in a fitting poetic justice. He’s deluded in thinking Lily owes him anything, and it should be a great destructive character arc. However, rather than having him freaking call on Vanessa while they are both in London twiddling their thumbs, Penny Dreadful treats Frankenstein as an afterthought before one last lesson on how to be a human rather than the monster. One poetic voiceover from Victor such as, “Sir Malcolm, I hesitate to confess it now, but I must inform you I have a singular talent for defeating death as we know it…” could have ended Penny Dreadful in a uniquely twisted vein. Sadder still is that Shazad Latif (Mi-5) as Dr. Jekyll somehow turns into a handing Victor the scalpel lackey. He has history with Dr. F. – roommates and dare I say something more – and faces much “half breed” Victorian racism. Jekyll despises his white father but wants his acclaim and title to help prove his serum on anger and duality. Simply put, there is no way he was intended as a throwaway character and we deserved to know him more. Although scheduling conflicts necessitated the departure of Simon Russell Beale as Mr. Lyle, his being written off as going on assignment to Egypt just begs to be told! Did everyone forget all the prophecies on Amunet and Lucifer or the hieroglyphics carved onto the vampire bodies? Of all the friends still about London who never bother to visit, it’s Lyle who draws Vanessa out and into therapy because thanks to his closeted sexuality, he understands what it is like to be unique and alone. Of course, he might have mentioned Perdita Weeks’ (The Tudors) thanatologist Catriona Hartdegen when they were studying all that Fallen Angel and Mother of Evil stuff. She’s a woman of occult science fencing and wearing pants who doesn’t blink at the thought of Dracula being in London. Her one on one scenes with Vanessa are well done with possible replacement or lover vibes, “It’s ‘Cat’ for you, as in cat o’ nine tails.’” Wink! She calls Malcolm “Sir M” and I would have liked to see more of them together, but Catriona’s style provides a steampunk cum The Time Machine and albeit meaningless potential. Her cool fighting skills are ultimately convenient and inexplicable – if we weren’t going to learn more then all these superfluous characters should have never been introduced.
We are however given some divine new characters with Patti LuPone returning to Penny Dreadful as Dr. Florence Seward – an alienist said to have distant Clayton ancestry due to her resemblance to LuPone’s previous cut-wife role. Though rigid and progressive, Seward is there to heal the ill, who aren’t bad or unworthy, just ill. She calls out every politeness or mannerism, pegging Vanessa’s loss, isolation, and depression in delicious two-hander scenes with award worthy dialogue and delivery. A moving session recounting Vanessa’s tale, however, makes the doctor strike up a cigarette. She refuses to believe the paranormal causes or that vampires are after her patient, but she does understand pain and has some murderous history of her own. Samuel Barnett’s (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency) seemingly innocent Renfield is Dr. Seward’s secretary, but his red light district cruising leads to bloody encounters and insect snacks. Where Penny Dreadful initially had to dance around the Stoker limitations, these superb character interpretations deserved more than this season’s rushed attention. Christian Camargo (Dexter) as zoologist and charming widower Alexander Sweet is a man smitten using rapid fire science references to woo Vanessa, but his reveal as Dracula is too darn early. This romance seemed so happy and Sweet is almost empathetic, but evil lurks in the House of Mirrors of all places! He doesn’t want Vanessa’s submission, just to be seduced by she, the Mother of Evil and serve her. Sadly, unraveling toppers instead go unresolved. After admitting he was directly responsible for Mina’s demise and all of Season One, Penny Dreadful lets Dracula exit stage right and we aren’t supposed to notice? What is worth noticing are the trains, dime western action, and steampunky flair alongside our usual penny blood, gore, buzzing flies, broken necks, and bat silhouettes. The cobwebbed and boarded manor opens the windows and clears the dust as the camera focuses on the period touches – vintage motion picture cameras, spectacles, brandy decanters, nibs, and ledgers contrast the hay, canteens, wagons, saw dust, and Native American motifs. The fashions are a little more modern, but the museums, taxidermy, skeletons, and specimens in jars invoke Victorian sciences amid the carriages, cobblestone, and tolling bells. Although some CGI backgrounds are apparent with a foreground actor and fakery behind, the desert vistas, mountains, and ranch compounds create bright lighting schemes to contrast the British grays, developing a unique style like nothing else on television.
Unfortunately, with NBC’s Dracula long gone, Crimson Peak’s less than stellar box office, and Penny lost too soon, the promise of more Victorian horror and a new dark romanticism appears short-lived. Whether the cast or Logan wanted to depart or Showtime disliked the production expenses, something behind the scenes was the final nail in Penny Dreadful‘s coffin. The two hour finale burned off the last episodes yet advertising promoting the event as a season finale later backtracked with the series’ fate. More merchandising opportunities never seemed capitalized upon, and there was little award campaigning. Having had Season One available on other streaming platforms might have helped the show find more audiences, however Penny Dreadful wasn’t available on Netflix until after its cancellation in a tidy Three Season binge package. The series’ props have been auctioned off, so it appears no one shopped Penny Dreadful to any other networks. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but in late 2015 while this Third Year was filming was also when Tom Cruise swept in to take over The Mummy and start Universal’s highly anticipated but ultimately D.O.A. Dark Universe monster revival. Did somebody squash the competition? Maybe it isn’t as simple as that, but I will always be skeptical of Logan and Showtime’s he said/she said claiming that this was always how Penny Dreadful was supposed to end. With new locales and more colorful literary characters among our beloved team, why couldn’t Penny Dreadful sustain itself? Previously, one could overlook any small inconsistencies because the sophisticated scares and morose design far outweighed any negatives. This season, however, becomes a chore to continue and is best left at Episode Four. After finishing Dexter and losing interest in Homeland and Ray Donovan, we’ve canceled our Showtime subscription since Penny is no more. There were other ways to do Penny Dreadful justice than this, well, what seems like internal sabotage, but gothic viewers shouldn’t let this rushed Season Three dampen what has otherwise been a stellar and macabre program.
Nancy Holder is a New York Times best-selling author. She has written over 100 short stories and over 80 novels, including tie-in books for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Smallville. She’s written YA novels with her writing partner Debbie Viguiè, and has written comic books, graphic novels, and pulp fiction for Moonstone Books. Currently, she works for Kymera Press and lives in San Diego.
Nancy is a charming and gracious lady. Recently, she chatted with me about horror, her new project, and Kymera Press.
NTK: Thank you for chatting with me, Nancy. I appreciate it.
NH: Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you for interviewing me.
NTK: Let’s talk about Kymera Press. How did you get involved with them?
NH: Some years ago (at least ten!) I was at a book signing at Dark Delicacies in Los Angeles, and I met a woman named Debbie Lynn Smith there. She had been a writer on the TV show, Touched by an Angel, and had decided to get her MFA in creative writing. (She was going to Stonecoast, the program at the University of Southern Maine. They were looking for an instructor who could teach horror, and I was interviewed and offered the position. Debbie was actually one of my students there.)
When she was working in Hollywood, Debbie ate tons and tons of microwave popcorn, and she developed a disease called Popcorn Lung. It is a horrible, hideous disease, and she sued Orville Redenbacher and WON. (She had a double lung transplant about seven months ago and is doing great.)
With her settlement, she decided to do something positive. So, she founded Kymera Press, which is an all-woman comic book company. All the writers and art team members are female. Her husband is the only full-time male staff member. She hired me to be one of her writers.
Debbie was interested in adapting the work of women Victorian horror writers, and for a while, we were going to do a big graphic novel of Frankenstein to celebrate the 200th anniversary of publication. But, there are a LOT of graphic novels about Frankenstein out there, and it was a huge, ambitious project. So, we returned to “Victorian” horror. We cover what is called “the long nineteenth century” in literature, covering from 1770-1910-ish. I suggested the series title, Mary Shelley Presents.
NTK: What authors do you plan to cover in these graphic novels?
NH: Right now they’re comic books, but they will be collected into graphic novel form. Debbie just returned from C2E2, which is a popular culture convention in Chicago, and librarians are eagerly waiting for us to collect them into hardback so they can order them.
Our first issue was “The Old Nurse’s Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell. Right now, the team is working on, “Man-size in Marble” by Edith Nesbit. I just turned in the revision of “The Case of Sir Alistir Moeran” by Margaret Strickland. BUT … the coolest part is that I am actively searching for stories by women who have been marginalized or never/rarely anthologized. For example, I’ve just had a Russian story translated. It’s by a woman who is very famous in Russia but very little of her work has been published. She is in the fourth issue. And, I’m looking forward to an anthology of work by Victorian women who lived in the British colonies.
NTK: Are you adapting all of the stories for the comic books?
NH: Yes, I’m adapting all the stories, and once the anthology of the colonial work comes out, I’ll adapt some stories by those women.
NTK: How often will the comics be released? Monthly? Bi-monthly? Quarterly?
NH: Right now, quarterly. Kymera has five series in production. They are: Dragons by the Yard, Ivory Ghosts, Pet Noir, Gates of Midnight, and Mary Shelley Presents.
NTK: You’ve written tie-in novels for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Teen Wolf, and many others. How did this background prepare you for adapting the stories to comic book form?
NH: Well, I’ve written a lot of comics and graphic novels for Moonstone Books, so I’m familiar with the form. I’ve also taught classes in writing for comics and graphic novels and edited them as well. So, I have a background there. But, to answer your question, what I’ve learned from writing so much tie-in fiction (and nonfiction) is that it’s important to figure out what it is about that property that fans love and focus on that. Or, to figure out what the heart of the story is, and “push” that.
For example, Buffy was strong and passionate. And, like Buffy, Scott McCall was trying to learn to lead—in his case, a pack of werewolves. She was the Chosen One; he was the Bitten One.
In the case of our comics, I look for the theme of the story. The heart of darkness, as it were.
In the first one, “The Old Nurse’s Story,” the theme is regret/remorse/redemption.
NTK: Getting back to Moonstone, you wrote many stories centered around Sherlock Holmes. How did that help you in adapting Victorian stories?
NH: I love Sherlock Holmes. I am a devoted Sherlockian. I belong to a Sherlock Holmes scion and am planning to join a couple of other ones.
I read a lot of what is called, “Neo-Gothic” literature, such as the novels of John Harwood.
A student from Stonecoast and I are planning to start a blog about the long nineteenth century after she graduates.
The story I just adapted takes place in 1916. I novelized the new Wonder Woman film which took place around then, so I’ve recently “seen” my time period. And, I’m watching Peaky Blinders right now, too.
Also, we provide information about the writer of the original story (and we include the text of the original story in the comic), and I try to read a biography of the author.
NTK: What Sherlock Holmes Scion do you belong to?
NH: I belong to the Sound of the Baskervilles. We just celebrated our 38th year as a scion (I only joined recently). We are Seattle/Tacoma based.
NTK: Do you research when you write? Is that how you discovered the women writers?
NH: I do a lot of research, and it was easy to find a few writers to start with. There are anthologies of Victorian women writers of the supernatural and Debbie recommended Margaret Strickland. She has an amazing eye for what will translate to comic book form. I suggested obtaining translations, and so this first one, the Russian one, is very exciting to us both.
Grady Hendrix, who just won a nonfiction Bram Stoker Award® for Paperbacks from Hell, also pointed me to another anthology that is going to be very helpful.
NTK: Are comic books difficult to write?
NH: To me, writing comics is very difficult, but it’s really, really fun. It’s a lot like writing film scripts/screenplays, except that it’s pretty much on me to explain and show everything, whereas a film script is like a blueprint. I think of my script as a letter to the art team.
You have to figure out how to show things very, very quickly and keep the reader interested. And, you have to keep to a fairly stringent number of pages and panels, and to think visually.
NTK: How many artists work with you when you write a comic?
NH: This is the art team: Artist: Amelia Woo, Letterer: Saida Temofonte, Colorist: Sandra Molina, Art Direction: Kata Kane, and covers by Amelia Woo. In the first comic, we had Color Separations by Alejandro Garcia, who was assisting Sandra. The Editor is D. Lynn Smith, and Paul Daughetee does our Graphic Design.
NTK: Did you read comics when you were younger? If so, what were your favorites?
NH: I read tons of comics when I was younger. I subscribed to most of the DC lines. Superman, Lois Lane, Aquaman, also Katy Keene. And, scary comics that scared me so much I turned all the covers over at night before I went to bed.
NTK: Did you read House of Mystery and the other DC Haunted House comics?
NH: I don’t remember the horror series titles. But, they scared the tar out of me.
NTK: What made you decide on Mary Shelley as the narrator of these comics?
NH: Well at Kymera, Debbie and I had thought about that big graphic novel of Frankenstein, and scratched that, but by then I had read a ton of stuff about Mary Shelley—a number of biographies, other work of hers, etc. So, I thought about using her as a sort of “Crypt Keeper” to introduce the stories. Each story opens with her and the Creature discussing how his story has made her immortal, but other women writers have not been so fortunate. So, Mary Shelley breathes new life into stories by women that are “long buried” or “gathering dust.” Also, we try to add a bit of detail about Mary Shelley herself.
I just went to Italy for two months and went to many of the places she visited in Rome and Florence, including Percy Bysshe Shelley’s grave and the headstone honoring their son, William. I also went to Cadenabbia on Lake Como, where she visited with her son and his college buddies. And, I went to Viareggio, near where Percy drowned.
NTK: What a fantastic idea using her as the “Crypt Keeper.” Are comics the source of your inspiration when it comes to horror? Is that how you got into the genre?
NH: That’s a great question. Like a lot of horror writers, I was always drawn to horror. Weirdly, I just remembered that the first horror movie I ever saw was James Whale’s Frankenstein, which I watched with my mom. I loved creepy stuff even though it scared me so badly I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I watched The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Kolchak: The Nightstalker—stuff like that. I think that’s how I got hooked.
NTK: You’ve come full circle.
NH: That’s true! I have come full circle! I never realized that.
NTK: Mary Shelley Presents debuted at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con. How was it received?
NH: It was a big hit at Comic-Con. I worked in the Kymera booth, and we sold lots of issues of all the series we had out. I also did a charity signing at the California Browncoats booth. (The Browncoats are fans of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, and I’m a Browncoat myself.) I usually sign for their charity drives if I’m at a con they’re at. I’ve signed at Comic-Con for them for years and years. So, I signed Mary Shelley Presents there, and we “sold out.”
I should also add that I did a Buffy Encyclopedia recently with my first editor, Lisa Clancy. (Lisa was the first to develop the Buffy publishing program, which was at Simon and Schuster at the time. She covered Angel, and I covered the Buffy show and all the comics—including Angel and Spike.) And, I covered the comic book canon. A TON of comics. Holy Moly.
NTK: What got you into writing the tie-ins? Was it the YA novels you wrote with Debbie Viguiè?
NH: No, I wrote tie-ins before I met Debbie. My first tie-in was a Highlander novel in 1997. Then, I started doing Buffy. I’ve also done Angel, Buffy/Angel crossovers, Wishbone, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Smallville, Saving Grace, Teen Wolf, Firefly, Kolchak, and Beauty and the Beast. I think that’s all of the TV shows. For films, I’ve novelized the new Ghostbusters movie, Crimson Peak, Hell Boy, and Wonder Woman. I’ve also written tie-ins for Zorro and Sherlock Holmes.
