But what exactly is a ‘guilty pleasure’, anyway? Simply put, it’s something that you shamelessly (or shamefully) enjoy that most other sensible folk would reject. Grilled cheese and marshmallow sandwiches. Episodes of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. The Monkees (screw you guys, my Beatles discography has remained untouched for the past year, while my Frequently Played List includes three of the Pre-Fab Four’s best works – a No Prize to anyone who can guess them).
Then there are the movies. Oh, our DVD shelves are packed with items we enjoy on our lonesome (and I don’t just mean the obvious ones) but would invite scorn and derision if we were to mention them aloud to friends and family. Stupid movies. Flawed movies. S**t movies.
Among my considerable collection of Guilty Pleasure Movies is 2003’s LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, the movie that killed off Sean Connery’s career the way that ZARDOZ, ENTRAPMENT and THE (non-caped) AVENGERS movies didn’t. The adaptation of the Alan Moore comic was lambasted by all and sundry, and with good reason, but I remained loyal to it. Partly because I love the Victorian setting (and the steampunk), partly because I love the idea of bringing together contemporary fictional characters created by different authors (speaking of which, do you think Universal will ever stop their coke whore parties and put together their own Cinematic Universe of Horror Icons, or do I have to go out there and take over?)
I haven’t watched LEAGUE in a while (mostly because every time it appears on TV, my wife threatens to withhold her affections if I don’t find something, anything else to watch). Same with WILD WILD WEST, but one confession at a time, please. But my love for the Victorian Era and those pulp heroes and iconic characters remains.
And yet, when PENNY DREADFUL, the British-American series created for Showtime and Sky by John Logan (screenwriter for, among other movies, GLADIATOR and STAR TREK: NEMESIS), I didn’t immediate begin watching it, mostly because there were other things to watch, other things to do. It wasn’t until after I got back from holiday and had the whole of Season 1 recorded and ready to watch did I bother (binge watching: I love it!).
The series is a British-American co-production between Showtime and Sky Atlantic, premiering in April-May 2014; the second season has just started. The title, referring to a 19th Century pulp fiction featuring lurid horror tales of wiley foreign villains, serial killers and apparitions (thank goodness we don’t indulge in such stuff nowadays), and has nothing to do with the 2006 movie of the same name, draws upon many horror tropes and characters from contemporary fiction, ala LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN.
The series stars ex-Bond guy Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray, one of those Great White Hunters who spend their days discovering lost cities or sporting the latest in pith helmets. Now he’s on a more personal quest: to locate his missing daughter Mina (Olivia Llewellyn), who has been taken by some diabolical force (I won’t give it away, but if I tell you Mina had recently married a Jonathon Harker, you can probably work out the rest).
To aid him, he enlists a diverse group of individuals: Sembene (Danny Sapani, TRANCE), a strong but soft-spoken ally from his expedition days; Vanessa Ives (Eva Green, SIN CITY), a young clairvoyant who also happens to be his illegitimate daughter; Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT), an American Wild West performer with a quick gun hand and a dark reason for not returning to the States; and a young, unconventional doctor (Harry Treadaway, HONEYMOON) who turns out to be called… Victor Frankenstein.
Surrounding this circle of adventurers is an equally wild group, including Abraham Van Helsing (David Warner, TIME AFTER TIME); the immortal Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney, THE TEMPEST), who takes a shine to Vanessa; crazy Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale, MY WEEK WITH MARILYN); Irish hooker Brona Croft (ex-Dr Who companion Billie Piper), who falls for Ethan; and Caliban (Rory Kinnear, SKYFALL), Frankenstein’s eloquent creation, who has come back into his creator’s life to demand something from him. And I don’t mean a partner for bridge…
PENNY DREADFUL proved to be a superbly-filmed, superbly-acted production, looking very handsome and authentic. And the scares are there too; one episode details a possession of Vanessa that proves to be creepier and more unnerving than the last twelve exorcism-themed movies I’ve watched (and the first two episodes of the second season have upped the horror stakes considerably). The vampires we see are thankfully non-mopey, feral and reminiscent of the series THE STRAIN, and there are a few twists that occur that surprised even a jaded viewer like myself.
PENNY DREADFUL is available on DVD as well as selected channels; you could do worse than give it a watch (though be warned; you might see the odd boob or butt here and there. it’s a grown-up thing). The trailer is below.
Plot: 5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 6 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. In for a penny dreadful…