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Killing Others To Survive: Identity, the Film

#NoSpoilers

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The 2003 psychological horror film Identity is not a direct adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1939 mystery novel And Then There Were None, though the plot of Identity is structured like that classic novel. In both, “10 strangers arrive at an isolated location which becomes temporarily cut off from the rest of the world,” where terror and paranoia mount as the strangers are killed off one by one. Despite the fact that one of the characters in Identity tries to explain the unusual and downright scary events at the isolated motel with a story of displaced Native Americans who may be seeking supernatural revenge, there is nothing other-worldly about Identity and its scares. The real horror of Identity is even spookier than revenge-seeking ghosts.

John Cusack, Identity © Columbia Pictures

The story begins with a chauffeur, Ed (John Cusack), getting trapped by washed-out roads at a lonely motel with his movie-star passenger Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca DeMornay), who is beyond annoyed at the fact that they end up stuck at some slimy motel.

Rebecca DeMornay, Identity © Columbia Pictures

Soon Ed, who is a former police officer, and the spoiled actress are joined by a family, including son Timmy, whose mother was injured in an accident.

Identity © Columbia Pictures

Because of the relentless thunderstorm, other travellers are also soon stranded at the motel, including a former prostitute Paris (Amanda Peet), who is leaving Las Vegas and traveling to Florida to start a new life as a citrus farmer,

Amanda Peet, Identity © Columbia Pictures

a pregnant newlywed Ginny (Clea Duvall) who is insecure about her husband’s love and completely, irrationally superstitious on her best days,

Clea Duvall, Identity © Columbia Pictures

and another cop, Rhodes (Ray Liotta), escorting a dangerous convict, and who goes crazy when his convict escapes shortly after their arrival at the motel.

Ray Liotta, Identity © Columbia Pictures

When other people begin disappearing at Larry’s (John Hawkes) motel, everybody gets more than a little anxious, paranoid, and defensive.

John Hawkes, Identity © Columbia Pictures

It doesn’t help that some of the stranded motorists feel they’re being targeted, that it’s raining and it’s the middle of the deep dark night, or that way too many of the stranded people at the out-of-the-way motel are awfully proficient in the use of firearms.

John Cusack and Ray Liotta, Identity © Columbia Pictures

Now, throw in the story of a convicted mass murderer / serial killer Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who’s getting a last-minute, pre-execution hearing from a judge and prosecuting attorneys

Pruitt Taylor Vince, Identity © Columbia Pictures

because the convicted killer’s psychiatrist Dr. Malick (Alfred Molina)

Alfred Molina, Identity © Columbia Pictures

insists that his client-patient is not morally responsible or legally guilty of the crimes. Since Rivers is not mentally competent, Dr. Malick explains, it is irrelevant that Rivers’ body might have, in fact, perpetrated the murders that Malcolm Rivers was convicted of committing.

Bret Loehr as Timmy, Identity © Columbia Pictures

What does that convicted serial killer have to do with the people stranded at the isolated motel in the pouring rain? Are they his victims? Are we, in fact, seeing the killer’s memories of all the people he killed? Is the killer truly and verily mentally incompetent, as his psychiatrist insists to the judge and attorneys present at the last-minute competency hearing?

You won’t miss the absent supernatural elements in this scary thriller. By the time you get to the big Reveal, you’ll be as spooked as the people stranded at that isolated motel.

The film has a great storyline and powerful acting by everyone involved. Identity is a psychological horror great. It’s available for rent for a few bucks, or purchase for a few dollars more, from Amazon, from YouTube, from iTunes, and more.