NTK: What else are you working on right now? What can we expect to see in the future?
NH: The new Firefly novel I wrote, Firefly: Big Damn Hero, will come out in October, and I’ll continue to work on Mary Shelley Presents. I have some short stories coming out, one of which is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche. And, I’ll be working in the booth at Kymera Press at San Diego Comic-Con.
NTK: What advice would you give a writer who may be interested in pursuing a career in comic books or graphic novelization?
NH: Advice: read! (I’m surprised by the number of newer writers who don’t read.) And, try to attend comic book/popular culture conventions, even small ones if you can’t make it to the biggies. The “sequential art” world is pretty small so it’s possible to network. Also, there are a number of great “how to write comics” books out: Scott McCloud is one of the standards, and Dennis O’Neil.
And, if you’re interested in horror, JOIN HWA!!!
NTK: Great recommendations, Nancy! Thank you for chatting with me. Before we part, could you tell the readers where they can get a copy of Mary Shelley Presents?
This is truly a labor of love for all of us at Kymera.
NTK: And, such vindication for a comic book company created by women.
NH: I love our art team. I’m so blessed.
This interview was published in the May 2018 edition of the Horror Writers Association Newsletter and is reprinted with Editor Kathy Ptacek’s permission.
Hello, Horror Addicts! Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz here again on video, braving the sunshine poolside to chat about why you should be revisiting some Classic Horror Reads this Summer!
Press play for some thoughts on Dracula, Anne Rice, Shakespeare, Stephen King, The Bronte Sisters, and more!
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The Munsters Uneven Second Season Still Full of Fun Treats
by Kristin Battestella
At once The Munsters seems like a short-lived show with two seasons worth of spooky shtick – if you’ve seen one episode with lovable monster Herman, vampire housewife Lily, The Count Grandpa mad scientist, unfortunately normal niece Marilyn, and little werewolf son Eddie then you’ve seen them all. However, with thirty-two episodes for the Second 1965-66 season, The Munsters both strays from its affable formula yet provides enough hair-brained fun for triple the time of today’s shorter, ten or thirteen episode seasons.
Lying down on the job, getting mistaken for a customer – The Munsters‘ funeral parlor jokes continue this season in “Herman’s Child Psychology.” The family gathers around the dusty organ for a sing a long and nice father and son moments turn into bemusing reverse psychology as peer pressure puts Eddie in a mini rebellion phase. It’s a simple premise, but this cool refresher even kids that these kinds of things are supposed to work on Leave it to Beaver. Likewise, everyone struggles to all fit on the couch for a family photo and end up victims of the powder poof in “Herman Munster, Shutterbug.” Lily knows Herman dabbling in photography will be botched somehow, and sure enough, the clan ends up humorously held hostage after Herman inadvertently snaps bank robbers in the act. Of course, the crooks can’t handle The Munsters at home, but Grandpa sides with Herman and Marilyn with Lily when the couple both secretly take second jobs to buy each other 1865 anniversary gifts in “Happy 100th Anniversary.” Not only do they scare the employment agency, but the two end up working side by side – but in their welding masks. Granted, The Munsters repeats on the moonlighting jobs, and gosh it sure was easy to get work for a week back then. However, parallel scenes, charming quips, mistaken hijinks, and men versus women in the same workplace combine for some preposterous, memorable laughter. Grandpa says the dripping with class Munsters must frighten the common man and that’s why they can’t get a renter for their guest room in “Lily’s Star Boarder.” Of course, jealous man of the house Herman objects to the idea, snoops, and jumps to a totally wrong conclusion about their secretive guest. Rather than a crooked swindle, here The Munsters smartly puts an outsider in the mansion and lets the happenstance ensue. Unfortunately, the court thinks Herman hitting his head and getting amnesia is a Candid Camera stunt in “John Doe Munster.” Lily and Grandpa must go to the adoption judge over comic book reading Herman – who doesn’t recognize his family. However, he does think Mrs. Munster is a cute cookie and is willing to go home with her if he gets his own TV set!
Meetings with the Mayor, creature sightings, and pesky reporters make for an interesting mix of humor and politics when Grandpa’s anti-voting machine and Spot’s running away clash in “Underground Munster.” Whispers of corruption, red tape, and a politician really throwing dynamite on the situation add to the race against the clock, and The Munsters gets better midway through the season as secret passages in the dungeon lead to the discovery of an old fort in “The Treasure of Mockingbird Heights.” Labels such as “playpen” and “hobby room” on the ye olde prison stocks delight Herman and Grandpa – not to mention the map to buried pirate treasure. After all, the boys agree such luck doesn’t happen to this kind of nice, normal family. Teamwork, humorous obstacles, surprises, and suspicions keep the two-hander cracks fun. Unfortunately, Eddie’s being bullied and Herman faces practical jokers at work in “Herman’s Peace Offensive.” While doing the right thing, not resorting to violence, proper parenting, and standing up to bullies are basic sitcom topics, The Munsters’ unique brand adds witty gags alongside parlor zest and father/son boxing gone awry. The lessons are learned – although innocent Herman mixes with horse racing bookies instead of discouraging Eddie from gambling in “Herman Picks a Winner.” Fred Gwynne also goes sans monster makeup after “disfiguring” stray lightning in “Just Another Pretty Face,” making for one of the most memorable Munster episodes. It’s Herman complete with all the same mannerisms, but the repulsed family takes him to the doctor and considers plastic surgery. Poor Herman feels Hollywood flashy in a regular suit and too embarrassed to go to the parlor, but his original Dr. Frankenstein blueprints and some mad scientist twists bring rectifying delights. Likewise, “Zombo” provides great horror within the horror as Eddie becomes obsessed with the titular host’s show – only to be shocked and disappointed at the behind the scenes fakery and “This is television” cardboard veneer. Here The Munsters uses the spooky bad horror expected of the era to wink at their own comedy as well as the still relatively new vogue of television.
Viewers also get to see more of the funeral parlor after Herman’s publication of “Going out to Pasture” in “The Mortician Monthly” for “Cyrano de Munster.” When he turns to ghost writing love letters for a co-worker and Lily finds out, well, The Munsters add its own spin on the familiar theme. And imagine, back then, one had to look up people’s addresses in the phone book! Dr. Frankenstein IV stops by in “A Visit from Johann,” and Gwynne does double monster duty again as the eponymous but less sophisticated Herman lookalike. Johann, however, escapes the dungeon and ends up on a switcharoo honeymoon weekend with Lily. Alas, it’s Herman ruining Grandpa’s go kart birthday gift for Eddie that brings the father and son-in-law to war in “A House Divided.” Booby traps and elaborate alarms lead to the divvy of mansion property with competing televisions, rival organ music, and newspaper squabbles. Instead of cruel crooks, the bemusing nasty stems from the territorial escalating, and rather than some kind of scam, the car accident victim of the jaywalking Herman tries to settle in “Herman’s Lawsuit.” Her lawyer sees their lifestyle and thinks The Munsters destitute, but the out of touch family doesn’t realize they are the ones being paid! The unplanned series finale “A Visit from the Teacher” sees Grandpa’s crazy invention to save electricity, Herman electrocuted while trying to fix the toaster, and Eddie’s school essay about his zany family – bemusingly summing up The Munsters in a little episode about nothing but them being themselves. Of course, the school officials think it is all just a disturbing fantasy until they end up trapped in the coffin phone booth, and The Munsters think it is nothing but plain old jealousy when others don’t appreciate their good-natured hospitality.
Generally, The Munsters’ episodes have a Munster moniker in their title, and the names of each half hour pretty much giveaway that show’s entire plot. However the titles aren’t shown in the episode’s credits this season, and Year Two is slow to start with the same unnecessary gimmicks and dancing bears. Repeat bank heists and people fleeing in super speed get old fast and detract from the family humor this show does best. Rather than takings cues from its own brand, The Munsters relies on too many then-references and jokes that will fall flat for audiences mid-century unfamiliar. Quoting other television shows in attempted self-awareness doesn’t work when the family themselves behave inconsistently and out of character from episode to episode. One and all happily go to the beach without negative comments on sunshine and nice weather, Herman says he never won an award when he just did win the episode prior – isn’t grilling wolf burgers a little cannibalistic? Dated stereotypes and an evil Russian trawler in “Herman the Master Spy” add to the unevenness in the first half of the season, almost as if the show doesn’t know what to do beyond putting the family in outlandish stunts such as “Bronco Bustin’ Munster.” Fun individual moments like Herman’s clumsy, house damaging, not so athletic grace in “Herman, Coach of the Year” are like every other sports episode, and attempted, ahead of their time comments on gay marriage, cross-dressing, and male to female body switches come off as woefully unsmooth. The hypnosis and hiccup gags in “Herman’s Sorority Caper” do enough alongside the drive-in showing “The Beast That Ate Lower New Jersey,” however, frat boys abducting Herman and sorority shower traps dampen the fun, and The Munsters often resorts to such dumb turns rather than fully embracing its potential for unique, spooky horror treats. “Big Heap Herman” piles on stereotypical Native American portrayals – with Native Americans complaining about their faux village tourism and putting on stereotypical Native American portrayals. There’s promise with tiny cabin births and little ladders for physical gags, but somehow it all comes down to two vampires walking through the desert. Say what?
He may speak a bit of Spanish and basic French, but Herman Munster’s family knows he is a big boob who can get lost on the way home and needs his inflatable sea horsey to go scuba diving. Herman wants to impress his family at all times and be their hero but still have time to catch up on Little Orphan Annie. He’s 152 and in the prime of his life yet afraid a hair cut will ruin his rugged Steve McQueen look. Herman falls for every trick in the book, as in “Herman, the Tire Kicker” when he uses his $375 bonus to inadvertently buy a hot lemon for Marilyn. However, he laughs at his own jokes, too – which makes Herman all the more lovable whether the pun is stellar or corny. In “Will Success Spoil Herman Munster?” Herman plays guitar and sings a song, leading to radio stardom that naturally gets the better of him. Gwynne’s simplest slapstick actions and solo physical humor are always good fun, and this season the majority of episodes focus on Herman. He only cracks the mirror twice and school professors take Herman for a missing link in “Prehistoric Munster,” but when offered a happy hour drink, he agrees to a hot fudge sundae with pecans on top – and kicks back four of them. Although I wish we saw more of him at the funeral parlor, about his work Herman says, “I really dig it.” When promoted to driving the Hearst for “Herman’s Driving Test,” he discovers his license expired 20 years ago, which means good old law abiding Herman has been driving almost the entire series without a license! Tsk tsk. Of course, Lily gets unnecessarily jealous and easily angry at Herman despite their long lasting marriage – she wore a black veil and held their wedding reception in the family mausoleum. They aren’t seen in that shocking double bed together as much, but Lily keeps herself classy with braids, a black parasol, and an old fashioned bathing suit at the beach. Her iconic dress actually changes quite a bit, but hello, tiara! Lily puts out her best bone china for guests and makes everyone’s favorite owl egg omelet brunch complete with bat milk yogurt, salamander salad, vulture livers, and cream of buzzard soup. Ever the loving aunt, she calls home from the movies to check on Marilyn – if only because the western movie massacre was disappointing thanks to all the fake blood. Lily paints, sculpts, and although she enjoys having the lights out and needing a candle during nighttime storms, she also want the television back ASAP. She gets very upset when Herman turns handsome – er gruesome and often lays down the law with her family. While early on Yvonne De Carlo doesn’t have much to do besides yell at Herman, Lily has her spotlight when late Cousin Wolverine sends The Munsters a 10,000 inheritance in “The Most Beautiful Ghoul in the World.” Lily and Marilyn open a beauty parlor to rival Grandpa and Herman’s latest experiment, however Lily’s Old World beauty techniques make regular folks’ heads turn – and sue Lily for disastrous results.
Fortunately, ever wise Grandpa says there’s no sense crying over spilled blood! Even without his crystal ball, he knows Herman will goof up his experiments or turn his well intended pills and potions into a family mishap. While Grandpa does antagonize Herman with cowardly taunts and experiments on him even when he runs out of anesthetic, they also look through old photo albums together and their mad scientist team ups do help…occasionally. Grandpa turns into numerous animals, disguises himself to fool Herman, and uses his trick index finger as a lighter or key. We don’t often see his pet bat Igor, but Grandpa plays checkers with a ghost – who won’t pay up when he loses – and has some interesting Tesla style energy, wireless, and lighting designs that unfortunately backfire. When not focusing on Herman The Munsters does seem more rounded this season with ensemble moments and great wisecracks from Al Lewis. Grandpa loves the operations on Dr. Kildare and thinks My Three Sons is a “weird fantastic adventure,” but he gets lassoed into his own scam when a wealthy widow is searching for him in “Grandpa’s Lost Wife.” The yacht and thoroughbreds were too good to be true, and Grandpa goes back to sitting at the kitchen table reading “Playghoul.” What kind of message is that for dear Eddie? He buries Grandpa in the sand at the beach, has a surfboard in the shape of a coffin, and picks up a new pet snake named Elmer. Eddie also wins a track race on his own despite Herman wanting to take coaching credit or Grandpa cheating with magic. He’s reluctant to take mystery potions to improve his organ lessons, and such tricks yield unintended jazz results when Eddie is forced to play the trumpet in “The Musician.” While Eddie remains a plot point or moral example as needed, Butch Patrick still generally appears at the dinner table or for a pet mention and then disappears until the end of an episode. For every stride The Munsters makes in giving him something to do, the gags still take over any character development. Sure, he slides down the banister with his Woof Woof or takes a pole to the kitchen and has cool stairs in his room. However, home from school trouble is told rather than seen, and the robot companion in “Eddie’s Brother” becomes more about Herman playing favorites. Unlike other sitcoms of the era, The Munsters never adds more children to its nucleus – but the series also should have paid more attention to the youth it had. I suspect they could have written Eddie out as off to boarding school or with relatives in Transylvania and the series wouldn’t have changed much.
Naturally, Pat Priest as Marilyn fairs little better, coming and going with off screen exposition despite providing sound advice amid the haywire. She listens to Lily’s this or that and has some funny moments with Grandpa – although the family whispers about what could have scared her pregnant mother into making her look like that. The Munsters have high hopes, however, making her dresses out of left over lining fabric from the funeral parlor and storing them in her hope chest made with cedar from the parlor’s “Forever Yours” casket model. When not helping in the kitchen and serving tea or sour lemonade, Marilyn stays home and studies rather than going out with the clan – but at least she has some scenes of her own and gets to say she is home for a big test instead of being name dropped as an afterthought. Why couldn’t Marilyn be the focus of the driving test episode? Even for her birthday in “The Fregosi Emerald” – complete with a cursed ring, sow’s ear purse, and a tarantula skin wallet with a picture of Herman inside it – Marilyn has the same old jinx and bad dates. Fortunately, she actually has a storyline of her own in “A Man for Marilyn.” Herman scares a boy by saying they would love to have him for dinner, but Grandpa turns a frog into a prince while Lily literally ropes in a passerby and dresses Marilyn up in a black lace wedding gown. After all, “Happy the bride the moon shines on, dear!” It’s a cute little episode that makes most of The Munsters’ built in Marilyn gag. This sophomore year there are also less guests with more self contained stories, but fun choice appearances nearer the end of the season include Dom DeLuise as Dr. Dudley, Harvey Korman again, Batman’s The Riddler Frank Gorshin, and mom Bonnie Franklin from One Day at a Time. John Carradine also returns as deadpan funeral director Mr.Gateman, telling “Mrs. M” he is in a gay mood and famous for his sense of humor – and he confesses that the parlor runs better without Herman.
