Showtime horror series harkens back to Victorian days

PASADENA, Calif. — John Logan, creator of the new Showtime series “Penny Dreadful,” calls himself a “total monster geek,” having grown up a fan of the Universal Studios and Hammer Films horror movies. He even put together plastic model kits of monsters when he was young.

Despite that youthful passion for the macabre, Logan initially had no interest in writing a horror story as his next TV project. It wasn’t until he re-read “Frankenstein” that interest in doing a monster-laden project began to take shape. The more he thought about the genre, the more he felt a connection to the way the misunderstood creatures were treated.

“I was just very provoked by it. I was very disturbed by it, because it’s deeply disturbing. I started thinking about the themes and why almost 200 years after it was written are we still reading ‘Frankenstein.’ I think it’s because the monsters break my heart,” Logan said.

“Penny Dreadful” digs deep into the monstrous creatures that roam the streets of London just before the start of the 20th century. They aren’t muggers, rapists and murderers, but monsters inspired by “Frankenstein,” “Dracula” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

The Victorian Era’s version of the “X-Files” team that tackles these horrors includes a sharpshooter (Josh Hartnett), psychic (Eva Green) and explorer (Timothy Dalton) who enlists the aid of Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney).

The series title comes from the cheap magazines available during that period that offered sensational tales of violence and criminal activities.

Green is no stranger to TV productions based on literary characters; she starred in the cable series “Camelot.” She was drawn to “Penny Dreadful” because of Logan’s writing.

“It’s such a magnificent story and all the characters are very complex,” she said.

Her character, Vanessa Ives, is a rebel during the repressed Victorian times. She’s conflicted because her senses are so alive, Ives has a constant hunger for life.

The writing was strong enough to lure Hartnett away from feature films. He loves the idea of being the only American in the group — a member of a B-grade Wild West show. But the switch to TV created a few initial problems for Hartnett, who is accustomed to playing film roles where everything he needs to know about his character is in the script. Hartnett’s had to adjust to the television style, where the history of a character is doled out on a weekly basis.


10 p.m. Sunday



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