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The First Award-Winning Horror Film:
The Exorcist

The World Breaks Everyone:
Horror Film Classic Rosemary’s Baby

Shutter Island, the Film, Is Shuddery Good

Scary Because It’s Possible:
The Bad Seed, the Film

The Demons Within:
The Innocents, the Film

The Plague that Cast the World Into Darkness:
Open Grave, the Film

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Filed under #31DaysOfHalloween, Actors, Halloween, Horror, Movies/Films, No Spoilers Review, Official Film Trailers, Official Movie Trailers, Official Trailers, Psychological Horror, Serial Killers, Suspense

Hansel & Gretel With A Video Camera: The Visit, 2015 Film

No Spoilers
(okay, there’s a couple,
but they’re not about plot)

The Visit 2015 Film Poster © Universal

When I first saw the description for the 2015 film The Visit, written, directed, and produced by M. Night Shyamalan, of The Sixth Sense fame, I immediately tuned in. Though I’d never really heard of the director by name, I loved The Sixth Sense, and I’d thought  The Village was interesting, although it relied too much on the “twist” ending to be really successful. The Visit also has a twist ending, one which isn’t nearly so shocking as that of The Sixth Sense, but one that is more, shall we say, realistic.

Shyamalan’s films are virtually always classified as horror, though The Visit, which is like Hansel and Gretel with a video camera, recording their first visit ever to Grandma’s House, has too many attempts at comedy to be true horror. In fact, many reviewers, professional and amateur, complained that the film couldn’t decide its genre. Director Shyamalan admitted that he had trouble keeping the tone for the film consistent during the editing phase, first ending up with “an art house” film, then a comedy, then a “middle balance” film which he classifies as a  “thriller.”

Roger Ebert is the only critic I found who unequivocally praised the humor in the film, adding that “the film is ridiculous on so many levels, the story playing out like the most monstrous version of Hansel & Gretel imaginable, and in that context, ‘ridiculous’ is the highest possible praise.”

I almost turned it off during the first half hour: that’s where most of the “comedy” occurs, and it’s not successful. Neither is the “found footage” trope of the young girl Becca constantly video-taping everything. The Village Voice reviewer didn’t like this trope either, writing that it was “yet another cheap-o found-footage scare picture,” although the reviewer felt that, ultimately, the film was “crafted with a rigor and intelligence too rarely applied to the genre.”

This “found footage” video-tape trope reminds me of epistolary novels, more popular when novels were still a new and unacceptable art form (as opposed to drama and poetry), and novelists attempted to make the novel more convincing by giving it an air of autobiography. Just as the protagonists of the epistolary novels continue writing letters at the most improbable moments of their stories, Becca and Tyler, the grandchildren in The Visit, continue video-taping their story when it becomes downright dangerous to do so.

Still, once the “humorous” elements disappear — about 30 minutes in — and once even the filmmaker Shymalan himself seems to forget the “found footage” element of the story, The Visit becomes an intense and interesting suspense film.

Grandma’s Note with cookies © Universal

15-year-old Becca (Olivia DeJonge)

Becca (Olivia DeJonge), who goes to visit her grandparents for the first time © Universal

and her 13-year-old brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould),

Becca’s brother, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) © Universal

prepare for a five-day visit with their maternal grandparents while their divorced mother, Loretta (Kathryn Hahn),

Mother Loretta (Kathryn Hahn) in The Visit © Universal

goes on a cruise with her new boyfriend. The teens, who have never even seen photos of their grandparents, let alone met them, have idealized them into perfect grandparents.

Initially, the teens get what they expected. But, if Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and PopPop (Peter McRobbie) seem a little too perfect, it’s because they are.

Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and PopPop (Peter McRobbie) © Universal

Every time the children try to discuss their grandparents with their mother, via Skype or FaceTime on the laptop, however, she insists that her parents are old, so they’re bound to be quirky or weird or cranky. She complains that the children really just want her to cut short her cruise with her new boyfriend, apparently the first serious relationship she’s had since the children’s father left her for another woman.

Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) talking with their mother Loretta (Kathryn Hahn) via laptop © Universal

Now that their mother has dismissed their concerns and heaped a ton of guilt on their heads, the children aren’t going to turn to her for assistance. Instead, they try to discover the mystery of their grandparents’ strange behavior, putting themselves into dangerous situations — all the while taping them — and getting more terrified by the day.

Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her Nana (Deanna Dunagan) © Universal

It’s never satisfactorily explained why the grandparents had no relationship with their daughter. (This isn’t really a Spoiler since it doesn’t change the way viewers would interpret or judge the film, not revealing any actual plot elements, but skip the rest of this paragraph if you really want to learn absolutely everything from the film itself.) At 19, the mother of the teens married one of her high school teachers, and the grandparents were upset about this, leading the daughter to slap her mother during an especially intense argument, and causing her father to then slap the daughter Loretta. That doesn’t seem like enough to sever the relationship between the grandparents and their only child, and, given the fact that the grandparents had reached out to the daughter many times, it’s strange that such an insignificant event could have caused a rupture of their supposedly loving family. Still, I came from a severely abusive family, so something like a legal adult marrying her high school teacher, with whom she then has a relatively long marriage as well as two children, seems to be little reason for such a fierce argument, even if a few slaps were thrown around, but who am I to judge what non-abusive families consider unacceptable behavior?

The Visit, tribute to Psycho © Universal

Given that the backstory’s reason for the grandchildren’s never having met their grandparents is weak, The Visit still turns out to be quite a film, though I’d call it more suspense than thriller. Even if you guess the “twist” beforehand, you’ll still care what happens to the children, who are interesting and delightful not only because of their characters, but because the actors playing them are so good.

Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her mother Loretta (Kathryn Hahn) © Universal

I have to mention something about the filmmaking and the writing, which you might consider a Spoiler though it is not about the ultimate plot details. There’s some gratuitous nudity of the grandmother, and I’m telling you this only because I found it completely unnecessary to the story and felt really sorry for the poor actor who had to do those scenes. You can also forget the adult diapers: they’re pointless except for a gross-factor, and don’t contribute to the suspense at all.

The Visit is available for purchase for $12.99 (HD) from Amazon, $9.99 (SD) from iTunes and from YouTube. It’s also available free if you are a DirecTV customer.

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Demons, Demons Everywhere: Cinemax’s Outcast, Review

No Spoilers

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You don’t have to be a fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead to be captivated by Cinemax’s new horror thriller Outcast, based on the graphic novels-comics by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta. You don’t even have to be a fan of the authors themselves. It helps, however, to be a fan of the horror genre, since the shows packs in a hefty weekly dose of demons, Satanic and personal.

Based on the premise that one’s inner demons can be almost as terrifying as being possessed by Hellish ones, Outcast explores the way a person’s past can haunt him as much as any supernatural demon. The major protagonist, Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit) grew up with a mother who, supposedly possessed by demonic forces, violently abused the boy.

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Later, after she became catatonic and was committed to a Home, Kyle was taken in by a foster family who eventually adopted him. His sister Megan (Wrenn Schmidt) tries to take care of Kyle now that he is separated from his wife and daughter.

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In conjunction with Reverend Anderson (Philip Glenister) — one of the most fascinating and complex characters in the series to date — Kyle confronts the demons who seem to be gathering in various inhabitants of Rome WV, all the while wondering what it is about him that causes him to constantly encounter these demons, who address Kyle as “Outcast.”

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At first, the show had some major weaknesses. The constant flashbacks to Kyle’s childhood, when he was abused by his demonically possessed mother, Sarah Barnes (Julia Crockett) were repetitions of the same few flashbacks: they were repetitious because they didn’t provide new information on Kyle’s childhood, his character, nor his mother’s nature. Also, they occurred every few minutes, which got tedious in the extreme.

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Additionally, each of the first three episodes featured an exorcism, leading me to fear that the show would degenerate into an Exorcism of the Week format.

Fortunately, both of those weaknesses disappeared by the fourth episode, “A Wrath Unseen,” as the show stretched its focus to explore the personal lives of the characters surrounding Kyle, including his sister Megan and her husband officer Mark Holter (David Denman, below L), who is conducting an investigation with Chief Giles (Reg E. Cathey, below R) into dead and mounted animals left in the woods, and a bloodied camper.

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Reverend Anderson is one of the strongest characters in the early episodes, since he is more  unpredictable in his attempts to help his congregation defeat demons. Is he doing it for God, or for his own reputation? We’ve yet to discover that.

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Apparently, Rev. Anderson has been doing this for a while, but suddenly, the demon possession of individuals in Rome has multiplied exponentially. Except for the fact that this would be immediately noticed by law enforcement and medical personnel since there’s quite a bit of physical violence inflicted on those who are possessed, both by the demons themselves and by Kyle as he aids the Revered in his attempt to exorcise the demonic spirits, the show handles the actual violence relatively well. Some of it is on-screen, but most is off.

