Halloween is only two weeks away, and I’ll be the first to admit that for some reason or another I’m just not as in the spirit of the season the way I usually am. Maybe it’s because Sarah and I haven’t been planning our costumes since July (which is usually the case) because we’re planning for a wedding. Or maybe it’s because Halloween is basically a massive drunken party holiday and as I get older I find that less and less appealing?

I’m just kidding, I totally will get drunk and party, even if that means getting drunk and partying by myself watching horror movies. Or, horror TV shows.

There haven’t been a ton of horror television shows that I can think of before 4 or 5 years ago. Sure, shows like X-Files and Outer Limits often had horror elements, but most of them were also pretty deeply science fiction influenced too. And there was Buffy and Angel, but they were more like “horror adventure” with very little actually creepy or scary going on. But now, there’s more and more horror coming to us in episodic format. I think that’s a good thing. Since I love horror. So this week and probably next week we’ll be talking about a few shows that have actually nailed (in different ways) it when it comes to bringing horror to the small screen. We’re going to start it off with two shows that, depending on what streaming services you’ve got you can totally binge right now between now and Halloween, Penny Dreadful and Scream. Scream is available right now on Netflix and the first season of Penny Dreadful is on Crave TV.

penny-dreadful-season-1-dvd-cover-11Penny Dreadful

So here’s a fun little story. Listeners to 9to5 Entertainment System will know that I played me some tabletop and live action role playing games in my time. Specifically, I spent quite time playing in a Vampire role playing game set in Victorian England. I played a foppish Toreador who was really into throwing lavish house parties. If you don’t know what a Toreador vampire is you should probably look it up. You might think less of me if you do. Don’t you judge me.

Anyways. long story short I think that Victorian era horror is amazing. Penny Dreadful does a similar thing that League of Extraordinary Gentlemen does which is to re-purpose classic literary figures for new, untold stories. It might seem like a tough sell that Dorian Grey, Victor Frakenstein, Mina Harker and vampires, pyschics and werewolves are all running around at the same time, but it pulls it off. I pretty much gave up True Blood because it became a jumbled mess. Penny Dreadful on the other hand (at least, in the first season) doesn’t get bogged down at any given point.

It does this by sticking to a core story of Malcolm Murray (played by Timothy Dalton) obsessing over tracking down his missing daughter who was abducted by a vampire. To do this he enlists psychic Vanessa Ives (who he’s known since she was a wee girl), an American sharpshooter (played by Josh Hartnett) and Doctor Frankenstein. By not wavering too much from the core story-line it weaves a pretty coherent through line across all 8 episodes. It is much more plot driven than something like American Horror Story but also leaves a lot of room for character development.

It also doesn’t pull any punches in terms of gore, which I assume is of interest to you if you’re reading this blog. There’s plenty of blood and guts strewn about that should satisfy most casual fans of horror. We’ve got Walking Dead to thank for that I think, it’s just normal to see a completely eviscerated body on premium cable these days, and I’m ok with that.

If a gory, Victorian era horror series full of literary figures sounds like fun to you, than this show will be fun for you. It delivers pretty strongly on its premise. If you’re on the fence about I would say you will know whether or not it’s for you by an episode or two, as it establishes its beats and style very early on.

I like the fact that historical horror is becoming more and more of a thing, it’s nice to see grotesque and scary scenarios play out in a world where there isn’t the benefit of cell phones, high speed internet and social media. Just a character walking down some gaslit alleyway in Penny Dreadful is terrifying because hey, if a vampire wants to rip them to shreds they can’t make a phone call or send a text or snap a photo. Instead they just die. A horrible grizzly death. Of course, the exact opposite is true of our next streaming horror show, Scream.

mtv-s-scream-tv-show-reimagines-ghostface-for-a-new-story-new-cast-new-format-new-rules-486221Scream: The TV Series

We were all (presumably) deeply saddened by the passing of horror legend Wes Craven this past August. It’s a rare thing to have a guy revitalize a genre twice in two separate decades. With Nightmare on Elmstreet and Scream, Craven basically found two, very different ways of making the genre relevant again. Now, my understanding is that Craven didn’t have too much to do with the television adaptation of his series (due in large part to his failing health) but the horror completionist in me made watching the TV adaptation more or less a foregone conclusion. I watched all the Leprechaun movies you guys, the least I could do was to see how Scream translated to the small screen.

There’s a few things that I immediately took minor issue with and I’m not sure how much they would bother the more casual viewer. First, is that the show exists entirely apart from the film series. Which is ok in theory, but the fact that the movies carefully revisited the growing and waning hype surrounding basically one horrific incident (along with Hollywood’s adaptation and profiteering off the tragedy) is part of the great meta appeal of the series. Maybe it was too clunky, but for them to be filming a tv show adaptation of the “Stab” movie franchise (the movie within a movie for the Scream series) would have been ten kinds of layered awesome.

Secondly, not enough of the characters understand the “rules” of the slasher genre and that the killer is playing by them. Which again, was a staple of the series. There’s a few characters who do and they take the time to explain the tropes and patterns that are being followed, but it’s not nearly the strong theme that it is in the film series.

None of that to take too much away from the show though. As one of the characters points out, slasher horror is not a genre that easily translates to a tv show. You have the problem with a body count. Once the killer gets going the whole cast will be dead by the third episode. I’ll hand it to the show, they do manage to kill someone almost every week, even if it means occasionally bumping off randoms. Scream: The TV Series plays a lot like a stereotypical 90s teen slasher tale with more cell phones. Characters tweet, text, listen to podcasts and share incriminating videos of each other at the drop of a hat and the new iteration of Ghostface navigates all these methods of messing with them to decent effect. He used to only be able to give you a call on a house phone, now he’s got so many more options.

One thing I will say is that the acting here is pretty horrid, but then again, so was most of the acting in 90’s slasher film. It would almost be more off-putting if the acting was any good. The number of times someone near and dear to a character dies horribly and said character is just joking around the next day at school is almost too many to count, but again, that’s kind of part of the genre.

Would I recommend this? If you’re a fan of slasher and want to see it tried long form, then yes. If you’re not a fan of slasher you won’t like genre slowed down and dragged out over 10 episodes. Take that as you will. It’s not the greatest of small screen horror, but I did willingly sit through all 10 episodes. So there’s that.

Keith does all sorts of things here on 9to5.cc, he works with the other founders on 9to5 (illustrated), co-hosts our two podcasts: The 9to5 Entertainment System and Go Plug Yourself and blogs here as The Perspicacious Geek.

 

 

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