American Horror Story:Cult- Review

And so it ends. Too political? Too desperate? Has the show really lost its way now?

Many fans of this annual show wait to see and hear any news early on about what the new series will be called, what the theme might be. This year we learned that it would be subtitled ‘Cult’ which was mysterious enough but we soon also learned that it would be inspired by or take place around the U.S. election period. Would that be a good idea? It had seemed that in the last couple of years ratings may have fallen, fans may have believed that the show was losing the strong focus and writing it had in the early series. Soon after this title news we also heard that it would involved clowns…could the show appear to seem any more desperate to jump into contemporary news and pop culture? (the new remake film of Stephen King’s IT was due in cinemas worldwide as this new series was starting and with Halloween on the way, more concerns about ‘Killer clowns’ was rising).

I will say that I was only possibly half way pleased with the last series, which went for a meta-post-modern show within a show, found-footage Blair Witch style with a dash of Texas Chainsaw, fear of outback Hillbilly savage American wilderness. With news that this series was typing itself to real political events such as the recent election, the Alt. right on the rise and Trump America tensions; would this make the show too serious and pious?

Early on we get a brief cameo from Twisty the clown-a series four popular character- but this was only a bluff. The killer clowns were soon to follow. So the show began with the first three or four episodes showing us two running storylines of these nightmare clowns attacking people in service stations and homes, alongside a tale of a young man with disturbing increasing fascist Alt. right opinions and ideas. As the show moved along young man Kai becomes the focus-a real world political monster, and the killer clowns eventually have their mystery deconstructed.

This series does not give us what many people and horror fans might consider ‘real’ monsters such as vampires, serial killers, witches as previously. Did those fans feel cheated? Were the writers trying to force real issues into what has often been a very unreal heightened show?

There certainly are still very many bloody deaths and graphic violent scenes in this series, don’t worry about that. It also have a good deal of humour in the first half of the series as this time they add in zany sensation Billy Eichner from Billy on the street. Yes it does get almost ludicrous and soap opera so far in but as the main villain, regular star of the series Evan Peters rides the whole tale masterfully. I almost even fear for the mental health of the actor as he puts himself through many extreme scenes and characters so often.

Towards the end of the series it seems to almost turn into Fight Club with a strong stench of Neo-Nazi terror but this is played through to observe the endgame result of crazed cult leader Kai and his downfall. So did we really get cheated out of monsters and terrifying horror this year? We may have seen one of the most relevant and chilling monsters American Horror Story has yet put on screen.

James Parsons is author of two SF novels- Orbital Kin & Minerva Century, both available now in paperback, ebook, hardback. His first horror novel Northern Souls was published this Halloween-paperback/ebook from all good bookshops now.

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Hemlock Grove: Season 3 Review

This is the end beautiful friend. The end.

Yes after a couple of months, through all of the crazed hellish gore and melodrama I have reached the very end of this prickly dark show. Was it worth watching all three seasons on Netflix? Was it much better than American Horror Story?

This was the last season, it was due to all end, all various parts of the tale wrapped up and put to an end. Given the nature of the show, of course I did expect that to be a possibly offensive to some, gruesome and tragic ending.

Many people held very mixed views of the show-some seemed to really like it to begin with, others did not really take to the style of it all. Televised at the same time as the American Horror Story was on a successful high through the second to third series, this show is different enough to warrant your time if you are a horror fan.

The second season of Hemlock Grove ends with a very unexpected almost Lovecraft inspired finale, raising the stakes and demands of the final seasons much higher. Did it manage to rise to that challenge?

More of the original main characters (played by the high profile actors such as Lili Taylor and Dougray Scott) had been killed off, with a handful of new characters added to the story. New stranded love interest Miranda is kidnapped at the end of season two and this sets young troubled vampire Roman and his gypsy werewolf friend Peter on the task of finding her and defeating the monster whom stole her and the baby Nadia.

At the start of the season it does begin with Miranda in some distant snowy winter lodge held captive by the very enigmatic (and entertaining as an actor) Doctor Spivak. Soon enough to focus returns to Peter and Roman back in Hemlock where Peter’s cousin Destiny is due to marry her new fiancée Andreas. After two or three episodes the story settles on the unfolding criminal problems of Andreas and tensions between him and Peter. Destiny is still a very good character played by the great Kaniehtiio Horn as she has some regular visions and help for the young supernatural pair on their quest. Most of the series does lack in either vampire or werewolf action or set pieces, relying on what we have seen before and might hope to expect toward the season end. The tragic young sister Shelley is fought over by Roman and Olivia, who becomes more and more insane and manipulative than we’ve seen her yet in the show.

Also in this final season Doctor Johann Price gets more focus as he himself has some kind of personal breakdown probably does to trying to help both Roman and Olivia and seeing some much continual bloodshed and killing around his research work at the Godfrey institute. Around halfway into the season almost all of the expected horror elements seems to have gone and we are left watching a Johann and Olivia individually loose their minds, and below par urban crime heist plot and Roman shagging around yet more woman until he sucks their blood in desperate confusion.

The plot for Shelley opens up and can be read as a new exploration of the Frankenstein’s monster theme. She is torn between the sides of her nasty and selfish family, runs away and finds a short term happiness living on the streets.

Eventually more of the vampire/vargulf myth is built upon and opened up, backstory explored as a new young mysterious lady comes to change the dynamic of events, which does gradually help to maintain an original and interesting direction for the horror aspect of the show.

Now of course I have been watching this series with comparison of American Horror Story and also Penny Dreadful in the back of my mind. Hemlock Grove mostly focuses on younger characters and has a more youthful energy and terror through it. The other major thing which kept it separate from those shows is that it largely stays with the same group of character over all three series. Penny Dreadful also keeps and builds upon the same characters but is set in a very different time period.

So again like the two previous seasons of this show, it does dip slightly half way, and possibly doesn’t offer as much full out horror on screen as many viewers might hope to see. It is however an interesting exploration of a set group of characters, often very Shakespearean with the OTT drama. Also being one of the very first Netflix produced shows, I think that they maybe didn’t really know how far they could take the show, how they would best balance the story all the way through. It could have been better in some ways, it could have done others things differently but it does all conclude in the end.

This is a small screen horror series with some obvious flaws but it does have enough things to make it worth watching I assure you if you are a fan of classic gothic horror such a Dracula, werewolves and old legends with a modern setting and plenty of gallons of blood and dead bodies falling to the floor.

James E. Parsons is author of the science fiction books Orbital Kin and Minerva as paperback, ebook and hardback both available from Waterstones, amazon, Barnes & Noble, WHSmith and all other good bookshops internationally now. His first horror novel is published in 2017.

 

Hemlock Grove:season2 Review

Yes it did take me a while to get down to watching all of season one of this horror show but it has pulled me in and I am heading right on to the very end now.

A few days ago I finished up season two of the show. This is where I try not to drop in any spoilers for those of you yet to watch the show-I’ll try my best. Actually best not read this post until you’re done with season one.

So at the end of the first season a few main characters were killed off, in fact it was surprising just how many continued to be maimed, chopped down, slaughtered in quick succession. There were a few mysteries left to keep us curious and wanting more such as the secret experimental project of doctor Johan and what happened to the baby and where Peter and Roman ended up soon after.

So while the infamous werewolf transformation scene may have been extremely bloody and graphic (plus physically implausible) there was actually very little monster wild wolf action. The focus was mostly on the aftermath of the wolf attacks around town, the tensions between the schools pupils and their suspicions of Roman and Peter, and the tensions between Olivia Godfrey and her brother-in-law Norman. Many secrets to hide while the blood spills and bodies pile up.

With start of the second season and new character in her twenties called Miranda comes to stay with Roman in his new plush house after her car is hit on the near roadside. She soon meets Peter who is working at the car repair place, and they spend time together. Eventually she brings them back together. Peter’s mother Lynda Romancek has been jailed by authorities and so Peter and his cousin Destiny begin to make use of her supernatural gypsy skills and his wolf powers in an attempt to free her. Roman meanwhile finds his own problems as his family history changes him, and his desire for blood makes him desperate.

The two characters of interest in this second season are new girl Miranda, who finds herself trapped  at the home of Roman and curious about what he is hiding and the link with him and Peter. Next we find that Roman’s sister Shelley is alive and on the run, hiding from all and moving in the shadows until she takes refuge in the basement of an abandoned house where a friendly young little boy meets her. Over the season Shelley opens up as a character much more, and she becomes more than the simple vague monster image she had previously been.