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One of the most gruesome moments happens in the first scene of episode 1, “A Darkness Surrounds Him,” with a possessed boy, Joshua (Gabriel Bateman), and a bug. In the highlights of the show aired immediately afterward, the director and writer stated that young Bateman himself thought of many of the possessed behaviors for his character.

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While that may be true, it is clear that Bateman has seen The Exorcist quite a few times, since much of his demonic actions — levitating, talking in Voices, puking green-pea-soup — are directly from the classic film.

That’s one of the things that slowed the premiere down because viewers had a “been there, seen that” feeling. The show improved in the second episode, “(I Remember) When She Loved Me,” which concentrated on Kyle’s past, including his relationship with his mother, which wasn’t all demons and physical abuse, making the demonic possession more tragic.

By the fourth episode, the show has found its comfort zone in the horror genre, terrifying viewers with hints of demons — personal and demonic — instead of just rolling out the Exorcist special effects. Veteran character actor Grace Zabrieski as Mildred, a congregationist who was supposedly exorcised two years previously, displayed her acting talent by threatening both Kyle and the Reverend.

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The investigation into the gruesome bloodied camper finally expanded, while a visit from someone in Megan’s past released her own demons, those of her husband, and those of adopted brother Kyle. Brent Spiner’s character Sidney, introduced in episode 2, is not yet doing more than lurking about, but I suspect that will change. (If it doesn’t, it would be a dreadful waste of Spiner’s talent.) At this point, it’s unclear whether Sidney is the Devil himself or just a powerful and very well dressed demon.

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The show’s super haunting and spooky opening credits will get your attention fast. Outcast airs Fridays at 10p.m. ET on Cinemax. You can watch the premiere, “A Darkness Surrounds Him,” free on Cinemax (or on its YouTube Channel) and watch all the episodes on MaxGo.

Scary in a completely different way from Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, Cinemax’s Outcast is sure to grab horror fans by the throat and not let them go. Enjoy the trailer, my fellow Outcasts.

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All the Unloved Ones: PENNY DREADFUL, Season 3 Premiere, Review & Recap

Spoilers,
Deliciously Dark & Dreadful

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The premiere of the third season of Showtime’s  Penny Dreadful clearly demonstrates why this show is so powerful. Strong writing by its creator, John Logan, is woven with daring performances by all the actors involved. Bold, engaging, and excitingly dreadful, this horror classic, set in the Victorian era, gets better every year, even as its content and its exploration of good and evil get darker.

Vanessa Ives

Eva Green’s Vanessa Ives (above, center) is the lynchpin of the show, and the character is a striking one. Hunted by dark forces who want her for “The Master,” who varies from Dracula to Lucifer, Vanessa must constantly face her own inner demons in order to survive. In “The Day Tennyson Died,” Vanessa is alone in Sir Malcolm’s mansion, having been “abandoned” by the surrogate family who gathered to protect her in the first two seasons.

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Fortunately, Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) comes to her rescue with his guarded affection and droll sense of humor.  As the married, closet-homosexual, Beale is charming and delightful. Initially drawn into Vanessa’s circle when she got possessed by dark forces at a séance at his home, Lyle became one of the pawns that the witches attempted to use to get Vanessa. After Sir Malcolm’s group needed Lyle’s help gaining access to an ancient puzzle, they used him to help decipher said linguistic puzzle.

Lyle’s growing affection for Vanessa — coupled with his attraction for Wild West sharpshooter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) — was even more obvious last night. It was Lyle who came to rescue Vanessa and convinced her to seek medical, by which he meant psychiatric, help.

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When Vanessa went to Lyle’s former psychiatrist — although that title was not used — Vanessa was astonished to meet someone who looked like, and reminded her of, the Cut-Wife. Indeed, since both were played by the award-winning Patti LuPone, I wondered how the show was going to handle her in a different role. I thought they might do it as the American Horror Story anthology series does: by just having the same actor as an entirely different character. In an exciting twist, creator-writer Logan chose to have Vanessa tell Dr. Seward that she reminded her of “someone [she] knew once,” saying, “Her name was Joan Clayton.”