The Munsters debuts new credits and a tricked out theme for Year Two, however the crash sound when Herman breaks through the front door is occasionally absent, and sometimes the show starts cold while other times a title card is presented. The volume is once again uneven, and some animal effects are better than others are. While make up and fashion changes are understandable, the special effects seem reduced this season, with less objects broken and cheaper looking travel facades, poor water and boat photography, silly rodeo footage, and seriously fake forestry. Fortunately, the Munster Mansion is less cobwebbed, making it just a little bit easier to see everything, including a new guest room with an upstairs candlestick phone that seems to be where Marilyn’s room was in the front gable. Herman and Lily’s master suite leads to the covered widow’s walk on the right of the house, and décor such as the trick knight at the top of the stairs, a growling tiger blanket, and a crooked, dusty “Home Sweet Home” sign set the quirky, quaint mood. That big house, however, has only has one bathroom hear tell. The cranky clock raven has a handful of snarky quips, but Kitty and its lion roar only appears a few times, erroneously as both a ginger and a black cat. However, sort of dragon, kind of dinosaur Spot and his tail are more visual this go round, with talk of him stealing car bumpers because he has an iron deficiency and other critical plot moments almost making him more important than Eddie! The pyrotechnics under the stairs come in handy grilling hot dogs, too, while the smoke, fog, and grayscale schemes keep the 1313 Mockingbird Lane lawn looking creepy fun for a nighttime dig. But hell, I want to open a shop with only $5,000 capital! And $20 bail? Hot damn. All the family’s ideas, information, and schemes come from their daily newspaper, too, and it’s easy to enjoy the nostalgia on The Munsters thanks to old laboratory gadgetry, flashbulb cameras, tape recorders, period radios, and giant bags of snail mail.
Strangely, Episode Seven “Operation Herman” is not included with The Munsters on Netflix. The doctoring may be unfunny, and Herman breaks the hospital rules to bring him Woof Woof when Eddie gets his tonsils removed, but even with the dose of laughing gas, it looks to be just a simple oversight rather than anything offensive. Streaming options, affordable series DVDS with perks, and retro reruns on networks like Cozi TV make it easy to catch The Munsters or the color follow up features Munster, Go Home and The Munsters’ Revenge. I am however hesitant to move on to the sequel series The Munsters Today. Despite running longer than The Munsters, I’m just too tepid about all that eighties neon! The Second Season of The Munsters starts with a lot of the same old same old. At times, the series seems out of steam and parodies its own parody with repetitive plots. Perhaps such simplicity is expected from a sixties show with so many episodes yet seemingly so few innate possibilities. Fortunately, The Munsters still has plenty of memorable delights in this second leg, and one and all can continue the creepy family fun marathon year round.
The Munsters Debut remains Macabre Good Fun
by Kristin Battestella
Meet the lovable and naive Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne) – a 150 year old green skinned Frankenstein’s monster – and his vampire housewife Lily (Yvonne De Carlo) along with their Grandpa Count (Al Lewis), unfortunately normal niece Marilyn (Beverly Owen, Pat Priest), and young werewolf son Eddie (Butch Patrick) in the 1964-65 Season One debut of The Munsters. Though often derivative, gimmicky, and of its time, The Munsters jam packs these first thirty-eight episodes with gags, wit, and slapstick brimming with Halloween mood.
Fittingly, “Munster Masquerade” begins The Munsters with young romance and cross culture social clashes. These high society dames are worried about misspelling “Munster as Monster,” but the titular kin think an uppity masquerade party complete with King Arthur and Little Bo Peep costumes is horrifying! The Munsters establishes its series tone and now familiar tricks early, however, such gags and reverse quips – we weren’t dug up last night, put the color back in your cheeks, not letting the lack of rain spoil the evening – are part of the spooky, for the laughs charm. One might not expect much in these short twenty-five minutes or less run times, but the horror tropes, sci-fi humor, and lighthearted morals are surprisingly well balanced. The Munsters may not realize what they are, yet they make a point of being kind because they know what creeps regular folks may be. As a redo of the previous two test pilots, “My Fair Munster” is almost a bottle episode of mean neighbors despite that Munster friendliness alongside rectifying Marilyn’s old maid status with Grandpa’s mistaken love potion. “Rock-A-Bye Munster” adds self-awareness with a trick television and mini Frankenstein’s monster toys, leading to a witty case of mistaken pregnancy and the birth of the Munster Koach. The robot is hokey and the clash with truant officers remains unrealistic, yet “Tin Can Man” provides great funeral jokes and fatal quips before Herman falls asleep in the backseat as their car is stolen for a bank heist getaway in “The Midnight Ride of Herman Munster.” His innocence ups the zany plot twists, as he is surprised they want to go to the bank at dawn – it’s too early to be open – and he won’t speed in a 25 miles per hour zone when they leave. Likewise “The Sleeping Cutie” piles on the hypnosis humor, a pill that turns water into gasoline, sleeping potions, and a suitor named “prince.” What could possibly go wrong? Instead of a night picnic in the cemetery, the family braves the fresh air so Eddie can camp like the other boys in “Grandpa’s Call of the Wild.” Naturally, the trip spells disaster for Grandpa – who brings his electric chair outdoors and almost ends up in the zoo. The clan teamwork continues in “All-Star Munster” when Herman is mistaken for a basketball star by redneck visitors misunderstanding the comparably well to do Munsters, and “Bats of a Feather” fully introduces the family pets – Kitty with its lion’s roar, Spot the dragon under the stairs, and that “spoiled bat” Igor. Hey, why isn’t their temperamental raven in the cuckoo clock considered for the pet fair? I protest.
Herman’s detective school moonlighting and fun disguises raise Lily’s jealous suspicions in “Follow That Munster,” and the lighthearted marital discord carries over in “Love Locked Out” when Herman is sleeping on the couch until both separately go to a marriage counselor for inadvertently competing advice. Eddie finally has a friend over in “Come Back, Little Googie” but he’s an insulting, nasty boy trying to trick everybody, providing for The Munsters special brand of cruel versus kind lessons. Relocating to Buffalo for Herman’s promotion in “Munsters on the Move” wouldn’t be a problem if they didn’t scare away potential home buyers – literally! Unfortunately, life insurance crooks are trying to kill Herman with on set accidents in “Movie Star Munster,” but such stunts don’t hurt him, forcing them to up their risks. Granted, there are scams like this practically every other episode on The Munsters – Herman always signs some kind of terrible contract in a quest for fame and fortune. However, the escalating trappings here are mad fun, and although diva Herman may be dumb enough not to read the fine print, but I’ll be darn he isn’t doing a scene if he doesn’t feel the character’s motivation! Fashion shows faux pas, a disastrous golf course, and snooty club members give everyone their moment in “Country Club Munsters” – complete with hatred and veiled statements reminding The Munsters how such bigoted people aren’t up to their kindly standards. “Love Comes to Mockingbird Heights” sees the family working both for and against a cad banker making moves on Marilyn just for the Munster gold, and say hey, Uncle Creature from the Black Lagoon pays a visit before a hilarious museum excursion leaves Herman locked in a sarcophagus for “Mummy Munster.” Women in the workplace jealousy anchors “Lily Munster, Girl Model,” and ridiculously fun Nutcracker spins and pirouettes have the whole family in on the magic act for “Munster the Magnificent.” Herman making friends and helping a little boy in “Yes, Galen, There Is a Herman” accents The Munsters with slightly serious Frankenstein movie parallels, and the eponymous boy’s disbelieving family takes him to a psychiatrist. Sure, today it is creepy the way Uncle Herman picks up a boy on the street and takes him back to his dungeon to watch Grandpa’s home movies, but the wink within a wink embracing fantasy versus destructive reality makes for a fine little finale on The Munsters debut.
Of course with so many episodes, The Munsters certainly has a few clunkers including the bickering couple using The Munsters for their own gain in “Pike’s Pique” and the shocking townsfolk reactions and presumed to be celebrating Halloween excuses in “Family Portrait.” The harp and phonograph of “Far Out Munsters” are fun, as is the irony of The Munsters liking The Beatles despite being initially too old fashioned for rock n roll – “You know, they’re almost as good as Kate Smith!” However, although the Beatniks invading Mockingbird Heights accept The Munsters as all right, the capitalizing Fab Four covers miss the mark along with the ham radio and mistaken aliens of “If a Martian Answers, Hang Up.” Too many stunt episodes in a row like “Herman the Rookie” complete with Dodgers guest stars and get rich quick schemes like the desolate timeshare of “Herman’s Happy Valley” feel like we’ve seen this same old already. You don’t have to watch The Munsters in order, but when one tunes in for every episode, you know what you’re going to get. With so many one trick ponies, it’s somewhat amazing The Munsters lasted as long as it did, and the series also has numerous inconsistencies. The make up stylings are redesigned in the earlier episodes, and even the credits change halfway through this first season with Fred Gwynne moving from his last “and” billing to first. The juvenile crank speed running away in horror exits get old fast, and bungling cop jokes suggest more than a hint of Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis’ prior series Car 54, Where are You? The vampires on The Munsters adhere to no traditional undead rules, and how do a vampy wife and a monster man end up with a werewolf son, anyway? Throwaway dates, locations, and relations change from episode to episode with no clear show bible logistics. It’s no fun seeing so called regular folks trying to swindle the family, yet The Munsters relies on too many of these scam sitcom scripts when that contrast isn’t necessary compared to the titular topsy turvy perspective. Fifty years on, some jokes and pop culture references may not be understood by today’s audiences, and it is unfortunately very surprising to hear terms like wetback and gyp or Romani jokes alongside woeful Asian stereotypes in what is such a beloved and otherwise family friendly show. Honestly, I’m surprised these rare but jarring moments weren’t edited out for the video release.
Sure he works at a funeral parlor, however Herman Munster is a normal guy who wants his idyllic mid century family to be safe. So what if he’s a dunce at his might and stomps his foot when he doesn’t get his way. “Fiddlesticks!” is Herman’s go to exclaim, especially when he’s late for the carpool that picks him up in the back of the parlor’s Hearst – and he’s ticklish, too. Herman may crack the mirror – literally – but he’s more worried about his bills than being mistaken for the misspelled monster in the headlines crook of “A Walk on the Mild Side.” Always concerned about money, Herman tries a disastrous laundromat job in “Herman’s Raise” as well as wrestling on the weekends for extra cash in “Herman the Great.” However, he’s simply too sweet to be ruthless against the cheating competition. Herman won’t disobey a “Don’t Walk” sign but blows up the signal when he presses the button! Gwynne excels in solo physical humor scenes with few words as in “Dance With Me, Herman,” and he plays a suave lookalike in “Knock Wood, Here Comes Charlie” complete with a British accent and monocle. Fearful, finger pointing mobs may be played for laughs on The Munsters, but Herman makes sure his kin isn’t involved with the nasty folks in town, and more looking through the window Mary Shelley motifs are made humorous when Herman tries dieting at Thanksgiving in “Low-Cal Munster.” Herman and his wife Lily sit on the couch together and read, rock on the porch together during a storm, have a beach date on a rainy day, and – gasp – sleep in the same bed! Lily’s pussycat is more handsome than that unfortunate Cary Grant in her eyes. Although the family fears her wrath and she does get annoyed at his bungling when Herman and Grandpa are mistaken for burglars in Halloween masks in “Don’t Bank on Herman,” Lily easily forgives. She’s a good mom, too – sewing Eddie’s doll and raising Marilyn despite her niece’s “flaws.” Lily cleans nine rooms and a dungeon, vacuums with a vacuum set to exhaust the dust, and cooks oatmeal, pancakes, and Herman’s favorite cream of vulture soup. She plays the harp, sleeps with her namesake flower, and in “Herman’s Rival,” the 137 years young nee Dracula does palm readings at the local tea room. Although her white hair streaks and make up design varies at times, Yvonne De Carlo (The Ten Commandments) is always delightful thanks to bat necklaces, a werewolf stole, tiaras, iconic gowns, sparkling taffeta coffin capes, and “Chanel No. 13.”
Likewise, Al Lewis is all in good fun as that charming 400 year old widower Grandpa. The Count – known to turn into a wolf himself – has a werewolf son named Lester and still loves him some ladies despite having had over one hundred wives and falling for a mail order bride scam in “Autumn Croakus.” Occasionally, Lewis breaks the fourth wall, and these talking to himself asides or sight gags add self-aware wit. Grandpa hangs upside down in the living room, takes his eggs night side up, and roots against the Angels. Yes, there are a lot of hammy Dracula cliches on The Munsters – Grandpa’s cape and widow’s peak alone – but there is always a lovable quip or two to match his cool basement laboratory, potions, wacky inventions, and the latest money making scheme up his sleeve. Grandpa watches television and soap operas are his favorite comedy, but he has a naughty streak, too – tempting Herman with trick pens or food when he can’t eat. Unfortunately, their bemusing bromance does suffer in “Grandpa Leaves Home” when the feeling unloved Count runs off to perform in an ill-received magic club act. Grandpa’s tricks aren’t as good as they used to be, and such endeavors always have hair-brained results on The Munsters. Child star Butch Patrick’s Eddie hangs with his Grandpa the most, helping him in the dungeon when he’s not howling at the moon or playing in the fireplace, that is. Wolf look and all, “Edward Wolfgang Munster” is a gosh darn cute little boy with his little short pants, knee socks, pointed ears, and Woof Woof doll. He’s so tiny beside the seven foot Herman and no bigger than the golf bag when he caddies for his dad! Fortunately, his small stature means Eddie can hide in the cabinet or other fun places, and he has a pet door where one can deliver his bedtime glass of milk. Although he plays baseball with the other kids, they often don’t believe his stories about the Munster household – which unfortunately seem to happen mostly without Eddie. I’m glad The Munsters isn’t Eddie-focused in a Beaver Cleaver gone Halloween fashion, and the series was in fact envisioned as a parody on Leave it to Beaver by producers Joe Donnelly and Bob Mosher. However, Patrick often only has one scene even when the episode’s premise starts with him, and he’s most often seen with his back to the camera at the family table. “Eddie’s Nickname” is his only centric episode, but we do get to see his room in detail alongside nice father and son time and some moral lessons. Besides, today he would have a far worse nickname then “Shorty.”