There is a shift on tone in this season, and in some ways it works better but only so far. The wicked love triangle of Miranda, Roman and Peter is interesting especially toward the end of the season when all the macabre craziness arrives.

As this show was basically competing with American Horror Story, it wanted to set itself apart with a distinctive style that was not seen in AHS. This is of course the times where Hemlock goes very bizarre and quite Freudian with the horror elements and the family tensions. It remains often very soap opera and camp but this is part of the charm in all honesty.

It is great to see Destiny get a lot more screen time as she really is good fun and could probably even lead her own show. Toward the end of the season it is almost like David Lynch is directing Hammer House of Horrors. It becomes even more ludicrous and funny (intentionally all of the time? This could be debated). You know that this is an over the top macabre and melodramatic show, and if you want just that then that is what you get and it goes up a few more notches.

James E.Parsons is author of the science fiction books Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both available from amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, WHSmith and other good bookshops internationally. His first horror novel is published in 2017.

Hemlock Grove: Season 1 Review

Yes this OTT bloody small screen show has been finished a while now from 2013 until late 2015, but thanks to Netflix I am binge watching it all over a few weeks. I had started with the first series on dvd a while ago but writing put a stop to it. Well now I’ve got right to the end of this series.

I would think that this series got to go ahead due to the huge success of American Horror Story which began in 2011 showing that what could be done with a long running small screen horror series with a decent budget. An audience is there for this kind of thing, and in big number it would be revealed.

And so along came Hemlock Grove a couple of years later as the first real competition to that show. Whereas AHS for the first couple of seasons was really fairly serious and intense, Hemlock Grove was more of an opened up story, with a variety of characters and tones. It reminds me of a number of horror novels I have read, possibly like some Stephen King or Graham Masterton. The show was executive produced by horror director Eli Roth (he of Hostel, Cabin Fever and recently Green Inferno ) a youngish director always pushing at boundaries of taste, censorship and extreme terror on screen. This gave us some suggestion of the kind of show it might be and also how it would possibly differ or be even more shocking that AHS.

From early on, in trailers and promo publicity we learned about the infamous (and kind of physically impossible) werewolf change scene near the start of the series. This was made out to be one very over the top and gore filled show. Is it more that just that?

Adapted from the book by Brian McGreevy (who also developed and helped write the show) it follows the young gypsy Peter Romancek who moves to Hemlock Grove with his mother. They have some family past there from a long time ago, and soon after started at the local school Peter connects up with spoilt rich kid Roman Godfrey, heir to the Godfrey estate. The research building and company with the Godfrey name works on various kinds of biological research and experimentation. Local teens begin to be found dead more and more as Peter and Roman learn of the secrets each holds from the community around them.

The show looks really great. This was one of the very first made exclusively by Netflix, and it has great cinematography, sets and locations and costume design. The influence of shows such as Twin Peaks and the Hammer horror films can be seen regularly. As it focuses largely on the two teen characters of Peter and Roman, it has a more jaded, melodramatic feel but that also goes for the show in general. The mother of Roman, Olivia is played by Famke Janssen is often acting high camp like a light headed Morticia Adams. It can often feel like The Breakfast Club meets a number of classic modern horror films.

I did feel that the show started slowly, but keeping on with it past the third episode I did get to like what was going on and whole feeling of the show. Yes sometimes the acting may be a little hammy and overdone but it has a number of great genre elements and eventually they explode all over the screen with bloody vitriol.

This first season deals with the hunt for a mystery serial killer of teens, while many at the school suspect Peter, even as a werewolf (which he really is) but he and Roman unite to connect up the clues which reveal a much deeper terror. Other characters come into the show to help and hinder their search.

The show also follows the interconnected tensions and troubles between the two main families and how the past is setting up the present for them.

There may have been a few times after the half way mark when it was getting repetitive but it was still the kind of show that I had wanted to see on television and which is very rare. It can be more like a soap opera than AHS but also it is in some ways more emotional and dramatic, as there are characters that the viewers does empathise with as they attempt to stop the werewolf on the loose and the deadly plans of the Godfrey research empire.

James E. Parsons is author of Orbital Kin and Minerva Century-both available from Amazon, Waterstones ,Barnes & Noble, WHSmith in paperback/hardback/ebook and from other good bookshops. His new horror novel is due in 2017.