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New season of “Penny Dreadful”: Not only a horrific pleasure for the eyes, but also for the ears

Two weeks ago the second season of the horror TV series “Penny Dreadful” started on the American Showtime network. If you haven’t watched it so far I strongly recommend it. It has great characters, fantastic music – and Eva Green. 

“Penny Dreadful” combines a lot of stories and characters from 19th-century Irish and British fiction (known as “Penny dreadfuls”), like Victor Frankenstein and his monster from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, Dorian Gray from Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and Abraham Van Helsing and Mina Harker from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. They also introduced at the end of season one (spoiler alert) a werewolf formerly known as the character Ethan Chandler (played by Josh Hartnett). In London these characters fight together against supernatural threats.

When a lot of characters are thrown together in one series one might imagine that it is a bit much because there can not be enough time to create a compelling story for each one of them (like we have seen it in the movie “Van Helsing”). But “Penny Dreadful” succeeded in solving this problem by taking their time with building a strong storyline. Of course also good actors can help with that, especially the performance of Eva Green. After every episode she accomplishes of leaving you complety stunned and amazed. With her demonic possession (as far as we know it) they also added something new to the monster universe. Her dark voice and movements driven by possession remind you of scenes of “The Exorcist”, but without the special effects. But the cast is generally fitted to the series. They picked a lot of British actors like Harry Treadaway (Dr. Frankenstein) to give the scenery of London a more realistic feeling.

Because of these details it is refreshing to experience a horror TV series, besides “Hannibal”, that is produced at the highest stage. They created the city of Victorian London in a very dark way like you can see it in Alan Moore’s Comic “From Hell”. You notice that every detail on every building was researched with care and historically accurately. This setting is one of the cornerstones that creates the threatening atmosphere in the series. In any alley a person could lure you into a trap and turn into some sort of creature. The city is also authentically dirty like it was in the 19th century (hello cholera). But besides the setting this obscure atmosphere is created too by the unique music of the Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski.

In this Golden Age of television that we live in, major actors feature in episodic series, like Kevin Spacey in “House of Cards” or Matthew McConaughey in “True Detective”. But in television music we can also observe a revival. The first time I noticed the work of Korzeniowski was in the movie “A Single Man” where the music literally painted the movie. In “Penny Dreadful” we can see a hint of that also. The  orchestra music offers, compared to other television music scores, no leitmotiv. Depending on the scene and situation the music can envelop the audience in a cloak of tragic beauty like in the scene that uncovers Dorian Gray’s secret room – and life. Or it creates moments of pure horror when there is combination of cellos with violins and pianos that chill your spine while simultaneously remaining musically interesting.

All in all “Penny Dreadful” has not lost quality so far. Actually it’s the opposite – with every episode they leave you in a state of suspence and being more and more enchanted. (Hint for season two)

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