She’s supposed to be Lily’s sister’s daughter, yet Marilyn’s mother is never mentioned by Lily or Grandpa, and her last name is still somehow Munster. Yeah. It’s somewhat sad that The Munsters’ normal blonde niece is so underdeveloped that the Beverly Owens to Pat Priest casting change in Episode 14 is almost completely unnoticeable. The Munsters does at least make good use of Marilyn’s repeatedly scaring away dates right from the start, and each unsuitable suitor gone is for the better as far as her Aunt Lily and Uncle Herman are concerned. The family pities her for being so “ugly” or “hopeless” and think she looks better with the bags under her eyes when she can’t sleep. They insist she stay in school and get an education because she’s only going to get a boy to like her for her brain! Marilyn does get a kiss in “Love Comes to Mockingbird Heights” – where we see her girly bedroom inside the left gable of the Munster Mansion complete with floral wallpaper, a canopy bed, and dainty furniture which Herman finds “distasteful.” Though never shown having plots or hobbies of her own and mentioned as being off studying when not included, Marilyn is briefly seen playing the organ and being Herman’s talent show magician’s assistant. She doesn’t desperately fall for every wolf on the make, either, and can tell when someone is suspicious. Most of Marilyn’s scenes, however, are with Lily, and it’s apparent the character really only exists as a soundboard for the wife at home. Like Eddie, Marilyn has one scene and few lines per episode. On the rare occasion they are alone onscreen, the cousins are still talking about others rather than having stories of their own. Marilyn has one shtick and one shtick alone, but it is a fun one, and the would-be con artists who knock on The Munsters’ door deserve to find this innocent and demure decoy. For sure, The Munsters has its fair share of famous and recognizable guests including postman John Fielder (The Bob Newhart Show) and Bewitched’s Paul Lynde in several episodes as Dr. Dudley. Batman’s Commissioner Gordon Neil Hamilton is here, too, with Bill Mummy (Lost in Space), Pat Buttram (Green Acres), Barbara Babcock (Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman), Harvey Korman (The Carol Burnett Show), Don Rickles, and more. I must say, I would have certainly watched a spinoff featuring John Carradine as Herman’s undertaker boss Mr. Gateman!
Although the drag racing creation of the Dragula roadster in “Hot Rod Herman” will conflict with the later Munster, Go Home movie plots and a regular car driven by an unseen ghost is seen only once early on, the aforementioned Munster Koach is always good fun. Likewise, the cowabunga theme music remains as memorable as the always recognizable Munster Mansion – a great television house that has appeared in other films and television shows such as The ‘Burbs and Desperate Housewives yet continues to inspire builders who want to live at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Sure, the kitchen is kind of drab. The décor is too derelict trashy and hellllooo dust mites rather than fancy Gothic sophistication – at Halloween one always strives for the latter and ends up with the former! However, that candlestick phone in the indoor coffin phone booth is yes please, and let’s throw in some nostalgic bells and whistles such as that $2 with a 50 cent tip taxi cab fee for good measure. Secret passages, creaking doors, and cobwebs spook up The Munsters as do phonographs, candelabras, cool spell books, and creepy potion ingredients. I wish the series had been in color – if The Munsters had lasted for a third year on CBS in the 1966-67 season, it could not have remained black and white. Thankfully, the smoke, fog, bubbling cauldrons, poofs of dust, and objects moving by themselves benefit from the eerie grayscale palette while setting the spooky Halloween funhouse atmosphere. Although the uneven sound is perhaps understandable, the laugh track and cutesy music effects feel like an intrusive insecurity today. The Munsters is a funny show, and the audience gets the puns a minute without the canned response – and we prefer our own spontaneous chuckles to being told we are too dumb to know good comedy when we see it. The pet jokes are much more fun on The Munsters thanks to some surprisingly not bad special effects. Not only are those opening stairs cool, but Spot’s flames and pyrotechnic gags, Kitty’s lion roar, wolf or animal filming, and bemusing bat work accent the horror humor. As to that grouchy cuckoo clock raven voiced by Mel Blanc…want!
All the mid-century so-called fantasy sitcoms have their gimmicks, and The Munsters is at once of its time with simplistic plots, stock character tropes, and lighthearted happy family motifs in costumed dressings. Too many episodes in a row can be tiring or annoying when every half hour seems the same. Fortunately, the very affordable Complete Series DVDs add to the fun with actor spotlights, behind the scenes features, unaired pilots and color versions – treats not available on current retro channel airings or streaming options. The Munsters uses every trick at its disposal to crank out its weekly humorous horror wheelhouse, and ironically, any derivative hang ups also make this debut easy to marathon for a weekend. Viewers can pay attention or casually tune in for the best gags or leave Herman, Lily, and the gang on to occupy the kids. Let the delightful family frights of The Munsters Season One play for a harmless party or Halloween mood any time of year.
Latest Victor Frankenstein Unfortunately Disappointing
by Kristin Battestella
I had hoped Gothic dramatizations and Victorian horror were making a comeback. Unfortunately, with the cancellation of Penny Dreadful, the less than welcoming reception of Crimson Peak, and the disappointing result of the 2015 Victor Frankenstein, the potential for dark romanticism and steampunk gone macabre trends seems over before it could really start.
The hunchbacked Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) is rescued from the cruel circus and healed by the visionary but radical Doctor Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy). Dismissed from his medical college, Victor is reanimating small subjects and intends to create life with a new man-made cadaver. Unfortunately, Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott) is following the gruesome trail back to Victor, and he objects to Frankenstein’s amoral and godless plans – which need Igor’s raw medical talents to be completed.
Victor Frankenstein is slow to start with more telling than showing when the waxing on man versus monster making could all be seen rather than told. These talkative delays underestimate the audience, compromising atmospheric immersion and period mood with “little did I know” narrative breaks. Where’s the Victorian carnival flair and underlying horror? Victor Frankenstein has a unique angle on this oft told tale, but the action is styled for the cool circus escape with unnecessary slow motion and leaping over a box being highlighted as more important than freakish servitude and characters in peril. Viewers can see Victor observing Igor reading medical texts – we can feel the characters if you let us instead of cutting corners with fast moving dialogue, hectic editing, and shaky camerawork. Victor Frankenstein isn’t really sure how it wants to present itself because the required flashy becomes more important the the man versus nature, man versus man, and man versus himself horror possibilities. Mischievous animal part thefts and science montages happen quick with little time to enjoy the mad science. Of course, Victor Frankenstein isn’t true horror, yet the soft romantic scenes and rags to riches drama feels at odds with the macabre. Debates on magic and superstition versus emerging science and technology make for better drama alongside failed science presentations and medical mistakes letting us know where each character stands. Although the hissing monkey prototype has some creepy moments and could be a sinister step to the monster making, these scenes come off as a laughable detour. Real science probables such as two hearts and four lungs and numerous design montages become too busy, hindering the grossly fantastic and the character drama. Is Victor Frankenstein about Victor’s mad descent or Igor’s misused intelligence? If this is about Victor’s coming to this ghastly point, the story should begin before his experiments and conclude with the onset of his creation. If Victor Frankenstein really is about Igor’s role in the monstrosity, then the science should be nearer completion. Instead, Victor Frankenstein meanders for over an hour before London on the lamb and double crossings throw more wrenches into the quick monster finish. Past reasons why come too late, and tacked on narrations do nothing to explain what Victor Frankenstein is about beyond an opening ending in hopes of a sequel.
With his slick ‘stache and Victorian finery, James McAvoy (X-Men: Apocalypse) looks the titular mad scientist with an ulterior reason for inspiring Igor. Arrogant Victor thinks he’s too intelligent, admitting he prefers his vanity to being called a criminal and will speak slowly when talking to lesser people. Victor gets too far ahead of himself in belittling believers, life, and theology. He’s too excited over his own experiments and uses a fast talking wit to confuse others into not questioning his brilliance. Unfortunately, this flippant, condescending double talk effect is exactly how the audience feels when watching Victor Frankenstein. It’s more interesting to see Victor educate and raise Igor almost like he would do the monster. He doesn’t care about charity just control – Victor needs Igor’s talent to finish his life and death projects while he takes the credit. He fixes Igor’s hump in a gross, back cracking pinning while sucking the fluids out through a tube in one erroneously forced and homophobic scene, and comedic dialogue perceiving them as friends jars against the feeling superior Victor using Igor for his own devious ends. We meet Victor Frankenstein after the doctor has already left any morality questions behind and made his leap to madness, leaving what could have been an intriguing science versus soul debate as stubbornly unlikable assery. Victor’s motivation is revealed too late and very little consequences follow his actions. McAvoy is left doing more shouting than anything creepy, and his Scottish accent bleeds through into a not necessarily British, just toned down affectation akin to the meh at hand.
Fortunately, Daniel Radcliffe’s (Harry Potter) Igor is developed as a real assistant rather than an idiot in Victor Frankenstein. Despite learning nothing but cruelty from people as a circus hunchback, Igor is also a self-educated amateur doctor who cleans up nice and tries to remain loyal thanks to Victor’s kindness toward him. Of course, this Victor Frankenstein can’t be told wholly from Igor’s perspective as promised when he is absent from several scenes and critical information is given without him. Igor’s narration also comes and goes – oddly returning for his moon eyes over a girl when the fantastic science is afoot. Igor is also able to run, swim, and scale a rock cliff just by putting on a back brace after having spent a lifetime as cripple…okay. Staying entirely in Igor’s point of view would have helped Victor Frankenstein tremendously as his voiceovers or journaling montages could explain the number of weeks or months passing while giving the audience his private observations on the increasing madness. Instead, Igor flip flops too much to be the viewer’s anchor and changes his tune on Victor’s plans – first he’s reluctant to proceed due to a financial deadline and wants to discuss the peril of creating man in his own image but then he feels obligated to Victor for giving him life thanks to metaphoric contrivances. Igor knows the jealous Victor has become an embarrassment, used him, and interfered with his romance. However, the two hearts and two brothers parallels between bad Victor and good Igor seem more important that Igor’s fresh perspective, and the idea of Victor being a positive benefactor raising up life through Igor ends up too muddle to save Victor Frankenstein. However, the hunchback does get the girl in a hammy but surprisingly not exploitive sex scene. How often can you say that?
The supporting players in Victor Frankenstein sadly also serve as little more than stereotypes, including Jessica Brown Finlay as the pretty acrobat turned beard Lorelei. Despite potential for a would be love triangle, Finlay only appears in a handful of scenes looking too modern, out of place, and too small in her swimming costumes – and it’s all so odd because she was so good on Downton Abbey. Lorelei is merely used as a brightly color standout when some symbolism is necessary before inexplicably disappearing for the finale. While Andrew Scott’s (Sherlock) Turpin is a shrewd inspector not falling for Victor’s spin, the intriguing idea of his pursuit of Frankenstein for religious beliefs rather than legal prosecution is dropped for a standard case of lawman with manpain. Scott also feels either out of his depth or too much for the material, for his scenes seem like they come from another movie. Turpin may also loose an eye or hand at some point – but he ends up still having them both later anyway. Whoopsie! Elder Frankenstein Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) does add an element of stern class in his sacrilegiously short screen time. One frigging scene! The Baron gives Victor a good talking to with a well-deserved chastising and slap, and Victor Frankenstein needed much more of these father and son aspects.
Victor Frankenstein has sweeping Victorian scene setters with colorful circus tents, exterior facades, and zooming in entries – and viewers can tell it is all unnecessary CGI. What’s happening under the circus tent and inside the laboratory are cool enough thanks to nighttime gaslight glows, crackling electricity, and large gears. Up close foggy streets, bleak hospital interiors, and horse drawn carriages accent more alongside period medical sketches, Victorian zoos, steam gizmos, disembodied eyes, and more creepy specimens in green tanks. Mirrors and reflections mimic the duality in Victor Frankenstein, and overlaying anatomy lines, diagrams, body labels, and human schematics do better than any trite slow motion. Unfortunately, the mad science blueprints are used onscreen early, then dropped for most of the picture until the final monster design montage – almost to cop out on not actually showing any of the monster work. Daylight scenes in Victor Frankenstein reveal the color, costumes, golden rooms, and would be splendors of the time like heat and running water, but the bare minimum period setting remains Victorian light rather than fantastic steampunk. Top hats, a crinoline, and a few big skirt twirls don’t hit home the costumes, and modern tattoos can be see when wearing those strapless gowns. Victor Frankenstein never even says the year, and despite its obviously expensive intentions, this feels low budget messy and unfinished. Stormy, gloomy Scottish atmosphere comes too late in the final act – where the raising of the monster is an orchestration in action set pieces followed by a spectacular destruction. All that fiery, confusing hurrying and Victor Frankenstein limps into over five minutes of credits with little to show for it.
This not a horror movie nor a character drama, but Victor Frankenstein isn’t really science fiction and has no fantastic to its creation either. The rush to be modern cool or more Hollywood than nineteenth century British sacrifices any Gothic feeling, and the condensed script or production changes on the fly lack period finesse. It’s tough to view Victor Frankenstein as what it is but rather what it could have been, and the cast, setting, and story deserved better. While serviceable for audiences who haven’t seen any other Frankenstein adaptation, Victor Frankenstein makes older audiences appreciate the panache of the Hammer Frankenstein films all the more. If you’re looking for the book you won’t find it – like a game of telephone, Victor Frankenstein starts with Mary, passes through Universal, and quotes Young Frankenstein before this disappointing result that never takes its original possibilities to the next level.
Deadline: April 17, 2017
In the summer of 1816, in response to a challenge from friends to write the most terrifying possible ghost story, the young Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley dreamed up the story of a young scientist and his monstrous creation. The “Frankenstein monster” has fascinated the imagination ever since.
In conjunction with the ASU Frankenstein Bicentennial Project, Creative Nonfiction magazine is daring writers (as Mary Shelley was dared in Geneva) to write original and groundbreaking stories in the spirit of Frankenstein—but nonfiction. That is to say, we’re looking for true stories that explore humans’ efforts to control and redirect nature, the evolving relationships between humanity and science/technology, and contemporary interpretations of monstrosity.
Essays must be vivid and dramatic; they should combine a strong and compelling narrative with an informative or reflective element and reach beyond a strictly personal experience for some universal or deeper meaning. We’re open to a broad range of interpretations of the “Frankenstein” theme, with the understanding that all works submitted must tell true stories and be factually accurate. Above all, we’re looking for well-written prose, rich with detail and a distinctive voice.
Creative Nonfiction editors and a judge (to be announced) will award $10,000 and publication for Best Essay and two $2,500 prizes and publication for runners-up. All essays will be considered for publication in the winter 2018 issue of the magazine.
Guidelines: Essays must be previously unpublished and no longer than 4,000 words.
A note about fact-checking: Essays accepted for publication in Creative Nonfiction undergo a rigorous fact-checking process. To the extent your essay draws on research and/or reportage (and it should, at least to some degree), editors will ask you to send documentation of your sources and to help with the fact-checking process. We do not require that citations be submitted with essays, but you may find it helpful to keep a file of your essay that includes footnotes and/or a bibliography.