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Dr. Seward said that Clayton was her family name, and admitted that her family came from the same area mentioned as the home of the former Cut-Wife. After Vanessa left, making an appointment for the following day, Dr. Seward gave her such a long, penetrating stare that I wondered if Dr. Seward shares more than a familial resemblance with the Cut-Wife & Witch-Mentor Joan Clayton. I wondered if she was actually Joan Clayton, who was burned at the stake, or if she was, instead, a reincarnation or a shape-shifted version of Joan’s Night-Comer Witch sister, Evelyn Poole, who spent all of season two hunting Vanessa down for the Master, Lucifer.

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It will be fascinating to see if Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory) also returns to the series: she was a stunningly good at being evil in season 2.

I’d welcome her back as a returning nemesis to Vanessa.

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At the end of their initial appointment, Dr. Seward told Vanessa to break the cycle of self-destruction and self-pity by doing something she’d never done before. Vanessa went to a Natural History Museum where, in front of the scorpion display, she met the charming, educated Dr. Sweet (Christian Camargo).

It was significant that his talk, though about the animals and insects in the museum, was so self-absorbed that he was unable to recall Vanessa’s name. Though charming and entertaining, he will not be a good romantic interest for Vanessa. Instead, if she sees him again, he will become one of the “dark men” to whom Vanessa is attracted and who remain permanently emotionally inaccessible to her.

It’ll give her quite a lot to discuss with Dr. Seward.

Ethan Chandler

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Last season, Ethan (Josh Hartnett) learned that he turns into a wolf during his blackouts: he already knew that he woke up from them surrounded by dead people. Despite his attraction to and affection for Vanessa, Ethan declined her invitation to run away with her and start life anew. After he saved Vanessa by killing the Night-Comer Witch Evelyn Poole, Ethan turned himself in for the murders at the Mariner Inn, thinking, I suppose, that he would be hanged, thereby protecting Vanessa from his dark side while atoning for all the murders he had unconsciously committed.

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Unfortunately, Inspector Rusk extradited Ethan to the United States for trial. That’s where the two were seen last night: on a train in the New Mexico Territory. When the Inspector and his subordinate got up to get some tea, a large group of men killed virtually everyone else on the train and kidnapped Ethan to return him to his wealthy father.

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That is, they killed virtually everyone except the Inspector, his subordinate, and Hecate (Sarah Green), daughter of the Night-Comer Evelyn Poole and Witch herself. Hecate has long been interested in Ethan, if only because, as the Lupus Dei — the Hound (or Wolf) of God — he is Vanessa’s ordained Protector. The henchmen were going to kill Hecate along with the other passengers, but she pleaded for her life as a “helpless woman.”

Boy, did those guys make a mistake.

Now they not only have a WereWolf in their custody, but they have a Witch and the intrepid Inspector Rusk on their trail.

Sir Malcolm Murray

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Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) returned to form last night as the fierce, violent, selfish explorer who neglected his family in his pursuit of egotistical glory and continental exploration. After burying his faithful companion Sembene, who was unintentionally killed by Ethan-as-Wolf, Malcolm is about to be robbed and murdered by cutthroats when an unknown man steps in and helps Malcolm fight the bandits.

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When questioned on why he helped Malcolm, Kaetenay (Wes Studi, above R) tells Malcolm that he still has a purpose in life, and that Kaetenay needs Malcolms help in rescuing the “one who is like a son” to both men: Ethan Chandler. Malcolm agrees to go with Kaetenay to America to aid Ethan.

It’s a small group, consisting of only these two men, going up against the kidnappers hired by Ethan’s father, the witch Hecate, and the ever intrepid Inspector Rusk. But then, Malcolm has hunted and destroyed Vampire-Creatures while attempting to save his daughter Mina. Since he seems back to himself, he’ll give those who want to harm Ethan a good fight, at the very least.

