Supernatural horror of all shapes and sizes can be found on the small screen right now, between the delightful procedural/adventure fun of Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, the deliciously campy political intrigue of NBC’s Dracula and the sheer ridiculousness of everything that takes place on American Horror Story: Coven on FX.
It’ll interesting to see what horror sub-genre Showtime’s upcoming Penny Dreadful TV series falls into, while attempting to provide viewers with the kind of (better) scares and Gothic spectacle that they cannot find elsewhere. Based on the marketing approach, this series – the creation of Oscar-nominated screenwriter/producer John Logan (Hugo, Skyfall) – is going for more of a old-fashioned sinister atmosphere, befitting the 1890s London setting – where famous horror literature characters, like Victor Frankenstein and Count Dracula, live amongst the common people (and the demons that haunt them).
The most recent Penny Dreadful teaser focuses on Eva Green (300: Rise of an Empire), playing a mysterious woman named Vanessa Ives; who, according to the reports on the actress’ casting, is “a force to be reckoned with and the heroine of the series.”
Miss Ives isn’t the only lady hanging around Victorian London with dark secrets it seems, as the show’s cast also includes fan-favorite Billie Piper (of Doctor Who and Secret Diary of a Call Girl fame) as Brona Croft – an Irish immigrant seeking to leave her troubling past behind her – and Helen McCrory (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 & 2) as the spiritualist Madame Kali, who may (or may not) be more than she appears on the surface.
As for the men of Penny Dreadful: their ranks include Josh Hartnett (30 Days of Night) as Ethan Chandler, a man who is “charming and brash, but there are demons behind his eyes” (possibly figurative, maybe literal demons), in addition to ex-James Bond Timothy Dalton as a seasoned African explorer on a personal mission and Reeve Carney (The Tempest) as the handsome, yet mysterious and isolated Dorian Grey (yes, that Dorian Grey).
Check out a recent Penny Dreadful featurette, which has the show’s producers explaining where the term “penny dreadful” comes from:
Oscar-winner and Skyfall director Sam Mendes (who is returning to helm the next 007 movie, which releases in 2015) is an executive producer on Penny Dreadful, while the pilot episode was directed by Juan Antonio Bayona – the filmmaker behind the acclaimed Spanish-language horror film The Orphanage (Bayona is currently working on a deal for him to direct the World War Z sequel).
All in all, there’s a lot of respectable talent appearing onscreen and working behind the scenes on Penny Dreadful, which bodes well for the final product. Moreover, people like Bayona have experience at telling stories about ghosts and demons that not only have real artistic depth, but are genuinely spooky and disturbing on top of that.
As much fun as the various supernatural horror genre TV shows airing right now generally are, most of them aren’t really all that genuinely scary; if Penny Dreadful can fill that niche and make for a frightfully fun bit of small screen viewing, then good on it.
Penny Dreadful begins airing on Showtime in 2014.