There is a $20 reading fee. To find out more, go to: Dangerous Creations
Origninally published January 1, 2011…. A short suggestion of Classic Horror Books… Maybe you are looking for something “new” to read for the coming fall… Check out these titles have you read them all?
With the topic for episode 54 of Horror Addicts being classic horror. It would be easy to just mention Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein or maybe Edgar Allen Poe or H.P. Lovecraft. I thought it would be more fun to find some lesser known classics. If your willing to look for them you will find these for free online.
One book I found was Varney the Vampire or The Feast of Blood by James Malcom Rymer. Though in some places the author for Varney the Vampire was given as Thomas Preskett Prest. Both James and Thomas wrote several books in the mid 1800’s and they introduced the world to Sweeney Todd in a book called The String of Pearls in 1847.
The Feast of Blood was a serialized gothic horror story which was released in a series of penny dreadfuls between 1845 and 1847. The story is about a vampire named Varney and the troubles he brings to a family called the Bannerworths. As the story moves along Varney is shown as a sympathetic character. He was cursed to be a vampire after accidentally killing his son in a fit of anger. He is either killed or commits suicide several times in the book but always comes back to life and is doomed to feed on the blood of the living for eternity.
Varney The Vampire was published as a book in 1847 and totals about 667,000 words. Varney was a major influence on vampire fiction, he has fangs, hypnotic powers and super human strength but he is able to walk in daylight and is not afraid of crosses. This book is one of the inspirations for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Another book that inspired Dracula is The Vampyre by John William Polidori. This story was written during the same period as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Authors Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, John Polidori, Claire Clairmont and Percy Shelley were staying at the Villa Diodati in the summer of 1816. It was rainy and to pass the time the five of them wrote stories.
This book was released in 1819, the story revolves around a young Englishman named Aubrey who meets a man named Lord Ruthven. Aubrey soon realizes that everywhere Lord Ruthven goes people end up mysteriously dying. Lord Ruthven is not a traditional vampire but several comparisons can be made between Lord Ruthven and Count Dracula.
A third book I found was The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. This is a book from 1898 about a haunted house in England. The story follows a boy named Miles who was just expelled from a boarding school. When he returns home he brings along two ghosts that terrorize Miles and the rest of the people that live in the house.
Some other books I found was The Book of Were-wolves by Sabine Baring-Gould This book contains several old myths and short stories that pertain to shape shifters. This book may not be a traditional classic but its all older stories about werewolves and I love werewolves so I wanted to include it here.
The last book I wanted to mention was Brood of the Witch Queen by Sax Rohmer. The story follows a man named Dr. Bruce Cairn who is using mind control to get people to kill for him. This pulp novel was written in 1918 by the same author who created Dr. Fu Manchu.
New York City is a place where you can meet all kinds of people. In Terry M West’s Night Things: Dracula versus Frankenstein, New York is also home to vampires, werewolves, zombies and other odd creatures, who are referred to as the night things. Night things walk the streets with humans but they don’t have the same rights that we have. Dracula has plans to change that though and not in a good way. He is rallying the night things and his goal is to destroy all of humanity.
That’s where Frankenstein comes in, he has been living as the king of New York under the name of Johnny Stücke and he runs the city’s criminal underworld. Dracula and Frankenstein have been enemies for years and Frankenstein doesn’t like the idea of living in a world of Night things and humanity being destroyed. A war is about to begin between the world’s most famous monsters and it may be a heroin addict that is the deciding factor in who wins.
Every once in a while a book comes along that reestablished my love for the horror genre and Night Things: Dracula versus Frankenstein is that book. This is a short book but it packs a lot into it. The beginning starts in the distant past showing a time when Dracula and Frankenstein were friends and you feel a certain amount of sympathy for both characters as you see how they react to a world that neither one fits into. Then we flash forward to the present and see how much the characters have changed and you get a different feel for what they are in the present. Once you’re get invested into the two monster’s stories we get introduced to a third main character, a heroin addicted monster porn movie director named Gary.
At this point you start to think there is way to much going on but Terry makes it work. While this is a self-contained novella, Terry has created his own mythology based on established monsters and has had a few other stories in this universe, most notably: Monsters in the Magic Now. I love the concept of monsters living out in the open and everyday people having to deal with them. The most interesting character in the book is Gary who has to face a personal demon in heroin. He also has to live with the consequences of his hatred for monsters and is forced to change his ways when Dracula kidnaps his daughter. One of my favorite scenes in this book is when Gary has a run in with his ex-wife who is now a ghost.
There is actually a good message about the evils of discrimination and racism in this book. Though rather than being preachy,the message is part of a horror story about living in a world of supernatural creatures. Night Things: Dracula versus Frankenstein is beyond brilliant. Even the villains are likeable because you see them as monsters just being monsters. They’re not evil they are trying to survive, which leads us to a perfect ending with one of the characters becoming a totally changed monster by the end. Terry M. West knows what horror fans want and he delivers in this book.
Night Things: Dracula versus Frankenstein coming in March!
In a world where every creature of legend has stepped forward from the shadow to exist shoulder to shoulder with humankind, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein meet for a final showdown.
New York City has become a macabre melting pot. Vampires, werewolves, zombies and ghouls are now the new immigrants and they are chasing the American dream. The Night Things have become part of the system. But many humans feel the creatures are dangerous ticking time bombs.
Night Things: Dracula versus Frankenstein is a new novel by Terry M. West. It features a battle between the biggest icons of horror in a world gripped with fear over the Night Things. The fate of the Night Things and humanity itself hangs in the balance of this monumental confrontation.
The Magic Now universe began with the book, Monsters and the Magic Now. Here are some review blurbs for that book:
“A grippingly twisted saga. West depicts this macabre world with style and dark humor.”-Bram Stoker Award® winner Lucy Taylor
“Only Terry M. West could spin a tale so dark and brutal and still make it transcend horror and become a work of literary craftsmanship.”-Kevin Lintner, SANITY’S GRAVEYARD
“Equally disturbing and powerful.”-Bob Milne, BEAUTY IN RUINS
“[Monsters and the Magic Now] is a nightmare on acid. It is beautiful, deep and sad.”-Heather Omen, THE HORROR NATION
“One of the most powerful and disturbing- yet incredibly entertaining things- I have read in decades. “-Michael Donner, Captain Creeper
“[Monsters and the Magic Now] is a super edgy, blood-thirsty tale that made me uncomfortable and left me wanting more. I love this story!”-Zachary Walters, THE MOUTHS OF MADNESS PODCAST
“What true horror is all about.”-SCARLET’S WEB
“Terry M. West has created an unnerving horrific masterpiece!”-GEEKDOM OF GORE
“I cannot overstate this: Horror fans looking for something truly original that will get under their skin need to read [Monsters and the Magic Now].”-author DS Ullery
“The story is full of dark places inhabited by dark characters – both in human and monster form.”-Stuart Anderson, The 5th Dimension
Critically-acclaimed horror author Terry M. West continues his Magic Now series with this standalone novel that presents a world only a slight shade darker than our own.
Pleasant Storm Entertainment, Inc. will release Night Things: Dracula versus Frankenstein onMarch 18th, 2016 in Kindle and paperback versions. Dracula will grace the Kindle cover while Frankenstein will be featured on the paperback edition. An audio-book will follow. It is available now for pre-order at this universal book link: http://bookShow.me/B019SFEHQK
****Terry M. West is a filmmaker, author and Active member of the HWA. He was a finalist for two International Horror Guild Awards and he was featured on the TV Guide Sci-Fi Hot List. He has been at it since 1997, but recent years have seen a strong rise in his popularity. His website: www.terrymwest.com****
Penny Dreadful Season 2 is Again a Macabre Good Time
by Kristin Battestella
Penny Dreadful’s sophomore year opens with a recap of the the Showtime series’ debut before picking up the Gothic sophistication right where we left off – this time with ten episodes of scorpions, witches, monsters, and devils.
Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) is attacked by a group of Nightcomer witches led by Madame Kali (Helen McCrory), but ex-gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) protects Vanessa along with Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) – whom Madame Kali pursues romantically. Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) helps translate a mysterious demonic tale written on a monk’s relics alongside Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), but Frankenstein is distracted by his work on the late Brona Croft (Billie Piper) – now resurrected as Lily Frankenstein at the request of the Creature Caliban (Rory Kinnear), himself going by the name John Clare for his new job at a waxworks museum. Unfortunately, Lily eventually sets her sights on the decadent Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) instead.
White snow, demonic language, and dangerous carriage attacks waste no time starting “Fresh Hell” alongside excellent tender moments and graves dug from last season. Where Year One was about meeting the team and facing a largely unseen evil, now Penny Dreadful puts a more human face on our company’s threats with evil women and meddling inspectors. It’s a delightful step to share the gruesome aftermath while we get to know this enemy – a little demon family to mirror our flawed fighters. Monstrosity is just everywhere in Londontown!These naked witch ladies should be alluring but they are not, and new biblical threads arise in “Verbis Diablo.” Even prayers are no longer sacred amid pity projects, cholera ills, and enchanting deceptions. New character interactions infuse Penny Dreadful, anchoring the stories of possessed holy men, titular puzzles, disturbing infant abductions, and unique voodoo uses. That’s one diabolic arts and crafts room! There’s sup
erb war room plotting in both our houses – and a mole between them – so it is perhaps unusual to have an all Vanessa flashback episode so soon in “The Nightcomers.” However, the Victorian meets Baba Yaga magic, symbols, and protection motifs are excellent thanks to critical past information that will be important later and sublime guest star Patti LuPone (Life Goes On). This well paced character drama fills in history from the First Season and serves it with quaint do no harm and brutal persecution.
The demonic riddles and unique character confrontations continue in “Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places.” Deception always wears such a pretty face yet Penny Dreadful makes time for our darkly clad band to enjoy some lighthearted social moments before a creepy chameleon siege upon Sir Malcolm’s house that has the viewer studying each frame for clues. While padding time and unnecessarily stretched out scenes are apparent in this longer season, the final moments here are an appropriately simmering, silent unease. “Above the Vaulted Sky” has some fine true horror as extensions of our family pay a terrible price, and recalled Apache atrocities parallel the montages of faith and battle preparations. Are steel doors, guns, prayers, and totems enough to face the devil? It’s pleasing to have time dedicated to the turmoil and lying in wait for harm to come as evil and the authorities close in on our company. Penny Dreadful has touching poetic moments before major ghosts encounters and hefty scares. However, the sex scene finale here is very poorly edited with intercut frightening erroneously mixed with what should be tender bedroom moments. The morning after in “Glorious Horrors” is non too peachy either as influences are asserted and bloody fatalities become as simple as replacing the carpet. Can one be oblivious to threats when everything is connected and nothing is happenstance? Funeral talk and awkward balls shape a deliciously off kilter splendor, and Penny Dreadful puts all its players together in a twisted little bloodbath with intriguing character asides, jealous pairs old and new, superb revelations, and gruesome showdowns.
“Little Scorpion” is a shorter Penny Dreadful episode at only 49 minutes, but this Ethan and Vanessa-centric block has lovely one on one character moments questioning solitude and the growing distrust among our eponymous team. The tormented have some small, delightful comforts away from the inescapable monsters and demons at their backs, making for some dangerous tension and steaming dancing in the dark storms. Superior hours where not all the cast appears suggests Penny Dreadful creator John Logan may be juggling too many storylines or characters, but “Memento Mori” trades deadly toppers for swift interrogation filming. Askew up close shots, intercut tension, and lies contrast softer fireside conversations and waxing regrets. Can you look at yourself inthe mirror when you do what has to be done in the fight against evil? The ongoing demon incarnate puzzle solving ties together pieces from Season One as mirrors and dual camera tricks heighten the character heavies. Although the evil plans seem too wishy wasy at times with back and forth possessions and reversed enchantments, this episode allows its three plotlines to play out as uninterrupted acts, bucking the A, B, C standard television story structure to elevate its scary revelations.
Monster does catch monster, and even the authorities consider otherworldly and superstitious possibilities in “And Hell Itself My Only Foe.” Upticked violence and hauntings find our team, and the witty dialogue and intelligent scripting add to the surprises. The subtle Talbot name drop is worth all the wolf mishandling in the First Season, and more self-awareness comes in the ugly waxworks entertainment. Evil is beautiful and seductive with temptations from Lucifer to display one’s inner beast. That internal made manifest leads to some stunning confrontations, indeed. $%#%(*&! The excellent multi-layered horrors and battle of wills continue in the “And They Were Enemies” finale as Penny Dreadful’s not so merry band is tested in enemy territory. Devils on the shoulder present a most convincing case – be it death, our darkest desires, or the brightest dream too good to be true. Once you cross the line toward darkness, what must you do to come back to the light? Can you save yourself at all? Granted, moments with the effigy puppetry and lookalike demonic language arguing become hokey quickly, a jarringly laughable moment amid the utmost heavy. After a hefty but quality slow build and some unnecessary treading tires and stalling plots, the final evil confrontation also feels too rushed by comparison. There are some wild surprises and a character denouement with time for reflection is a welcome change from an action finale. However, maybe the pacing should have been tightened to have an all battle second to last hour and then an entire sigh of relief end instead of a finale that feels too half and half. Fortunately, Penny Dreadful concludes with plenty of creepy nonetheless. Are our players moving forward stronger after these paranormal events? Their ships may be sailing their separate ways, but Year Three of Penny Dreadful looks to promise plenty! %%$%#$@#*@!
Evil just won’t let go of Vanessa Ives so easily, will it? Her strength to fight against demons inside and out glues the team together as much as it puts them in peril, and Vanessa needs them as much as they need her. She talks about what must be done and what she is capable of doing, and even when some of that is just delayed exposition issues, we believe her wrath because we’ve see her pain. For all the good she does and her ongoing struggles to keep this delicate balance, her ties to Amunet leave nothing but badness in her wake. How do you cling to faith when there is so much wicked? Vanessa endeavors to embrace her power within – but does that mean you abandon your belief in a higher power? Having religion doesn’t necessarily make you good, and Vanessa admits she and God are on challenging terms. Can we just be who we are or is that too much responsibility for one soul? Vanessa’s therapy is in her support of the boys about her – she is a confessor for each of them in different ways. Will solace be found in like tormented persons? She can soothe others but not herself, and Vanessa has some deliciously intellectual conversations with John Clare, adding a new damned soul to her repertoire – which looks quite cloudy for next season.
Likewise, Ethan Chandler is beginning to suspect his wolfy connections as more dastardly carnage comes to light. He’s perpetually trying to leave town thanks to his fear of admitting what he is capable of doing, which is beautifully foreshadowed in “Verbis Diablo” before the tenth hour finale. Ethan’s charming banter with Lyle deflects his inner lupus with Latin research, and Hartnett very nearly steals the show in his witty battles with Douglas Hodge (Red Cap) as the persistently not stupid Inspector Rusk. Like Vanessa, Ethan pegs people for who they really are, and his coy comes in handy as his pursuers mount. Even if he can face his affliction and its monthly consequences, he tries to protect Vanessa from his wild in a wonderfully unconventional romance – if it can even be called that. We don’t see the wolf outs for flash in the pan cool, but rather as choice visuals to emphasize the tormented monstrosity now fully realized on Penny Dreadful as it should have been all along. Danny Sapani as manservant Sembene also has more to do now that he helps Ethan bind his lycanthrope tendencies, adding to the fine moments he has with Sir Malcolm. This stalwart and strong but humble workhorse character provides a shaman wisdom while doing the dishes, baking, and waxing on how Ethan should see his moonlit changes as a blessing not a curse. Sembene shares his own past sins and guards his household kin with unwavering duty and respect, but by golly, audiences will be understandably angry at the treatment of the character. He still deserves more, #$%D#&*%!
