Penny Dreadful- Episode 2

Seance.

Ethan wakes up (under a pier in the dirt), heads to the nearest bar and gets right to the sauce, he’s well in his cups when Billie Piper- I mean Brona enters. She’s Irish and recently came to London after her position in a factory was eliminated by machines, while she finds London to have the same issues, she says: “There’s always a way to make a living when you’ve got a bit of flesh isn’t there?” Ethan: “I can’t say.” Brona: “I bet you can.” (recurring theme over here, but many occupations involve “selling your body” or “degrading yourself” and sex work is just work) “I’m off to look for work that a machine can’t do. Yet. Anyway.”

Victor Frankenstein, who has taught his creature to eat helps him choose a name. Proteus. Then he goes off to see Sir Malcolm and Vanessa and the mummy. Universal monsters everywhere.

Image

Brona’s job search leads her to the decadent residence of Dorian Gray -a character created by Oscar Wilde who owns a painting that gets uglier everytime he sins who sold his soul for eternal youth. He asks Brona to undress and she coughs up blood. She expects to be sent out, but Gray approaches her. He undresses as well and they have sex standing up while someone photographs, “I never fucked I dying creature before. Do you feel things more deeply, do you feel pain?” Startled, she asks him, “Do you?” and she tears into her back with fingernails.

Brona suffering from consumption references early vampire mythos.

In Dr. Frank’s basement, Proteus cries for the whale in a book. Frankenstein hypothesizes that Proteus had been a whaler and sets to find out who he is. 

Image

Gray attends a party that the Egyptologist Niles is hosting where Vanessa is a guest as well. He profiles Vanessa concluding that she thought it would be a wasted frivolous evening, and that she is not a frivolous person. He grabs her hand and acknowledges that she is the only ungloved woman and that she wants to touch while her head wants to appraise. For some reason this is romantic? They almost kiss. It seems out of character for the reserved and BUSY Vanessa (and Dorian is supposed to be gay). They are moved to another room and Madame Kali enters, Vanessa say skeptically “I believe we’re about to convene with a spirit” -really? that blase about it? You have telekinetic powers and hunt vampires. Madame Kali starts the ritual and Vanessa reaches for Gray’s hand. She channels a young child and at times seems mocking, telling of how he went on an adventure with father (Sir Malcolm is impacted by the rant, apparently this was his son) and got dysentery. Sir Malcolm starts crying. Then Vanessa lets her hair down. Cracks the table and says cunt a lot. Basically. Sir Malcolm’s son caught him having sex with Mina in the hallway and Vanessa says “When did you know you wanted to fuck her?” And then bends herself like the Last Exorcism 2.

Image

Then she has sex with a man in the street. While Malcolm sits at the cracked table, shaken.

The next morning Brona and Ethan are inside the same bar again. She tells him that now she’s a model. “For the calendars and such?” he asks. She replies, “If you keep your calendar in a whorehouse.” He offers to buy her a proper breakfast, when she declines he asks for dinner. She questions his motives “You like things back alley?” and he replies, “I like things to be what they are.” Normally, I’d be annoyed at the stereotype that a sex worker (particularly one as frank as Brona) must see herself as less than, but since the day before she’d been referred to as “a creature” by someone who had the power to dictate whether or not she would have money for food -I’ll allow it. Ethan’s no peach either, he’s an alcoholic and a fugitive. He’s a fuck up with questionable employment.

Niles is mad his party was ruined. His wife was mortified. 

But none the less he translates the hieroglyphs for Sir Malcolm. He references the hidden goddess with a monster within her. And then decides “You must forget you ever saw it.” Perpetual life by feeding on the souls of others. Amunet and Amun-Ra conjoined means the annihilation of man and coming of the Beast. 

Victor takes Proteus outside. He gets overwhelmed at first, but as they journey the fear turns to amazement. They see Brona and Ethan on the street and Proteus is taken with Brona, he offers her a chestnut and they introduce rather awkwardly. Later Victor explains “friends” and Proteus decides he will have many friends WHEN SOMETHING CLIMBS OUT OF HIS BODY HOLY WHAT?! With a “Your first born has returned, father.”

Well that’s baffling.

My favorite parts of this episode had nothing to do with the supernatural happenings. Weird. I like Brona and I like her portrayal. I like her with Ethan. I like them as equals. 

There is a lot going on.

