July 5, 2012

Penny Dreadful (2005)

"Jessica and David Clausen are an upstart couple who come face to face with the supernatural after inheriting a beautiful townhouse in New York City's West Village District."

I usually start my reviews with a YouTube trailer, but unfortunately, there isn't one available for this version of "Penny Dreadful". There is a trailer for it on the IMDb, but it was put up so long ago that the resolution is pretty bad. As you know, I'm all about quality on this blog.

You probably also know that I absolutely loathe and detest most horror movies which aren't either mainstream or borderline mainstream. Basically, if it looks like it's been made by amateurs then I won't even bother with it unless I've been bribed to watch it. Fortunately, "Penny Dreadful" is an award winning horror short with great production values. No bribery was necessary, and I even went out of my way to buy a copy of it.

From the scan I put at the top, it may look like a bootleg copy, but I can assure you that this is the real deal and purchased from the director, Bryan Norton, through eBay (back from when the postage rates didn't make buying a DVD from a private seller somewhat ridiculous). He even signed it in gold-coloured ink!

If you need further proof that this is real, I also scanned the back cover as well. The DVD case is a clear slim case. I would have preferred a standard DVD case, but this is what I got. It came with a postercard inside which I have also scanned to make up the rest of the pictures for this post. The only part I didn't scan was the DVD itself because I didn't want it to get scratched.

Anyway, I suppose you want to know what this is about since it's not the 2006 "After Dark Horrorfest" movie by the same name starring Rachel Miner. Suffice it to say that it's a haunted house story with a twist.

I'd actually forgotten about the somewhat rushed twist at the end until I just watched it again, but in fairness, it has been nearly 5 years since I last saw it. It's not a bad thing that I only remembered it for the great characterisation and acting talents involved.

Emily Vacchiano (now known as Emily Vaughan) did a really fantastic job of looking scared and screaming when necessary although, apart from one previous indie drama, she was one of the least experienced actors in this. Her only IMDb credit since has been for a bit part in an episode of "The Sopranos", which is a shame.

Sebastian La Cause, who played her onscreen husband, had an enormous body of work behind him, albeit mainly as a dancer, but he was pretty good as well. Even in the small amount of time he had on screen, the chemistry between him and Emily Vacchiono made their relationship a bit more realistic than it could have been in such a short movie.

The big selling point here though was Betsy Palmer playing a psychic. She was as over-the-top as you can imagine, and to me, she stood out in a bad way compared to everyone else. She was almost as out of place as Vincent Price was in "House of the Long Shadows" and just as hammy.

The movie also had an important cameo by Warrington Gillette who played Jason Voorhees in "Friday the 13th Part 2". This wasn't really a "Friday the 13th" reunion, however, as Betsy Palmer wasn't in the sequel and they didn't share a scene in "Penny Dreadful" either.

One of my main reasons for buying this DVD, other than it being a ghost story, was Tina Krause. She was one of the first actresses I interviewed back in the day when we both had real websites. Her part in this movie was way too small and her character was quite irritating, but it was nice to see her in something which felt in a class above her usual projects.

Peter DuPre, as an estate agent, was yet another recognisable face, as was Leo Geter who even had the same character name (Barry Simms) as he did in "Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers". All the characters had names taken from older horror movies just to complete the homage.

And the homages didn't stop there. Not only were a couple of old horror movies shown on the TV which Jessica (Emily Vecchiona) was watching just before a power cut, but there was even one moment which was straight out of "The Innocents".

Including the set dressing and creative effects, the spooky atmosphere which was achieved was really good, but if I had to find a flaw, none of it looked that great now on a modern HDTV. There was some CGI used in places which didn't really show, but the image quality of the transfer wasn't so hot. If you watch this on a normal CRT television then it's actually a lot better.

Having also just watched "The Innkeepers" in spite of my better judgement, there are a lot of similarities between these two movies which I'm not going to completely spoil for you until I do my inevitable review of Ti West's badly paced mess later this month.

For now, I'll just say that the same problems occurred in "Penny Dreadful" due to its length. I would have been quite happy to watch another hour or more with these characters, and the running time of 30 minutes was only just enough to tell the story.

The ending was a little bit too rushed after 25 minutes of build up. I felt a little bit let down at first by there only being 2 minutes of surprisingly bloody and gory action, but what there was of it was quite special.

I still highly recommend "Penny Dreadful" especially if you like haunted house movies. It's not perfect, but it was better than most of the full-length horror movies which came out at the time.

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