DVD Review: Penny Dreadful (The Complete First Season)

Bringing people back from the dead is the key element to horror. These tales of creatures rising from the grave include zombies, vampires, mummies or Frankenstein’s monsters. Showtime’s Penny Dreadful featured two cast members that rose from the great beyond. Timothy Dalton hadn’t been too high profile since departing the role of James Bond. Josh Hartnett seemed to have been alien abducted after being the second coming of Harrison Ford in the ’90s. In a sense, it doesn’t matter where they went since they came back in a fierce way for the horrific Penny Dreadful. The series is a throwback to a time when men made monsters and monsters made them. All the major literary figures of the time crop up. Penny Dreadful: The Complete First Season contains plenty of bumps and chills in Victorian London.

Vanessa Ives (Casino Royale‘s Eva Green) is a woman with serious issues. She might be possessed. “Night Work” opens with her praying so hard that it turns into a nightmare. She works with Sir Malcolm Murray (License to Kill‘s Timothy Dalton) as they track down creatures of the night. The duo have a purpose to their pursuit since Malcolm’s daughter might have been abducted by a vampire-esuqe character. The daughter, Mina, might have a psychic connection to Vanessa. The duo need more help as they explore the underworld of London. They get lucky in hiring the Wild West show’s shooting expert Ethan Chandler (Pearl Harbor‘s Josh Hartnett). He has no clue what he’s supposed to kill. He’s just used to target shooting and aiming at fake Indians on the warpath. But he quickly gets sucked into the supernatural life lurking beneath the shadows of London. Other characters from the literary horror world pop into the story including Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) who is just a simple medical student enlisted for a unique autopsy. Turns out he’s already been working on his resurrection plans as he brings a man back to life. Shockingly this turns out to not be his first success story. His original monster (Rory Kinnear) returns with a vengeance. The monster has been laying low as a bit of Phantom of the Opera figure working at the nearby extreme performance theater: the Grand Guignol. Among the people they encounter is Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) who is much more youthful than his portrait might reveal. Chandler spends his time hooking up with a dying hooker (Doctor Who‘s Billie Piper). While Sembene (Danny Sapani) doesn’t have a major role working for Murray, he strikes an imposing figure.

The show does a fine job bringing together various characters in a scary tale that seems perfect for the Penny Dreadful format. Those were cheap horror stories that people had to buy and read before you could subscribe to Showtime. The biggest horror of the series is that there’s only 8 episodes for this first go around. The show does an amazing job of setting up the atmosphere related to the various characters. While Dalton and Hartnett give excellent performances, it’s the possessed power of Eve Green that dominates the show. She is able to go from well mannered woman to carnal hedonist in a wink without losing her character. She has amazing eyes for when she goes wild. She is the glue that holds together a series that could be as underwhelming as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Penny Dreadful: The Complete First Season is as addicting as a its namesake publications.

The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The transfers handle the darkness of the show that spends plenty of time in ancient cellars. The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Surround. You’ll get all the bumps in the room. There’s also a 2.0 Spanish dub. The episodes are subtitled.

What Is Penny Dreadful (1:54) explains the title.

Literary Roots (2:14) lets John Logan talk about his creation.

Coming Together (2:06) exposes the pre-production time in Scotland.

The Artisans: Part One & Two (4:46) dips into the production.

The Grand Guignol (2:23) explains the outrageous theater.

Prostitution and Sex in the Victorian Era (3:40) is a good primer on classic naughtiness.

British Exploration and the Search for the Nile (2:11) covers the explorers of the time.

The Science of Medicine (2:50) allows technical curator Carla Valentine to discuss the science of the times.

Penny Dreadful: The Complete First Season is a creepy rush. The show does a fine job of mixing various nightmare creatures in a foggy London.

CBS DVD presents I>Penny Dreadful: The Complete First Season. Starring: Eve Green, Timothy Dalton and Josh Hartnett. Boxset Contents: 8 episodes on 3 DVDs. Released: October 14, 2014

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