An anthology series centering on different characters and locations, including a house with a murderous past, an insane asylum, a witch coven, a freak show, a hotel, a possessed farmhouse, a cult, and the apocalypse.
Strikes the perfect balance between Gothic art-house horror and gory B-movie action; visuals look great
Well, I'm trying to write a completely spoiler-free review here, but I guess it's safe to announce that 'Penny Dreadful' looks positively gorgeous. Great production design and cinematography: by the time we get to see Victorian London as night descends upon the city and the fog starts creeping through those narrow cobblestone alleys, nearly every frame looks like a beautiful, Gothic painting (and not once did I spot a fake looking CG-background). As far as the actors are concerned, they portray their obscure, troubled characters with a certain kind of "theatre" intensity that fits the story and the turn-of-the-century setting very well.
Story-wise I don't want to give away anything – but of course, there are unholy things lurking in the shadows that need to be fought (and they look rather convincing: the make-up effects are another strong point of this show). Like the iconic "Hammer Horror" films of old (usually starring either Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing – or both), 'Penny Dreadful' draws its setting, characters and general inspiration mainly from some famously dark tales written by Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde (and to a lesser extent from sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories). And just like the Hammer films - who may seem rather tame now but were shockingly violent for their time - this show is neither for purists of said literary works nor for the faint of heart.
While some scenes are genuinely scary in a tension building, "old school" kind of way, we also get blood soaked action sequences that will probably put off some viewers, but seem entirely appropriate given the show's title (in the 19th century a "penny dreadful" used to be a booklet of cheap, sensational fiction printed on pulp paper which could be purchased for - wait for it: a penny).
My overall verdict: 'Penny Dreadful' dishes out a hefty mix of gory violence, classic horror creatures, sex and action, but it never forgets to build atmosphere. The B-movie elements are undeniably there, but they're deliberate (the title says it all), and this is by no means a cheap affair. Beautifully crafted and with a great cast, I strongly recommend this show to anyone who likes the old "Hammer Horror" movies as well as films in the vein of Tim Burton's 'Sweeney Todd' and 'Sleepy Hollow'.
But not just for the fans of "Goth Horror" is this well worth checking out; I would say that after 'True Detective' and perhaps 'Fargo' this is one of the most promising new TV-shows of 2014.