New bewitching temptations and continued family losses grip Sir Malcolm once again on Penny Dreadful, but the in control, noble gentleman on the outside can’t use his suave to hide his pain. Sir Malcolm must face the questions and consequences regarding his daughter Mina’s death from Last Season, and he’s ready to trade his life and accept his punishment to spare his newfound family further torment. His internal demons provide ghostly experiences both positive and wicked. Dalton is charming in his unknowingly deceptive courting with Mrs. Poole, but the shaving of his beard is a surprising character development. It’s just so odd seeing the ex-007 sans scruff again, but the change is a perfect reflection of the evil influences at work. Despite some strong advice from Sir Malcolm and an interesting science versus faith intellectual pairing with Lyle, young Victor Frankenstein is also blinded by his wrong doings, chiding John Clare’s pressure on Lily while Victor himself is slowly but surely shaping his perfect woman. Frankenstein’s muddled monster making motives become increasingly creepy science for fetish alongside his now not secret drug addictions. He’s a little nasty, too, but bonds with Vanessa, trusting her to help him with his awkward shopping experience. Slowly Victor becomes aware of his mistakes, even admitting his addiction is affecting his freaky science, but by time he wants to escape his creations, it’s too late. Ironically, Dr. F. doesn’t believe in witchcraft, but evil knows what he has spawned and uses his deeds against him in smashing fashion.
Those wonderfully macabre waxworks and layered Victorian deceptions elevate the Caliban aka John Clare plots this season, and his scenes with Vanessa are refreshingly honest and mature. Clare speaks his mind without malice instead of his usual mine mine mine childish wants. Why are these Frankenstein men so pressed and gushing over every woman they meet? Clare’s friendship with Vanessa is his first genuine and healthy relationship. Kinnear has room to shine in the poetic recitings and quiet moments with Green, but the well read doesn’t do Clare any good if he won’t learn from his to err is human. Once again, he misuses his chance to do right, can’t catch a break, and ultimately must flee. When Clare finally looks past Lily’s beauty and his desperate need for companionship, he sees a worse ruthlessness and rightfully realizes that Pandora’s Box contains a mirror. Was Lily’s creation worth it? Though the short blonde hair doesn’t fit the period and it is unusual that Vanessa doesn’t recognizer her, Billie Piper is much better this year as Lily Frankenstein compared to the dead end and bad accent that was Brona Croft. It’s perfectly acceptable on Penny Dreadful when the resurrection of a character can fix all that was dislikable, and Lily smartly questions why women wear corsets and are meant to be controlled and appealing to a man. She seems innocent, but soon proves the dastardly of her rebirth and wrongfully remodeled by Victor is not for anything angelic. Lily learns how to lie, finds her deadly instincts, and grows tempted by Dorian thanks to elegant white frocks, gruesome blood stains, and a man-made monster superiority complex. We should like Lily – we don’t blame her for remembering the abuses of her previous oldest prostitution profession and using her strength for revenge. However, her twisted and wrong doing companionship with Dorian is anything but empowering to anyone but herself.
Unfortunately, I did not miss the absent Dorian Gray in “Fresh Hell,” and his brothel shenanigans feel more like interfering annoyances during the first half of Penny Dreadful this season. I’m all for more penis on television, but compared to the more serious, self aware, and better developed star roles, the character seems like an excuse for depravity mixed with would be modern social commentary. Dorian doesn’t even interact with any other main character until “Glorious Horrors” – or anyone else but Jonny Beauchamp (Stonewall) as Angelique for that matter. These scenes become shoehorned in titillation or sensationalism, a cruel and cliché storyline serving no purpose in the overall season arc. Angelique’s gender struggles in Victorian society and finally finding a tender relationship should be touching, but by slicing their aforementioned consummation scene with evil seduction and paranormal death scenes, are you saying gay sex is as bad as casting demonic spells on a man and using voodoo to kill his wife?!?! #$%$^$@*&! We know this tryst is fun and games for Dorian, but this is no fling to Angelique, and those consequences also unfairly stereotype Angelique as a nosy, jealous beotch when Dorian moves on to his next fancy. The about dang time reveal of his eponymous portrait and his blasé attitude toward it proves how ugly his true self really is, but we already knew that from his toying with Angelique. This entire unnecessary and unjust plot further proves Dorian Gray is a tug and pull supporting player who should only be recurring as needed – and Angelique should have been the gosh darn regular joining our dreadful company instead!
Thankfully, Simon Russell Beale is deliciously good fun as our team’s flamboyant Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle. Despite the sophistication and heavy work at hand, Beale provides a covert humor and positive gravitas with his flirtations:
“American! I am undone!”
“Well, I do have a gun belt.”
“Stop!…Will you bring your gun belt?”
Underneath this fluttery chemistry, Lyle is unsure where his allegiance lies, and by admitting his conflicting circumstances and burdens to bear, he fits right in with the Penny Dreadful gang. The homoerotic undertones match the main story instead of being uncomfortably apart from it, adding flair to a character largely saddled with fantastic exposition. In addition to the already established Catholic iconography, Lyle adds more conversations on faith, reflection, and recompense thanks to all he has witnessed from Helen McCrory as that sometime Madame Kali and always evil Mrs. Evelyn Poole. Her enemy house not only has a medieval ossuary bent, but Sarah Greene (Vikings) as the ruthless but cool Hecate is ready to step out of her mother’s much older than she looks shadow. Madame Kali is in a powerful tit for tat with her demonic master, and she intends to gain new praise by delivering Vanessa to him – with Sir Malcolm as a dark bonus for herself. Her ambitions, Hecate’s rival desires, and their evil foil, however, do get stretched thin at times. These are formidable ladies cutting out hearts and invoking killer puppetry with more provocative tricks – The Pooles shouldn’t have to hurry up and wait to harm our dreadfuls. Nonetheless, such evil planning talks make for some juicy scene chewing for McCrory and other returning guest stars. Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you can’t reappear as Madame Kali sees fit!
Iffy CGI cityscapes, animated scorpions, and more sweeping scene transitions don’t always look right on Penny Dreadful, but the up close London streets alive with horses, waxworks, and period mechanization look the ghastly Victorian needed. The below the British Museum dusty, piles, statues, and maze-like clutter for good or ill is simply begging for some Mummy plots! More Universal Horror nods including the one armed inspector and swan style gowns layer the lush alongside a haunting score. The witch designs look of the past, with evil sprites coming out of the walls or mirrors and matching a colorful scheme of orange for evil firesides and gruesome greens for the dead. Candlelit patinas contrast the all gray and white ghostly while coffins, shrouds, gargoyles, and dungeon traps keep the macabre personal rather than today’s hollow torture porn gore – often with 55 minutes plus for full morbid effect. Sharp language uses mix old staples, making for a twisted new tongue where eerie terms like lupus and Lucifer stand out and force the audience to pay attention upon first viewing Penny Dreadful. The fashions are again scrumptious, and it’s lame of Hot Topic to go with scorpion tee shirts when this kind of long skirt and button up lace is on the runaway and ripe for a comeback. Penny Dreadful has an excellent attention to detail, and I’m surprised this uber sophisticated design isn’t receiving more technical awards.
Watching Penny Dreadful can also be tough thanks to cumbersome Showtime Anytime and Xfinity interfaces, loading and log in troubles, and expiring episode rushes but there are Amazon streaming and DVD options in addition to Showtime reruns. Ironically, the show’s premium channel home allows it to be top tier scandalous yet also makes Penny Dreadful difficult for viewers to find. Nonetheless, the series remains must see for Gothic horror fans. The sensationally spooky material and often outlandishly wicked are treated intelligently, and we’ve been waiting for Penny Dreadful’s kind of sophisticated, top drawer horror for too long.
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Penny Dreadful Debuts with Scary Sophistication
by Kristin Battestella
The 2014 Showtime series Penny Dreadful has some hiccups in blending the stylish past and its literary based madcap of monsters and macabre. Fortunately, shrewd writing and a gothic, sophisticated approach keeps this eight episode debut a cut above the rest.
The alluring but mysterious Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) recruits Wild West show shooter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) for a dangerous mission headed by explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton). No longer climbing mountains with his manservant Sembene (Danny Sapani), Sir Malcolm is searching for his daughter Mina (Olivia Llewellyn), who has been abducted by a vampire master while brutal, butchering violence shocks the post-Ripper London. Young Doctor Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) aides Sir Malcolm while Vanessa has several risky dalliances with the enticing Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney). Victor’s monster Caliban (Rory Kinnear), however, pressures the doctor to do his wishes, and Dorian has encounters of his own with Ethan’s immigrant girlfriend, the ill prostitute Brona Croft (Billie Piper). Will the supernatural secrets of this unusual group unite them or tear the team apart as they go head to head with vampires, demons, and monsters in hopes of saving Mina?
Not having all the trademarks to Dracula gave Penny Dreadful creator and Oscar nominated writer John Logan and fellow Skyfall and Spectre James Bond producer Sam Mendes an excellent dramatic license to combine the gothic tropes we know and love along with uniquely macabre off shoots. The expected upscale period splendor is here yet the cinematic film quality and realistic visual schemes add a dark and dirty as each episode narrows the character focus and clues the viewer in on these bizarre circumstances. It’s downright fun to guess who is actually who, as not all of our similar but different literary inspirations are immediately named or their secrets revealed. My husband doesn’t know what’s up with Dorian Gray and I’m not going to tell him! The audience takes the paranormal leap along with the psychic connections and horrific elements thanks to the character concentration, great dialogue, and a writing first approach instead of the more recent lame brained gore over substance horror. The well written, likable players make literary allusions themselves and the sophisticated conversations don’t insult the viewer – though that’s not to say their isn’t some shocking, then colorful language or scandalous words flavoring the ghastly polish. Racist, of the time terms are also unfortunately necessary, but honest conversations about American Indian history and past injustices make up for the occasional harsh term along with parallel circumstances and bitter, supernatural lessons not learned. Wild West side show parodies and horrible killings set this miserable Victorian mood in Episode One “Night Work” while Latin prayers, an opium house, Nosferatu underlings, monsters, and abductions add to the titular creepy along with a macabre mix of the well dressed, violent fighting, mysterious Arabic, and Egyptian Book of the Dead hints. How did this disparate crew get into this dark underbelly? The good versus evil and seemingly untarnished layers aren’t as clear as we think. Do our players find themselves amid the spiritual realm between life and death or the new world of science – or are their transgressions across both?
“Seance” introduces more Penny Dreadful players to the dockside desolate with prostitution, tuberculosis, and Dr. Frankenstein joining the fold. Everyone has a secret – Victor, his creations, and the so pretty yet so naughty Dorian Gray. Are the crimes about London related to these concealed truths and Sir Malcolm’s paranormal quest? The saucy is both demented and artistically done even if it is also slightly over the top, but the intriguing dialogue continues alongside the parlor fun and spiritualism winks. What can I say, it’s simply great to hear people use big words, and the titular sequence is superb. Vanessa’s unrevealed role to play goes wild, hooking the audience thanks to creepy voices, hidden history, and possession. Demonic language, sad revelations, and frightening powers – I’d leave that table! At only 48 minutes, Episode Three “Resurrection” is shorter than Penny Dreadful‘s usually true hour long airtime, but this segment focusing on Victor adds some flashback colorful before unpoetic death enters in and a bloody convulsing spurns Victor’s goals as his mother is snatched from him. Do our violent births, first rejections, and brushes with death irrevocably shape our outlook on life? The Caliban framing narration slows the pace, but transferring the monster’s plot to a theatre underground adds a Phantom of the Opera-esque gory onstage pulp. The zoo showdowns, wolfy scares, and captured informants, however, are more sinister, and details about finding Mina and the antagonism between our players are more interesting than Caliban’s complaints.
Penny Dreadful could have been cheap and nasty in showing Dorian Gray’s depravity in “Demimonde,” but I’m glad it doesn’t go there despite his increasingly extreme desperation. His creepy mirrors, photography, and secret passages juxtaposed nicely against innocent questions, sad burials, and melancholy churches where one is not sure she is permitted entry. Bright outdoor scenes and delicate orchids belie dangerous nightshade and peril in beauty. Is there a method to nature’s madness or these supernatural apparitions? The show within a show audiences and theatre behind the scenes add more dimension, and players previously unknown interact as Vanessa’s revelations happen in Episode Five “Closer than Sisters.” Childhood beach side splendor, white lace and sunshine evoke the time before Penny Dreadful began, when evil temptations, sexual desires, and “little acts of wickedness” lead to much more. This past recounting is better than Caliban’s bitterness because this is the root cause for Vanessa and the show’s main quest – creepy taxidermy and tales of safari cannibals hint at macabre to come. Do we willfully choose this dark path over prayers unanswered as jealousy and hatred mount? Are evil possessions at work on a corrupted soul or is physical illness the cause of a sickly body? The hospital cruelty and institutional torment are just as dehumanizing as the demonic possibilities. Who is at fault for such suffering and sin when the devil is your friend? Penny Dreadful puts all its gothic sin, salvation, and transgressions together here, and “What Death Can Join Together” moves the action forward as our team learns to forgive themselves. Plague ship battles are congested, intimate, and messy with rats, vampires, and monsters. Dreadful prices, divine gifts, escalating desires, and internal, self referential ironies are not lost on this merry outfit as evil of all shapes and sizes ups the ante.
Minimal but dangerous levitation and flying objects are smartly used in Episode Seven “Possession,” and Penny Dreadful’s motley family huddles in support of the titular victim – not that they always keep it together as they face their inner demons, however. Insects and manifestations mount as hidden truths will out, and things get ugly as people lose control, fight loved ones, and try to reach the lost souls. Foul language, demonic speaking, and symbolic snow add to the great performances all around as the science versus spirit debate rages. Does demonic possession belong in the realm of the religious or will standard doctoring do? These divides unite our players, strengthening their trust in each other against evil without the usual smoke and mirror exorcism spectacles. Penny Dreadful remains personal with excellent agonizing screams, weary witnesses, and sickly pallors as faith, friendships, and romances are tested. In a lengthy 24 episode season, this episode would be a bottle show thanks to its contained nature. However, some lofty material goes down with Penny Dreadful’s five core players without them even leaving the house. Hot damn. “Grand Guignol” puts all the outside factors and interior influences together for the finale’s multilevel theatrical showdown. Stage ropes and trap doors add to the vampire peril as characters come to new truths and surprising bonds are made. Can redemption yet be found? Has everyone done their part in this play? Of course, there are subtle implications left for Season Two, possible future plots culminate, and Penny Dreadful certainly tells us that death isn’t quite so definitive.
