Blu-ray Review: Penny Dreadful (The Complete Series)

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When Showtime began running teaser commercials for Penny Dreadful, it seemed like one of those shows that gets hyped hard and arrives flat. A series based on the characters from 19th century horror stories with a creepy vibe was alluring. But how many times has the horror been diffused so not to scare away weak stomach viewers? The series did have major stars including a past James Bond, a former Bond Babe, a Dr. Who companion and a Hollywood hot star who stepped away from the lights. Within a few minutes into the first episode, it became immediately real that Penny Dreadful had superior production value and top notch scares. All three seasons have been combined on Blu-ray for Penny Dreadful: The Complete Series.

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 second season brings a new force to London. Since this is Showtime, the new creatures are naked bald demonic women. They attack with fury around town. Who is behind them? Evelyn Poole (Skyfall‘s Helen McCrory), the spiritualist from season one has more talent than merely reading Tarot cards. She’s can raise Hell. This becomes a massive battle of attacks and subterfuge. Evelyn uses her spells to seduce Sir Malcolm. However her ultimate goal is possessing another character. This all out supernatural battle takes place while Frankenstein’s creature deals with another crummy workplace. This time he’s working at a struggling wax museum.

The third season opens with Vanessa begins to see an alienist (an early version of a shrink) to deal with her issues. All of this gets overshadowed by the arrival of Count Dracula in London. “Predator’s Far and Near” reveals how close one character has gotten to Dracula. Ethan escapes his hanging fate by turning into a werewolf. Does he need to be rescued by Malcolm anymore? Vanessa keeps pushing her psychological therapy to get deeper inside herself. The action is split between the Wild West and underbelly of London until the end of the season. Everything comes to a head in “The Blessed Dark,” the final episode.

Penny Dreadful lived up to its potential as it brought together all the legendary monsters, mad scientists and cursed humans of the 19th Century. The results are so much better than The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The level of acting talent and quality production design kept it from being a “throw another monster in the campfire” spoof. While it is a shock when a series wraps up way short of 100 episodes, we now live in a time where this can be a benefit. The viewership will only grow for the series as future fans can easily binge Penny Dreadful: The Complete Series during a dark and stormy weekend.

The videos is 1.78:1 anamorphic. Spring for the Blu-ray so the 1080p resolution can bring out the glory of the costumes and sets. The audio is Dolby TrueHD 7.1. The soundtrack gives the show a fine theatrical sound mix with bumps coming from all corners. 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.

Video Production Blog contains 7 episodes around three minutes long each that detail behind the scenes action. They did a massive backlot build to create the streets. They cover dancing, the waxworks, the blood ball and the characters’ big transformation.

Reeve Carney Round Table (7:47) allows the actor who plays Dorian to rap with the super fans.

History of the Occult (2:06) is a power point timeline of evil events including Led Zeppelin.

Character Profiles are two minute pieces of the major cast members.

Hecate’s Witch Prosthetics (2:44) sets up how they made the characters beautiful and lethal. The special effects and makeup crew take 8 hours to make the actress up.

The Making of Dr. Jekyll’s Lab (2:27) explores how production designer and set decorator made the chemistry space take shape. They made the colorful liquids flow.
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Character Profiles (14:31) catches you up on all of the legendary monsters for the third season.

Vanessa’s Costumes (2:44) covers how the costume designer comes up with the looks for Eva Green.

Dead Zoo (2:44) shows how Dracula’s space is really a museum.

CBS DVD presents Penny Dreadful: The Final Season. Starring: Reeve Carney, Timothy Dalton, Eva Green, Rory Kinnear, Billie Piper & Josh Hartnett. Boxset Contents: 27 episodes on 9 Blu-ray discs. Released: February 7, 2016

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.

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