If Sir Malcolm molested his daughter Mina, if it wasn’t the ramblings of a demon… it would be insanely irresponsible to make him a sympathetic character. That’s fucking gross. No wonder she ran off with Dracula. I don’t care how much I love 007 and Timothy Dalton, axe him. Sir Malcolm Murray is not the good guy.

I want to like this show… and I do… but there’s so much happening and getting the ball rolling on all at once is… a little much. I think that’s why I liked Ethan and Brona’s less intense plotline. Her tie in with Dorian was wonderful, while Vanessa’s was a little much. And why a mummy? There are Catholic elements: demonic possession and a deal with the devil. There are vampires. Reanimated corpses. Jack the Ripper. If you think that there’s any reason to have a Egyptian mythos thrown in along with that other than “to hit a Universal Monsters trifecta” I would love to hear it. Why not a fucking swamp monster at that point?

Not that there’s not time for that.

31 Horrifying Days- Day 3: The Mummy (1932)

 

 

Archaeology is a good field to get into, if you’re waiting for something weird to happen to you (it’s right up there with “hacker” and “journalist”) just ask Indy, Lara Croft and Wonder Woman villain Cheetah. They are surrounded by ancient artifacts, steeped in tradition, their creation often based in superstition and faith at a time when more of the world was unknown. And we crave that, even with information a couple keystrokes away; humans still want to think there is more, that there’s mystery to be found in the past and something bigger and often more magical than textbooks imply.

There’s no exception for these adventurers. Dr Mueller (Edward Van Sloan- Van Helsing in 1931’s Dracula) warns against it, but Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron, Mayor of Hell) lead an expedition and uncovers the previously undisturbed, and reportedly curse tomb of Imhotep… and his assistant, Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher, Svengali) reads a scroll out loud that brings the mummy back to life. Norton immediately loses his mind. In a crackle of laughter he tells his colleagues what has happened with a “You should see the face on him” 

Image

 

Boris Karloff stars in the titular role. Imhotep makes his way back to Cairo, he was cursed after being mummified alive and now he seeks to be reunited with his love Ankhesenamon. 10 years later, under  the name Ardath Bey, he recruits the archaeologists to dig up her tomb with the plan to use the Scroll of Thoth to resurrect her. Until he finds Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann, whose last role was nearly 55 years later in 1986’s Raiders of the Living Dead) who bares resemblance to Ankhesenamon. Imhotep puts her in a trance and she starts speaking in ancient Egyptian. Dr. Muller’s son is smitten with Helen, and he fears for his son’s safety.

Still: HE REFUSES TO BURN THE SCROLL OF THOTH because he’s an academic. And true academics love their work more than common sense, much of the time. The scroll is important. Important to them. Even after they find what Imhotep is planning. Even after Dr. Muller is influenced by Imhotep’s power.

The focus shifts to Helen as she is slowly captivated by Imhotep, she remembers herself as Ankhesenamon and she becomes more and more compelled by Imhotep as the film progresses. She finds herself shifting between the two identities as danger closes in. Imhotep’s plan is to kill her, mummify her and then raise her again. 

Glaring issue with this movie: The main players are not black or brown. Most presume the majority of Ancient Egyptians to have been of Asiatic/Middle Eastern descent, with those in Southern Egypt presumed to be African. The only black person is Imhotep’s “ancient blood” “nubian” slave, played by Noble Johnson, an African-American actor who played “exotic characters” in the black and white movie days, and was often relegated to slave, tribal chief, cannibal, and lots of Native Americans. He had founded his own studio in 1916 which catered to Black audiences and showcased Black actors and directors, however the Great Depression and lack of resources lead to the studio’s closing. Noble Johnson had roles in 146 films, but most from major studios were steeped in stereotypes. Helen is said to be “part Egyptian” and the actress is of Eastern European descent. Unfortunately, very to be expected of the era (although, a mixed race couple would have been taboo, as well and that was overlooked for plot). 

Image

Women in horror: The Mummy was co-written by Nina Wilcox Putnam who also came up with the 1040 tax form, weird.

But was it scary? Nope. Not in the slightest. The plot is preposterous. He has to kill her and resurrect her. But why? And how does a mummy get away, anyway? he wouldn’t have known how to drive, seems reasonable that someone would have spotted him. But they were all distracted by Norton’s meltdown.. whatever. It’s not scary. It’s a fun flick, though. Ridiculous, over the top, interesting, the beginning of action-horror. But most of the “scares” come from Boris Karloff glaring menacingly at the camera:

Image

 

Doesn’t quite hold up.

3/5