I feel like I’m glowing with praise, but Penny Dreadful is not without its fair share of debut problems. While there are no excessive, panorama, look at the monster so cool camera works; cliche, bad ass walking transitions, dark meetings on street corners, and lengthy establishing shots meander when a cut to already being where we need to be would do. There aren’t that many flashy for flashy’s sake moments, but modern shock editing, zooms, and dark vampy battle scenes are iffy at times, and the closed captioning is also sometimes more amusing than atmospheric with its “screams reverb and flow into the night” or how every door simply must “creak” open. Quibbles, yes, but the story lines on Penny Dreadful themselves are unevenly paced and not equally interwoven – something that should be easy to do across only eight episodes. Unnecessary support takes up time from the relatively straight forward, supposedly primary vampire abduction quest, and the ongoing carnivorous murders about town are poorly handled, sprinkled throughout the season along with Egyptian themes. Both are trumped as being of critical importance then disappear before the previouslies introducing the episode or obvious flashbacks and foreshadowing shoehorn them in again. It’s superb to see bisexuality on Penny Dreadful, however, same sex material is bizarrely montaged over – and isn’t as equal opportunity nude or graphic as the other heterosexual kinky scenes, either. Evil and sexual acts or on the nose light and dark symbolism are also linked together, but perhaps these naughty ties are in commentary on hypocritical Victorian ways. Penny Dreadful is a great show upon the first watch, but picking through it with too many fine toothed comb viewings can crack its veneer.
Fortunately, Eva Green (Casino Royale) looks dynamite in period regalia as Vanessa Ives. Lace frocks, wild up dos, and red lips add allure, but Green remains can’t look away stunning when stripped bare, down and dirty, or possessed and spouting wicked incantations. Vanessa shows strength in weakness yet shakes down the men around her, recognizing their similar complications even though the audience hasn’t figured out what’s behind her poise. Over the course of Penny Dreadful, Vanessa goes from a pious and humble beauty to hospital horrors, creepy crawlies, and back again as she struggles between religious beliefs and increasingly nasty evils. Miss Ives is at times the lady, a child, or evil with slightly scandalous hints to her latent naughty – no gloves at a posh Victorian party and such a saucy kinship to Dorian Gray. What is she to Sir Malcolm? What is the source behind her psychic and possessive powers? Green is simply great in “Seance” and “Closer than Sisters” – award worthy in fact. Vanessa is a strong woman facing death daily whilst hiding a hidden internal battle yet remains put together as best she can. Her convalescence is anything but when she must live with the violence and death she has caused. This is a wonderful original character anchoring Penny Dreadful, and Vanessa Ives fits right in with the familiar literary boys.
Then again, when Timothy Dalton’s (The Living Daylight) Sir Malcolm Murray says don’t be amazed by what you see and don’t hesitate, we don’t! The classy waistcoat, top hats, and cane add prominence while the gray in his beard adds gruff to his elder gentleman appeal. This African adventurer has been aged by his shady experiences; he’s a pissed off dad and has the means to do something about getting his daughter back but he hasn’t been a perfect parent by any means. Sir Malcolm’s tug and pull with Vanessa is scene chewing excellence – they’ve both gained a bizarre new family with this dreadful team. Sir Malcolm navigates the Gentleman’s club bright and fancy as swiftly as he handles the down low and dirty. His power and wealth have a long reach, and Sir Malcolm is able to follow inside the police investigations whilst also keeping his own family secrets behind closed doors. Be it arrogance, negligence, or dark forces, he’s running out of people close to him to lose, and this increasingly high price is taking its toll. Fatherly love clouds Sir Malcolm’s judgment, he sees some of his son in the young Victor, and tries to be better man to this motley band than he was to his own family. However, he’s also uses or protects them as necessary in this quest to save his daughter. Sir Malcolm thinks he is above the darkness about him and believes he will do what has to be done. Unfortunately, he is sorely mistaken and must learn to face his regrets, familial mistakes, and grief.
He’s pretentious about his research and the possibility of a greater science, but Harry Treadaway (Honeymoon) has some wild disciplines and bloody medicine to contribute as Victor Frankenstein. He rebuffs the notion that he is just a man with a knife and isn’t afraid to call these shocking circumstances as he sees them despite his glassy stare and small stature compared to paternal steady hand Sir Malcolm or would be big brother Ethan Chandler. Treadaway delivers some wonderfully intelligent wit and ambitious dialogue – Victor wins his battles with a dance of words but also knows when to be silent or in awe of his creations. His work is a mix of genius and barbaric butchery, yet there is a poetic, touching, and human sensitivity amid Frankenstein’s snap, crackle, and pop laboratory. Victor remains gentle in his power of giving life and death – but he isn’t exactly able to control such corrupting opportunities or his so-called children. Indeed his maternal aspects are stunted and cut short, for Victor is so desperately interested in trying to cheat death that he’s missing out on life. The doctor lives through literature, he’s sickly and bloodshot, and unprepared when his creation becomes painfully superior. Naturally, “Dr. F.” looses whatever innocence he may have had along the way, leaving reluctance for complete compliance and monstrous orchestration.
Penny Dreadful unfortunately missteps again in the handling of Josh Harnett’s gun for hire Ethan Chandler. His secret is pretty apparent to start and obvious to the audience in “Resurrection” and “Demimonde” yet his plot is played as though it were some major surprise kicker for the finale. Instead of underestimating the audience, the focus should have been upfront so the viewers could be further inside his may or may not know pain. Thankfully, there’s a built in American reason for Chandler’s kinky, cowboy veneer, and without the need for the usual trite Yank going faux Brit, Hartnett becomes surprisingly impressive for the somber and serious moments. Granted, there is a part of you that can’t stop thinking of the woe that was Pearl Harbor or “It’s hottie of the 90s Josh Hartnett all grown up!” However, Ethan knows his weapons and fearlessly goes after the vampy monsters. He has a would be sibling rivalry with Victor yet provides a wise sounding board to Sir Malcolm when needed and holds fast to a tender sentiment with the ladies. Chandler is running from a lot more than an oppressive father back home, and the bluffing banter with Vanessa on his shadowed possibilities is more interesting than the inevitable love with Brona. Much of Ethan’s relationship with Brona feels unpolished or shoehorned in as set up for the tug and pull plots in Season Two – which would have been a real pity had there been no next year. Fortunately, Hartnett’s “and” billing is fitting, for Ethan adds a relatable American tell it like it is wit and dark humor matching Penny Dreadful‘s twisted cynicism.
Understandably, Reeve Carney (The Tempest) as Dorian Gray is played up to be depraved and assy, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. It’s tough to enjoy the extremes Dorian takes, and for the most part, it’s all too pretentious to care. His chemistry with Vanessa is also too smarmy and not on par with the other characters– Carney feels inferior to Green and she carries their scenes. Dorian is styled as a modern pretty boy – his bathroom is absurdly decadent, the one excessive, intruding set piece here – and he seems hammy and out of place. Dorian sorely miscalculates Vanessa, uses Ethan, and ultimately, his superfluous, slutty twists don’t do much for the main plot. Likewise, it’s obvious who Billie Piper (Doctor Who) will be in Season Two as the original but dead end Brona Croft. Her entire plot is not as sympathetic as it should be thanks to a pitiful accent and redundant support driving Ethan to places he was already headed. I like Piper, but she feels wrong for the part, and Brona’s inevitable should have been paired down to its late season essentials. Rory Kinnear (Othello) as the creature Caliban is also slightly over the top and obnoxious with a pissy entry that the audience won’t like. He can’t get over his sad start, and Caliban goes overboard in complaining about the perceived sins of his father when it’s his own crimes and monstrous actions making him just as villainous. With his smarts and superior attitude he should know better. Caliban learns of hatred and mercy but chooses the former – his own adolescent, emo behavior and violence mars the would be theatre kindness he receives. He isn’t fun to watch, and a late introduction taking up most of the third episode takes away from the other more interesting players we have already met.
Indeed, the alphabetical credits belie the importance of the aforementioned trio – they don’t appear in all the episodes and provide uneven aggravation or fodder for the main stars, again all in future storytelling hopes not needed in the tale at hand. I’d much rather have had the wasted David Warner (Titanic) as Van Helsing, an all too brief but charming hematologist with wise words and a steady, grandfatherly presence beyond the occult matters. Recurring guest stars such as Alex Price (Father Brown) as Proteus also do much more for Penny Dreadful. His nudity, subtext, and a childlike but sensuous, emotional exploration add a far better bittersweet sense of wonder to the Frankenstein plots. Does the new man composed of previous men belong to those past recollections or new human development? The answers are both touching and upsetting. Likewise, we’re immediately curious about Danny Sapani (Trance) and his mysterious manservant Sembene. He’s a soft spoken cool cat, a butler who is the keeper of far more secrets and skills than we realize – which comes in pretty handy to Sir Malcolm. Sembene claims he has no story to tell, but there’s certainly some excellent sophistication and compassion in how smoothly he can do what Sir Malcolm cannot when it comes to the new, if uneven, twists for Olivia Llewellyn (The Lizzie Borden Chronicles) as Mina Harker. I hope we have more intrigue from Sembene in Year Two, for the subtle seeds have been placed for him alongside the perfectly flamboyant Egyptologist Simon Russell Beale (The Hollow Crown) and the wild Madame Kali Helen McCrory (Peaky Blinders).
Speaking of items I’d love to see, can these Victorian fashions please come back in full force? Penny Dreadful has the period look as it should but the clothes also have an air of modern streamline – no fru fru frilly is getting in the way of the appropriately bloody bodies, gruesome human parts, or harbored ships with their shady below decks and monster works. Cringe worthy institutions show the old errors juxtaposed against photography, emerging technologies, and more rarities of the time, but the unpleasant, red eyed Nosferatu vamps keep Penny Dreadful old school ugly. The seemingly nondescript courtyard and townhouse hide a dramatic staircase, a dungeon below, the possessed upstairs, and a sweet parlor where all the heavy conversations happen. How did wallpaper then look so good when ours can be so tacky? Cartography, old time explorations, antiques, and fine woodwork add realism while seances, tarot cards, and luscious red interiors shape that 19th century mysticism. Gas lamps, candles, and fire add a period patina as London fog and lamplighters create a near black and white noir scheme; storms, winds, and rain add to the bleak when all is stripped bare. Sound effects or simple tricks of flashing darkness, moving in camera with a character, or cut away shocks do heaps more in building spooky than the more recent in your face horror designs. Small doses of other languages, fancy phrases, and of the time speakeths add to the panache while play within a play under the stage theatre spectacles layer the observations. The angry, frenetic violin theme music establishes the blue, macabre symbolism during the opening credits, and the viewer is more than ready to settle in with the snakes, spiders, bloody tea cups, and all that is afoot on Penny Dreadful.
Currently, Penny Dreadful can be seen via Showtime streaming options, Amazon, DVD and blu-ray releases, or in on air marathons as Season Two looms. Unfortunately, the on Demand and Xfinity interface can be quite cumbersome and nineties laden with sound issues and playback trouble. Episodes also expire or have varying dates, and it doesn’t make much sense to have Year One unavailable to subscribers when the Second series is imminent. These viewing technicalities, however, are but a quibble when considering how Penny Dreadful proves what can be done when a network gives a paranormal drama the care and attention the production needs to match its literary weight and saucy opportunity. I loved NBC’s Dracula, but the Big Three American network didn’t have the inclination or know how to support the series. Universal probably also misfired with its Dracula Untold, leaving its new monster mash up franchise off to a shaky start, but this, this, this is how Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows movie should have been done. Penny Dreadful is pulpy but witty, and any bemusements or camp don’t interfere with the frightful mood and macabre atmosphere. Their are First Year growing pains, but the series goes where it wants to go and shows all its saucy or gory without dumbing the style, players, or plot down to the bottom denominator. Instead of lowering the bar, Penny Dreadful raises the measure for gothic horror adaptations with lavish looks, intriguing characters, and sophisticated storytelling.
Horror Addicts Episode# 114
Horror Hostess: Emerian Rich
Intro Music by: Valentine Wolfe
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Frankenstein: The True Story a Pleasant Adaptation
By Kristin Battestella
Despite its title, the 1973 British co-production Frankenstein: The True Story does not wholeheartedly adapt Mary Shelley’s timeless classic in its two 90 minute episodes. Once the audience accepts this artistic license, however, the tale told here is a surprisingly serviceable, spirited, and pleasing presentation.
Upset over his brother’s death, Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Leonard Whiting) studies with Henry Clerval (David McCallum), a scientist also seeking to circumvent death and achieve a new Adam with his experimentations. Frankenstein all but abandons his fiancée Elizabeth Fanshawe (Nicola Pagett) as he succeeds in resurrecting such a Creature (Michael Sarrazin) and educating this simple, kind soul. The suspicious Dr. Polidori (James Mason), unfortunately, knows of Clerval’s ideas and demands Frankenstein participate in a second, perfected female creation (Jane Seymour) – one the now ugly and rejected Creature hopes will remain beautiful and love him.
Frankenstein: The True Story and long time television director Jack Smight jump right into a confusing start with an accident, a funeral, young Frankenstein in London, and no onscreen clarifications on the passage of time. Slow traveling scenes belie the fast editing or feeling that scenes have been skipped while information is told not shown. The entire first half hour of rushed getting there montages and laboratory construction may well have been excised, for the plot really begins at Victor’s wonderful mad scientist creation – complete with an “It’s alive!” homage to up the ante along with ironically parallel incorruptible dead and mortal made immortal conversation. Dialogue from writers Christopher Isherwood (A Single Man) and Don Bachardy; interesting religious analysis on the sacraments, bread of life, and the Man made flesh; and questions of Man, God, and Prometheus strengthen the depressed, early surgeries and hospital settings. Bodies are stored in a shabby stable in conditions more barbaric than medicinal, and off screen amputations, screams, saw work, and haphazard sewing create the perfect horror mood. Deviations from the source novel are apparent, of course. However, with such a fine premise and examination on the human condition, it’s tough to do much wrong in Frankenstein: The True Story. Though the Creature is raised easily, the flaws in the procedure are soon apparent amid lovely schooling, friendly moments, and well paced studies. Narrating notes from Frankenstein explain the time and development nicely, and a competitive duality between the doctor and his new Adam layer the one on one scenes.
Could this created man outdo his father, a mere man playing God? By the second ninety minute half, the Creature is on his own, learning of the world, and meeting compassion in unlikely places. He both exceeds the possibilities of his predecessor but embodies Frankenstein’s own evils and abomination – a grotesque reaction that is not his fault. This time away from Victor for Episode Two has a much better focus on the Creature as he is taught to be feared and ashamed. Tragically, of course, contentment is not part of his destiny, as he returns to his creator demanding like companionship. The awaiting sinister does become a bit too presto with Chinese mysticism and metaphysical pastiche taking part in the inevitable second lady creation – firewater and bubbles work better than electricity, who knew? After positive explorations with the Creature, the interesting bride-esque plot may also feel unnecessarily tacked on, but this evil reversal sends home the disturbing consequences at play. We so easily love our pretty work but hypocritically despise one turned decrepit or use that originally pure beauty for our own vile purposes and corruption. Frankenstein: The True Story puts a topper on its science fiction and horror moralities with a wild coming out party and a stormy, icy finale.
