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After Dark Horrorfest: Penny Dreadful

Directed by Richard Brandes

Written by Diane Doniol-Valcroze, Arthur Flam, Richard Bandes

Starring Rachel Miner, Chad Todhunter, Mickey Jones, Liz Davies

Produced by Andrew Weiner, Braxton Pope

Rated R

92 minutes

***

Penny Dreadful—it’s a really, really old term describing a kind of horrific postcard that cost a penny. It was one of the predecessors to the modern horror movie, so thank the penny dreadful, kids.

And on this penny dreadful, we get a girl named Penny (wow, whatta coincidence, huh?) who survived a car wreck not so long ago. Now, out for a long car ride to face her fears, she finds herself running afoul of a mysterious hitchhiker who manages to prey on those fears. And of course, Penny’s got to try and survive this in one piece.

“Penny Dreadful,” first off, has the second best menu yet, only behind the incredible spectacle “Gravedancers” put on.

Also, in what is a masterstroke of creative application, “Penny Dreadful” manages to supply the single most reasonable excuse for picking up a hitchhiker that I’ve ever seen. We’re all, ALL, aware of the dangers of such an act, including and especially in horror movies. But this time around, they’ve supplied a perfectly valid reason to pick him up, and I have to applaud “Penny Dreadful” for pulling that off.

The combination of Penny’s fear of cars, and the absolute necessity of using the car to escape, and the fact that she’ll spend a little time trapped in one, come together wonderfully to make a very tense environment. This tension adapts very easily to full-blown fear, making “Penny Dreadful” a very scary story. In fact, they manage to keep the tension high almost throughout the movie, giving it a very grueling, “Misery”-esque feel to it.

The ending actually managed to be downright uplifting, which was just truly amazing, especially for a horror movie. There are, rarely, such simple applications of pure justice in horror movies and “Penny Dreadful” makes the short list. Plus, of corurse, your good old fashioned twist ending will make its welcome appearance.

The special features include a behind the scenes featurette, a music video, a teaser trailer for “Penny Dreadful,” and trailers for the After Dark Horrorfest, “The Hamiltons,” “Dark Ride,” “Reincarnation,” “Gravedancers,” “Unrest,” and “Wicked Little Things.”

All in all, “Penny Dreadful” is a nice, clever little packet of thrills and scares. The constant tension is pulled up with nothing less than skill, though it’s certainly not over the top. Anybody with even a vague interest in suspense titles should get a real bang out of “Penny Dreadful.”

Steve Anderson is a film critic who collects action figures so he can dress them up as his favorite horror villains. He lives somewhere in the United States.


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