The Penny Dreadful Picture Show (2013)

Local actors, John Wells and Al Snow, appear in this new horror anthology now available on DVD at Walmart, Family Video and Netflix!

New on DVD shelves this week exclusively at Walmart, Family Video and on Netflix, “The Penny Dreadful Picture Show” (just titled “Penny Dreadful” on the DVD cover) is a new indie horror anthology with local connections. Both stars of Brian Cunningham and Matt Niehoff’sOvertime” (2011), John Wells and former professional wrestler, Al Snow, have featured roles in the film that also includes a couple of horror movie icons, Sid (“The Devil’s Rejects”) Haig and Jeffrey (“The Re-animator”) Combs.

The movie includes three short films bookended by a wraparound sequence involving the title character, Penny Dreadful, who apparently lives in a vintage movie palace with a werewolf and zombie. Penny and her monster friends love nothing more than watching horror movies in the classic theater, but she’s also looking for her one true love to watch her favorite films with her, and so she has placed an ad on the internet looking for possible suitors. Each short film is proceeded by the arrival of a new possible love interest for Penny, and things generally don’t go well for the ones that fail to have the proper chemistry with her.

The DVD also includes a 30 minute bonus short film that I suspect was intended to be part of the anthology, but was probably cut due to either the final running time or the fact that it tonally didn’t mesh with the other two shorts. It’s a shame because that film, “The Scout,” is actually my favorite film of the four and because it would’ve completed a trilogy of short films set in the 1960’s, the 1970’s and the 1980’s. I’ll get more into that in a bit.

The first and weakest film of the bunch, “Slash in the Box,” only runs about five minutes long, doesn’t have much of a story to speak of and goes exactly where you think it’s going to go as soon as you know what it’s about. Like all the other films in the anthology, the production and acting are incredibly solid, but this particular short doesn’t offer much as far as originality is concerned.

Much better results are gleaned from the psychedelic, 1960’s set vampire yarn, “The Morning After,” which is an incredibly stylish 30 minute film that recalls the cinema of both Russ Meyer and Jean Rollin infused in one sleazy, sexy bloodbath.

The last, and easily the best, film included in the “Penny Dreadful” anthology is nearly a complete feature film on its own at about an hour in length. “The Slaughter House,” a clever twist on the hillbilly horror/”Texas Chainsaw” subgenre, features a starring role for Al Snow as well as Sid Haig and Jeffery Combs. Snow is quite good here in a role that subverts audience expectations for the kinds of characters he is usually cast as. Snow has come a long way as an actor over the last few years, and here he shows the kind of character work that he’s capable of. All of the acting, in fact, is way above par for this type of indie horror project.

Set in the sleazy, drug fueled 1970’s, “The Slaughter House” follows a group of young people on a road trip that run into car trouble in the middle of nowhere America.  Al Snow’s redneck truck driver offers to rescue them, but they need to come back with him and stay with his “unusual” family for the night. You know that things are going to go wrong from that point on, but not in the way you might expect!

John Wells plays one of Penny Dreadful’s potential love matches in the wraparound story; a dorky, horror obsessed movie geek that would seem to be a perfect match for Penny’s gleeful Gothic geek girl. Wells, also playing against type here, exudes a Goth Clark Kent type of charm in the role that is a lot of fun to watch. Wells clearly has “the stuff” of silver screen charm, and he handles light comedy as well as he does darker dramatic roles, and I expect we’ll see much more of him in the near future.

Penny’s dating adventures are set to a score by co-writer, co-director and star, playing the role of Penny Dreadful herself, Eliza Swenson, whose playful musical score seems to be a homage the cartoon fantasy world scores of Danny Elfman.

Included in the Special Features is the 30 minute short film, “The Scout,” which I’m convinced was likely at one point meant to be the 1980’s styled component to the feature anthology. Clearly a Steven Spielberg/Amblin Entertainment homage to 1980’s films like “The Goonies,” it even includes a scene with a shooting star streaking across the night sky.

The story follows a young Boy Scout who has recently lost his father to a tragic accident and moved to a new neighborhood where his mother has signed him up for the Scouts in the hopes he’ll make new friends and get his life rebuilt from the ashes of his loss. He’s headed off with his new friends and enemies to a weekend campout in the woods where his newly self-appointed nemesis has decided to take the new kids on a midnight “snipe hunt.” Spielbergian magic and monsters to follow!

As much as I enjoyed “The Slaughter House,” I loved “The Scout” and anticipate I’ll be showing it to a bunch of young horror fans this Halloween. It’s likely the PG tone of “The Scout” that, in fact, got it cut from the much more R-rated nature of the other included shorts.

The Penny Dreadful wraparound story looks beautiful, set in its massive, ornate movie palace, and serves the shorts well as connective tissue. Penny and her monster friends serve as the kind of quirky horror hosts you’d always find in EC horror comics like “Tales from the Crypt.” Overall, like many horror anthologies, it’s a mixed bag of Halloween treats and individual results will vary depending on taste, but I think there’s at least something here that every horror fan will enjoy.

The Phantom of The Ville

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