I confess, I’m not much of a Leonard Whiting fan – I always preferred Michael York in Romeo and Juliet instead – and his Victor Frankenstein is somewhat dry and not as charming as the folks onscreen say. We don’t always believe his angry motivation, zest for science, or his love for Elizabeth. Presented early on as the idealistic explorer and brawn of a radical partnership more akin to a grave robbing sidekick, Frankenstein’s characterization gains momentum once he becomes the obsessed, desperate man alone. Victor toes the line in the supposedly good science advancement, but his ambition and potentially slick or shady intentions rise as he educates the Creature. Does he lament when one dies of fright at the sight of his creation? Perhaps, but he is more upset when the monster is no longer a beautiful success. Frankenstein is a parent vicariously using his child for scientific glory but ultimately regrets his embarrassing, shameful son – not that such turnabout stops him from being lured into a second, perfected attempt. The possibility and bane inherent in Frankenstein is indeed complex, and a more nuanced actor or finite direction may have better maximized the sympathetic or sinister extremes. Frankenstein: The True Story brings about Victor’s redemption a little too late, and may deviate too much instead of fully strengthening the interest here.
Fortunately, Michael Sarrazin (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?) as the Creature progresses wonderfully from the seventies pretty perfection and a simple, childlike innocence to a refined achievement mingling in society and ultimately, his creator’s monstrous enemy. While Frankenstein claims his “foreign friend” knows no good language, the Creature impresses operatic friends by speaking French. His would be suave antagonizes Victor, who is actually more barbaric despite his supposedly enlightened work, and the regressing, Neanderthal appearance and perceived monstrosity of Frankenstein reflects in the Creature. His nature is not of his own making, and the Creature weeps at his deformity, growing suicidal and showing empathy where Victor has none. But of course, which one is made to seek violence and outcast by society? In contrast, Jane Seymour (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) remains the beautiful object of the Creature’s affection in the latter half of Frankenstein: The True Story. Her ridiculously seventies yet lovely Prima is magically and swiftly resurrected before being well dressed and manipulatively educated as a deceptive seductress. Was Prima innately vile or designed and bred to be so? Why must beauty be used for evil while a would-be kindhearted monster must strive for compassion?
David McCallum (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) as Henry Clerval has no such morality, accepting payment of whatever alcohol remains in the bottle and casually taking amputated limbs away in his doctor bag to “brush up on his anatomy.” His devil on the shoulder catalyst to Frankenstein and quest to create a superior race or a Bible for the New Age would be wonderfully positive if not for his twisted intentions. Likewise, James Mason (A Star is Born) is an extreme opportunist with no need for delicacy as he commandeers any mind, body, or secrets as desired. What’s all the more sinister, unfortunately, is how he accurately sees the escalation of their life creating deeds, predicting our hatred for our ugly faces and the masks we wear to conceal them. Nicola Pagett (Upstairs, Downstairs), sadly, is the weak link in the ensemble as the wishy washy and perhaps even unnecessary Elizabeth Fanshawe. The pace drags when she is onscreen with Victor and nagging him to speak simply in terms that are “suitable to her sex.” She apparently accepts his abandonment on their wedding night but subsequently, dutifully ends up pregnant. Her love is meant to be a pendulum of good swaying Frankenstein for the better, but after the first half hour, the character goes unseen until the final act, becoming important but falling flat by the tale’s end. Thankfully, billed guest stars such as the fun, not annoying maid Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched), blind and kindhearted peasant Ralph Richardson (The Heiress), and pop up appearances by John Gielgud (Arthur), Doctor Who Tom Baker, and Mrs. Mason Clarissa Kaye accent Frankenstein: The True Story marvelously.
Carriages, footmen, and swans add panache to the idyllic English countryside setting of Frankenstein: The True Story as well – sparkly jewelry, empire gowns, frilly collars, and waistcoats harken to Mary Shelley’s 1818 publication more than the earlier 18th century recounting of the novel. The ladies’ hairstyles may also be too seventies, but lush interiors and woodwork have a surprisingly subdued color palette or antique, patina feeling. Candles, dirty tanks with body parts, and fantastic electrical mechanics mixed with old time telescopes, mirrors, and repurposed millwork make for a realistically tricked out laboratory along with crawling arms, cool goggles, sparks, and crackling sound effects. The Creature’s make up also evolves nicely as he is damaged, burned, shot, and made increasingly unsightly. Late ship bound action, splashing waves, and lightning help forgive some of the phony arctic designs and any dated visual effects or small explosions due to the of the time television budget. Considering the seventies small screen production, Frankenstein: The True Story holds up quite well with very little to date the material save for the awkward introduction on the DVD. The video has no features but does include subtitles for the complete, all-in-one three-hour presentation.
Is Frankenstein: The True Story uneven to start with rushed character development and unnecessary plotting that deviates from the source? Sure. Perhaps this miniseries didn’t need to be as long as it was, and some stray tangents and characters could have been excised for one swift telefilm. Fortunately, a solid examination of the Creature and a strong second half make up for any faults. While attempted twists may sometimes takeaway from the great drama and horrific examination of Man becoming God and die-hard literary enthusiasts may be upset that Frankenstein: The True Story is not truly an of the book verbatim, Frankenstein fans will delight in seeing these new spins on the tried and true theme. Shelley’s gothic science and spirit are here in a pleasant, period marathon of monsters and men run amok.
When other kids were playing with dolls and teddy bears, this South Jersey born and bred addict KBatz was watching Price, Lee, Hitchcock, Dark Shadows, Alien, anything and everything in analysis of what was scary and why. In the dark ages of 20th century high schoolery, a teacher coined her ‘Mistress of Darkness’ thanks to a penchant for horror fiction, quirky essays, and paranormal reviews – and this Susie Homemaker style with a side of spooky lives on today. Be it vamps, scares, or weres, you name it freaky or macabre and she is there – irregardless of how you pronounce macabre. For more bent paranormal fiction and horror film, television, and literature reviews, find Kbatz’ insanity on the web at: vampfam.blogspot.com and ithinkthereforeireview.blogspot.com
Randy Macklin woke up in Malaysia with no memory of the last four months of his life. His wife has died in a car wreck and his daughter is in a coma after a poisonous snake bite. Randy is currently living with his friend and business partner Young Nae, together they had been working on a way to use genetics to make people look younger, but their work has not been approved by the FDA and their project is now on hold.
To get his memory back Randy visits psychiatrist Sanantha Mauwad to fill in the missing memories of the last four months. Sanantha and Randy discover that there is more to this situation then meets the eye and not everyone is who they appear to be. There are conflicting reports on the death of Randy’s wife, she may have been murdered and Randy’s daughter’s coma may have been caused by one of Young Nae’s rivals. To make matters even more complicated someone has been spotted that looks oddly similar to Randy’s deceased wife.
Daughter Cell by Jay Hartlove is the second book in the Isis Rising Trilogy, the first book was The Chosen and both books are self -contained stories. Daughter Cell is a medical thriller that takes a look at loss and forgiveness and how far are you willing to go to be with your true love again. This is a Frankenstein type story set in an exotic location with voodoo mythology, black magic martial arts, spirituality and poisonous pufferfish.
What I really liked about this book was how the mystery unfolds slowly. I also like how it was shown through their dreams that something wasn’t quite right. Daughter Cell also wrestles with the themes of ethics and morality. In the beginning both Randy and Young Nae talk about how they have no problems manipulating genetics to make people’s lives better but Sanantha has her doubts and you get to see how playing god effects all the characters.
What I enjoyed most about Daughter Cell was how both Sanantha and Randy turn to their faith in a time of crisis. Sanantha is from Haiti and gets comfort from voodoo when things are bad, while Randy listens to classic rock. I liked hearing about the character’s different belief systems and how the two main characters work together. I also liked how Young Nae tries to get more in touch with the spiritual god within him. Other scenes I enjoyed was when Randy had to choose between two people he loved even though one of the two was no longer the same and I liked when Randy knows that the person he most wants to talk to is right in front of him but he will never get to say what he wants to say. Jay Hartlove makes his characters suffer and some of them come out stronger in the end.
The only thing I didn’t like about the book was that I wanted more time spent on the genetic creation. The scenes with the creation in it were great and I enjoyed how I wasn’t able to predict what would happen. This book is not your normal medical thriller, it has a lot of heart and makes you question a lot of things such as if you could be with a younger version of the person you love after they are gone would you take it? If you like horror that really makes you think then you will enjoy Daughter Cell.
For this week’s Free Fiction Friday selection we have to take a trip in our time machine back to the year 1972 for A Dream Of Dracula by Leonard Wolf. This is a non-fiction book that tells the history of the character Dracula. The book starts off by talking about the historic figures that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula, such as Romanian ruler Vlad the Impaler and Baron Gilles de Rais who was a French serial killer with a taste for blood.
From there the book talks about the books that inspired Dracula including Mathew G. Lewis’s The Monk and John Polidori’s The Vampyre: A Tale. It also gives a detailed biography on Bram Stoker and talks about his writing process for Dracula. There are even chapters in this book that cover all the plays and movies that were based on Dracula.
When Leonard Wolf wrote A Dream of Dracula, he was working as a creative writing professor at San Francisco State University. He was born in Romania (home of Dracula) and always had an interest in classic horror literature. He went on to write non-fiction books on Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Phantom of the Opera. He has also written several books researching mythological beasts.
A Dream of Dracula was a labor of love and gives a very detailed description of a cultural phenomenon. If you would like your own copy of this book and you live in the United States, just leave a comment on this blog post and let us know why you want to adopt this book. The best comment gets a copy of A Dream of Dracula. Good Luck!
If you check out the facebook group for horror addicts you will find an author by the name of Stuart Land. Stuart has written seventeen screenplays and four novels. He began writing in 1986 while working in the film industry as a sculptor. He worked on such movies as The Abyss, Predator, Aliens and Poltergeist 2. He also runs creative writing workshops in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Stuart has four novels available that mix horror, science fiction, and mystery.
One book by Stuart Land that really captured my interest was Back From The Dead: The True Sequel to Frankenstein. Imagine waking up in the morning and seeing on the front page of your local newspaper: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Creature Found…Alive! Frankenstein’s monster has been frozen in ice for 200 years and now he is ready to tell the tale on how and why he survived, how he lives in the modern world and what his perspective is on his origins.
Another book, taking place in the 1920’s, is Shadow House. This is a supernatural thriller about two men living in different times that share a terrible secret. In 1920 Massachusetts a murderer named PJ McAvoy believes that Aaron Molina is responsible for his family’s death so he devotes a lifetime of vengeance against this man who was born 50 years after him. Both men have paranormal abilities and can see visions of the other person. Aaron has to find out why there is a link between the two and stop PJ’s vendetta against him. This is a psychological horror story in the tradition of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
If you’re into vampires, Original Blood is a book you may enjoy. This is the tale of Zondra and Gailene, two people turned into vampires against their will. The story follows the two women as they deal with their transformation, one leads a Cinderella like lifestyle while the other one rises from a devastating background to become a powerful vampire leader.
The last book by Stuart is Epiphany which is a science fiction story based on fact. The story begins as the world is thrown into chaos as every girl reaching adolescence becomes spontaneously pregnant… and all their unfathered babies will be girls. Now all the world’s scientists, doctors, and mothers-to-be must find out what caused this and the solution to the problem before humanity is bred out of existence.
For more information on the books of Stuart Land go to stuartland.com
You know, I used to be more of a horror movie fan but with the release of movies such as “Saw”, “The Hostel”, and the re-release of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” I find myself yearning for the early days of my horror addiction, yearning for the days of “Frankenstein”, and “Dracula”, and “Friday the 13th”. I want to go back to the days when you would be scared out of your pants and jump at every noise when you went to bed that night and God help you if you forgot to close your closet door ‘cause there was no way you could sleep with it open and once that light was out you were pretty much stuck hiding under your covers all night.
Ahhh…those were the days.
When I was growing up some of the movies that scared me the most were the Freddie Kruger movies (up to number three because to be honest once you get past the third in any series it just gets silly) and movies like “It’s Alive”, and the first few Pinhead movies (that would be the “Hell Raiser” movies for all of you non-pinhead fans). Now, thinking over why I like these older horror movies with their “lame” (as some of my younger friends would call it) special effects, and why the more modern and more realistic films don’t appeal to me, was kind of a hard at first. So, to figure it all out I went back and viewed bits and pieces of these oldies but goodies. I even looked up snippets of Edgar Allen Poe’s classic “The Pit and the Pendulum” staring Vincent Price. Then I went and watched parts of “The Hostel”, “The Hills Have Eyes”, and “Saw I”. After watching nearly three hours of varying degrees of scariness I finally put my finger on what is was that made me yearn for the days of Jason and his scary white mask. Guess what it was? Well, since none of you are mind readers (or at least I don’t think you are…can’t read your minds) I will tell you.
It is the “eeeee” factor. What is this mysterious “eeeee” factor that I am basing my like or dislike of a movie on? Well, let me share with you this magic little noise that defines how good I think a movie is.
When I watch a horror movie I make varying sounds of shock and disbelief such as ahhh…ohhh…eeeee….ewww, and generally cower behind my hands (“Jeepers Creepers” was watched almost entirely behind my hands and consisted of me doing nothing but “eeeee”). The sound that I made the most, if it was a really scary movie, was “eeeee” so that is what I decided to call my rating system for horror movies. It’s simple, easy to use, and easily understood by all because, in my opinion, only a really scary, spooky, on the edge of your seat movie draws this noise from a person involuntarily. I mean, come on, it’s a horror movie and it’s supposed to make you want to nail all your windows and doors shut when it’s over. To me, it’s not a good horror movie if I am not “eeeeeing” a lot and watching it through my parted fingers. And that, my friends, is why I did not enjoy “Hostel” and the others. I simple found no “eeeee” factor to them (mostly I just went ewww). All I wanted to do was cover my mouth and close my eyes. There was no “ahhh…ohhh…eeeee…ewww” there was only “when is this movie going to end so my stomach will stop trying to exit my body.” Basically, I wasn’t really scared. Grossed out, yes, but not “looking under my bed” scared and “searching behind all my doors” scared.
Sigh. I feel so…old fashioned. What is a horror fan to do when so many horror movies are now produced along the lines of “Saw?” All I can say is “thank god for DVD’s.” At least I can watch my favorites on the player. Now, I don’t “poo poo” all modern horror movies. I actually like quite a few and will list some of them in with my favorites.
So, anyone else out there wishing for a little more “eeeee” and a little less “ewww”?
A few of my favorites
E.A. Draper is the co-author of “God Wars” with her partner Mark Eller.
Visit her on the web at: www.eadraper.wordpress.com or download the
podcast The Hell Hole Tavern which features all three books in the “God
Wars” series as well as additional side stories at: