Lately, I've watched the first two seasons of the 2014-2016 t.v series Penny Dreadful, and while gritty Victorian horror might not be for everyone, I liked this show. I'm not even sure WHY I liked it.
I think what impresses me about it is that often, it feels like an 1890s version of a mixed D&D party adventuring through London's back alleys after dark for vampires. Likewise, the sets, costuming, and different body/gender types makes the show easier to believe as real.
Most of all, the show manages to scare audiences who have become too bored with other horror tales. ex. Penny Dreadful makes witches scary again. After all, the last time you were actually scared of witches was when you were in single digits.
The show's staff even had a language made called Verbis Diablo just for this series, and whenever characters (whether good or evil) speak aloud in this language, something in your head makes it clear that anyone speaking that tongue doesn't have a soul anymore. Remember as a kid, when you'd accidentally overhear a really ugly swear word or a bigoted slur from a grown-up, and you'd instinctively want to cover your own ears and make the speaker just go away? That's what it's like to hear Verbis Diablo.
That's pretty impressive for a t.v. show.
Also, no spoiler per se here, but actress Patti LuPone plays a one-shot role in a backstory episode. Her character is named the Cut-Wife of Ballantrae Moor. Think of all the fairy tales of witches you ever heard in grade school, and now stick that sort of woman in your living room t.v. for an hour.
Now forget the fact that as an adult, you're no longer afraid of cranky little old women who live alone. That character and LuPone's portrayal of her is enough to turn you back into your seven-year-old self and scare the pants off you. It's not that she murders kittens; it's in her force of will and tone of voice.
The closest I can think of is Alti the Shamaness from Xena. (That's how long it's been since I've seen a performance that intimidating.)
Likewise, the other recurring character whom I couldn't get enough of is that of Mr. Lyle, the timid, eccentric, short, jolly, slightly overweight, mustached historian with the combat skills of a blind puppy. Yet, I love that character, and actor Simon Russell Beale uses an accent and manner of speech which makes Mr. Lyle a very likable guy. It's the sort of secondary character whom you WANT to see succeed, but nobody's going to write slash fanfiction about him. He's like that embarrassing high school drama teacher who your classmates secretly mock for wearing last decade's clothing, yet he confidently walks up to and teaches the wallflowers at the prom how to dance.
Finally, one aspect of Penny Dreadful surprised me early on. Y'know how American shows seem to have the violence in view while the sex is merely implied, while European shows seem to have the sex in view while the violence is merely implied? Penny Dreadful was apparently filmed with a UK cast in the UK and Canada...
ex. It has hallucinatory scenes such as a ballroom where it's raining blood upon couples who don't seem to notice, while in another scene we see a grayish-colored Frankenstein's monster lying on a slab with full frontal male nudity going on. It's not the sort of screaming jump scare of blood appearing suddenly or the sort of brief flash of a stunt-butt double dashing into the bathroom in the background. It's violence and sex both right there with few apologies. Yet, the tone and timing seem mature rather than sophomoric. It's not a teen camp slasher flick, and it's an original take on horror stories.