The Creature
aka John Clare

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One of the most fascinating characters on Penny Dreadful is Frankenstein’s first Creature (Rory Kinnear), who was going by the name John Clare in season two. Clare was shown on an ice-bound ship, where the starving crew was discussing the humanity of cannibalism in order to survive. Clare prevented them from killing a young boy who only had a few days to live, though we did not know if the boy was dying of starvation, the cold, or of something else. As Clare sat beside the unconscious boy to comfort him, Clare began humming, then singing, the lullaby “All Through the Night.” To his horror, he had a flashback to his life before he was “revived” or “resurrected” by Dr. Frankenstein.

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After seeing his own wife, dying son, and himself — in a mirror — as he was singing the same lullaby, Clare broke the ship-boy’s neck and abandoned the others to their cannibalistic fate. Clare was last seen trekking away from the frozen ship. Apparently, he is heading “home,” though it is unclear if he is going to the home he previously shared with his wife and child, or if he is going back to find his “Creator,” Victor Frankenstein, and his intended Creature-Bride Lilly.

Victor Frankenstein

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Poor Victor (Harry Treadaway, above R). Not only is he a morally bankrupt addict who committed murder to get his Creature a bride, he fell in love with the intended Bride himself. When we last saw Frankentein, he was aiming a gun at the unfaithful and murderous Lily (Billie Piper, below R), formerly the consumptive Brona Croft, who was in the company of Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney, below, center).

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Though neither Dorian nor Lilly was in the season 3 premiere, we know those two are up to no good. After her rage-filled, male-bashing tirade delivered to the Creature, Lilly returned to Dorian, who has become more fascinated by her as a resurrected Creature of Frankenstein’s than Dorian was by her as the consumptive prostitute Brona Croft.

And Victor is still madly in love with her.

To get Lilly back, or to destroy her — he can’t decide which — Victor has called on his old friend and fellow physician, Dr. Jekyll (Shazad Latif).

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I’ve been saying, since the inception of Penny Dreadful, that the show simply wouldn’t be complete in its exploration of good and evil without one of the classics of Victorian literature — Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — so I was thrilled to finally have Jekyll arrive. No exploration of the Victorian period, its literature, and its philosophical obsessions would be complete without Jekyll & Hyde.

And Jekyll is a perfect addition to Penny Dreadful‘s cast of characters at this juncture.

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While Frankenstein was explaining that he found success by “creating life” with his Creatures, though now he feels morally obliged to kill them, Dr. Jekyll was persuading Victor that he really wanted Lilly back. If only she were tamed, domesticated, back to her formerly “blank” self (which viewers know may have been an act of self-preservation on Lilly’s part, since her anti-male, women’s “rights” tirade revealed that she vividly recalled abuse at the hands of men — former husband and customers — and that she was not going to take any more of it).

Viewers who’ve read the Robert Louis Stevenson novel featuring Dr. Jekyll and his “experimental” counterpart, Mr. Hyde, know that Mr. Hyde is more evil, vicious, and cruel than any Creature yet created by Frankenstein. It’ll be fascinating to see what Jekyll intends to do with Lilly, and to see what evil acts he commits in his attempt to separate good from evil in himself, to tame the rage-full Lilly, and to promote his own “medical research.”

(And a big Shout-Out to writer John Logan for “listening” to me: I know you didn’t read my blogs nor put Dr. Jekyll into Penny Dreadful at my advice, but it feels wonderful to be validated on Jekyll & Hyde’s importance to the horror literature of this period. Thanks ever so much, John.)

The Master

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Last year, the Cut-Wife, who became Vanessa’s mentor, told her, “When Lucifer fell, he did not fall alone.” While deciphering the Verbis Diablo puzzle left by a dead monk, the group of “explorers” who were protecting Vanessa from the Night-Comers (Witches), discovered that, apparently, when God cast Lucifer out of Heaven, He also cast out Lucifer’s “brother.” Lucifer was sent to reign in Hell, while his brother was sent to reign over the earth, in the form of a blood-drinker. A Vampire.

In Season 1, the Vampire-Creature looked like this:

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Malcolm, Ethan, Sembene, and Vanessa killed a few of those Creatures, along with many of their turned victims, as they attempted to save Sir Malcolm’s daughter, Mina Murray Harker, from the “Master.” Last night, at the end of the premiere, Dr. Seward’s secretary stole money from the desk drawer, went to find a prostitute, and was attacked. When he awoke, he was in an abandoned warehouse, surrounded by Lost Boys, with a few Lost Girls thrown in.

I thought the secretary was doomed to become another Lost Boy.

Then, a noise caused all the Lost Boys — along with all the rats in the place — to fall to the ground and cower before scampering away. As the secretary looked up, a dark, whispery, slithery Voice filled the warehouse, asking his name. Stricken with terror, and literally shaking with fear as he gazed upward, the secretary revealed his name.

Renfield.

As soon as I heard it and realized its import, the Voice asked for information on Vanessa Ives. After Renfield, according to the Master’s directions, bared his throat to offer his blood, the screen went black, and the Master revealed its identity.

Dracula.

Zounds!

Gave me the shivers, my Dreadfuls.

I am now officially, and delightedly, afeard.

p.s. If you haven’t taken a really good look at the promotional poster for Penny Dreadful season 3 (at start of post), look again. When you see it for what it is, you’ll know. And be amazed.

Related Posts

When Lucifer Fell:
My Penny Dreadful Posts,
Seasons 1 & 2


The Books

If you want to read the books that Penny Dreadful‘s literary characters are based on, Showtime is offering them for sale on its site, but you can get them free as ebooks: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s  The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

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The Lion Hunts Tonight: Showtime’s PENNY DREADFUL “Memento Mori” S2E8

Warning: Spoilers

(Updated to include Video of Lily & John Clare)

images-18Wow, I didn’t think Showtime’s brilliant series Penny Dreadful, created and written by John Logan, could get any better this season, but last night’s episode, “Memento Mori,” was stunning and  relentless. Actually, only one person got killed, but everyone was reminded of death because the lions were relentlessly hunting.

Many people have expressed their disappointment that Vanessa (Eva Green) and Ethan (Josh Hartnett) were not in “Memento Mori,” but they had virtually the entire previous episode, “Little Scorpion,” to themselves, so I found it rather refreshing to concentrate on some of the other characters, most of whom are directly involved in the storyline which involves Vanessa and Ethan, but almost all of whom are peripherally involved.

Harry Treadaway as Dr. Victor Frankenstein and Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm in Penny Dreadful (season 2, episode 8). - Photo: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: PennyDreadful_208_0149So Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway, above L) has gotten his heart broken by a lying Lily (Billie Piper, first photo, center), who had sexual relations with a stranger whom she strangled during intercourse. Victor confessed his suffering to Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton, R), who then explained that he, too, is suffering from the disease of love.

images-10In previous episodes, however, Sir Malcolm has been happy and carefree in his love for Mrs. Poole (Helen McCrory). Not so in “Memento Mori.” He expressed his dismay that he is no longer his “mono-maniacal self,” since that’s who he really is. He was so much a comfort to poor Victor as a fellow traveler on the path of those who suffer for love.

images-2Sir Malcolm is also missing his dead family members, like his wife Gladys, daughter Mina, and son Peter. All of his family, actually. He was glancing sadly and pensively through their photos. His own personality and ego may be much stronger than the Night-Comer (witch) Evelyn Poole imagined when she enchanted him.

images-13Despite massaging the heart of his fetish, then ripping it from the doll’s body and holding it in her hand while she attempted to completely submerge Sir Malcolm in her spell, he was able to break free, with Sembene’s (Danny Sapani, below) help: Sembene wrestled Sir Malcolm after he went nuts and tossed over the table containing the story of the Verbis Diablo, scattering their carefully constructed puzzle; dragged Sir Malcolm across the hall, kicked open a door, pushed Sir Malcolm in, and shouted, “Know who you are.”

images copyAs Lyle (Simon Russell Beale), Victor, and Sembene (L to R, below) watched, Sir Malcolm roamed around an empty, dusty room, where — in his mind — he was seeing and interacting, in a miniature ball, with his own dead family members.

penny-dreadfulHe broke free of Evelyn’s enchantment, she was aware of it, and fought with her daughter over that fact when her daughter suggested rather brazenly that her mother was perhaps too old and not attractive enough to maintain her hold on Sir Malcolm. Maybe, the daughter Hecate (Sarah Greene) suggested, she herself should give it a try with Sir Malcolm. She got shoved out of the room by her face for that impertinence.

Sarah Greene as Hecate in Penny Dreadful (Season 2, Gallery). - Photo:  Courtesy of SHOWTIME - Photo ID:  PennyDreadful-hecate-0038Actually, the only person who got killed last night — though they all might have been reminded that death is always imminent — was poor transgendered Angelique (Johnny Beauchamp), left alone for the second night in a row while her lover Dorian (Reeve Carney) took Lily (Billie Piper) out to dinner again.

Alas for poor Angelique, she’s inquisitive and clever as well as beautiful: when the wind in a room without windows blew out some candles, she discovered the secret door that led to the room which hides the picture of Dorian Gray.

The picture that allows Dorian to remain forever young, beautiful, immortal — unmarked physically by all his internal ugliness. When Dorian returned home and found that Angelique had discovered his secret, he poisoned her, despite the fact that she said she could still love him.images-12

The picture itself, shown for the first time last night, wasn’t that interesting. But then, unless you’ve read the book, you wouldn’t think Dorian had ever done anything except drink and eat to excess, have sex with members of both sexes and genders. You wouldn’t know the lies, betrayals, murders, drug use, alcohol abuse, etc because Dorian’s a rather minor character in this show, and his story isn’t much tied in to that of the other characters, except peripherally.

The only thing that was interesting about Dorian’s portrait — and I was the only one in our household who found it interesting because I’m the only one who’s read the book and who’s also seen previous film adaptations of it — was the chains on Dorian in the painting. That was an intriguing touch, since Picture-Dorian was pretty tame and dull, to be completely honest. It looked like a ragged mummy or dirty ghost.

The chains symbolized Dorian’s evil being trapped in the portrait, but they also represent the fact that Dorian is chained to the portrait of himself: if anything happens to it, Dorian ages, gets ugly, and could die.

images-16The most stunning part of “Memento Mori” was Lily (Billy Piper), who should have looked like the demonic photo below instead of the sweet one above.

images-11She’s broken Victor’s heart and caused him to attempt suicide (there seemed to be pills on the floor around his unconscious form when the Creature (Rory Kinnear) threw a bucket of water on him to wake him: then Victor vomited, which made me suspect he’s attempted suicide out of despair).

images-14Lily is a Creature, like her intended, the original Frankenstein creation, now going by the name of John Clare (Rory Kinnear, first photo above R, and below), who, despite his rages at Frankenstein himself, has often shown himself more passionate, loyal, loving, and decent than many of the human beings in the show.

images-7His love for poetry, his philosophical musings, his intellect, his suffering all make him a tragic hero extra-ordinaire, and I compliment creator-writer John Logan for his brilliant interpretation of this Creature, so different from the origin source, Frankenstein by Mary Wollestonecraft Shelley, so much more sophisticated, and so wonderfully acted by Kinnear. The Creature is one of the most fascinating and interesting characters in the series.

Lily, however, was the surprise of the night. Not only did she seem to prefer her murdered stranger dead, nuzzling and love-talking his nude body after she killed him, she blatantly lied to Victor about where she’d been all night, then turned Monster herself when the Creature came calling.

images-18It was a tour-de-force performance, with Creature-Clare dumbfounded — even, perhaps, frightened — as his Intended Bride, Lily, ranted about how women suffer because of men; as she tossed him about as if he were a rag-doll; as she questioned him about his dream that they’d walk country fields “quoting f***ing poetry to f***ing cows.”

Yowza!

Her rant against the societal expectations of women, the inequities they suffer, and men’s roles in all of it — with a few hints of dead prostitute Brona’s Irish accent — was phenomenal writing, social commentary, and acting. Then, as if Creature-Clare weren’t terrified enough, and the viewers not shocked enough, Lily then started making love to him, literally and figuratively, calling him her “ugly little monster” and saying that no one would ever love him like she did.

She also said lots of things about their having children, taking over the world, and being the future, but I’m not sure if the Creature got all that since she was sitting on his lap, making the beast with two backs, as she predicted their glorious future together.

As monsters.

Indeed.

(Lily rages @ John Clare)

Warning: Language

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