See the first episode of Showtime’s ‘Penny Dreadful’ for free


If you enjoy shows like Supernatural and True Blood, you have a few people to thank. The writers, technical staff and actors for these shows all deserve a pat on the back, but these programs and many others derive their inspiration from a period in fiction that heralded the modern horror tale. The vampire we are familiar with on the big and small screens has changed little from it’s iteration in the 1897 novel Dracula written by Bram Stoker. This is also roughly the same period that gave us Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray. These stories, along with the world’s first science fiction tale Frankenstein, published in 1818, have sown the seeds of modern horror for over a hundred years. When we examine fear in the form of monsters, it is almost assuredly through the eyes of 1800s novelists, whose visions are still as prescient and valid today as they were when they were written.

This is the approach that Showtime is taking with there new horror program Penny Dreadful. Set in the Victorian era, Penny Dreadful mixes the literary figures of 1800s horror fiction into a single universe. While this is really nothing new to people familiar with Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula or Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, this is a mashup that will be new to most television audiences. The show introduces us to American showman Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) a wild west reenactor who gets enlisted as a hired gun by spiritualist Vanessa Ives (Eva Green). The episode also includes ties to Bram Stoker’s novel with the inclusion of Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcom Murray, father of Dracula’s Mina Murray, in search of his daughter who has been taken by supernatural creatures. There are also ties to other important horror characters, but I don’t want to spoil it (It really is one of the best scenes in the episode).

Penny Dreadful

Penny Dreadful lays the ground work for a sinister and believable world, interweaving the historical Victorian London with that of its literary counterparts. There are explorer’s clubs, cadaver schools, and the Egyptology section of the London museum. The pilot episode takes us through the interesting parts of actual London society, showing us the carapace that contains the story’s dark corners. A world that includes ghouls, vampires and reanimated corpses. The “team” aspect of the show is something that I really enjoyed. You find yourself intrigued by each of these strange characters as they are thrust together to scour London’s underbelly for monsters and mystic knowledge.

If you like classic horror, Victoriana- and NBC’s Dracula* didn’t quite do it for you, you should give Penny Dreadful a whirl. If you’re interested, you’re in luck because the pilot episode is FREE online right now.

*I had high hopes for NBC’s Dracula, but it just didn’t deliver the brand of classic horror that I enjoy. I think perhaps many of these new shows are hampered by the desire to be just as crazy and convoluted as American Horror Story. 


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