A cheerleader, gypsy, and a rich kid walk into Hemlock Grove. And that's pretty much all you learn during the first 45-minute installment of Netflix's new series, executive produced by horror master Eli Roth. The mysterious town comes complete with a trendy helping of supernatural drama, but, at least in the first episode, not nearly enough to capture audiences searching for the next True Blood.
Hemlock Grove certainly looks like the popular HBO series — like True Blood, Hemlock Grove even opens with a sex scene in a car. But the similarities end there. Whereas True Blood favors schlocky romance that incites viewers to head to the HBO Store to pick up Team Bill or Eric t-shirts, Hemlock Grove delivers detached high school ennui. It's an interesting departure for a supernatural series, but, unfortunately, when our characters are bored, so are the audiences.
At the center of the inaction is Roman Godfrey, the wealthy son of a deceased businessman played by True Blood star Alexander Skarsgard's younger brother, Bill Skarsgard. He's a cliché of a rich kid — a teen who doesn't appreciate his own status. In fact, Roman only gets his thrills from recreational drug use, an unsettling close relationship with his cousin, and cutting himself during sex — certainly, a nod towards vampirism, even though we have yet to determine his supernatural connection. When, near the beginning of the first episode, Roman smiles at a young cheerleader who quickly turns up dead, we're left to believe he's most likely responsible.
Unless, of course, Gypsy and presumed werewolf Peter (Terra Nova's Landon Liboiron) is the culprit. New to the town of Hemlock Grove, Peter and his mother (Lili Taylor) are shacked up in decrepit trailer, with Peter only befriending an odd neighbor (Freya Tingley) who seems to have watched enough Twilight to immediately associate the town's newest hottie with a werewolf.
But far more intriguing is Roman's mother, Olivia, played by X-Men star Famke Janssen. Netflix's answer to Revenge's Victoria Grayson, Olivia is an ice queen with a spoiled son, deformed daughter, and a secret that has yet to be revealed by the first episode's end. If there's anything reeling in audiences for 13 episodes, it's discovering what that secret is — even if it's how Olivia picks out her impeccable wardrobe.
Perhaps the main issue with Hemlock Grove is the executive producer himself — with the Roth name behind the series, viewers expect the same blood and gore that made Hostel a hit franchise. But, with the exception of one stomach-churning scene involving a fingernail, the blood is no worse than what you'd see on Law & Order: SVU, and not even close to being as bad as the tamest of Walking Dead episodes. On top of the release of a trailer that promised bones, maggots, and more, horror fans are likely to be disappointed to see only one dead body found in Hemlock Grove.
Still, there were a handful of gory moments in Hemlock Grove. See them below — complete with a NSFVWE warning (Not Safe For Viewing While Eating). And if these are enough to keep horror fans captivated, well, we hear there are maggots in the next dozen episodes!
Poor cheerleader Brooke Bluebell went into the night to get nailed... and ended up losing a nail.
Roman's little sister, Shelley (Nicole Boivin), is so very Dr. Kimberly Shaw.
More than a half hour in, Roth finally unveils some entrails.
And more entrails! Ready for lunch?
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Alfred Hitchcock is noted as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and rightfully so — his body of work comprised of over 60 films is skillfully composed highly dramatic and eclectic from beginning to end. So pulling back the curtain on the legend in his own medium was only a matter of time a how'd-he-do-it biopic that could pay respects to the collected works while revealing the master's process. Hitchcock directed by Sacha Gervasi (Anvil: The Story of Anvil) pays its respects but also reveals another unexpected quality of the auteur's behind-the-scenes life: it wasn't all that dramatic.
Anthony Hopkins slides into the silhouette of the recognizable director and does a reasonable job nailing his cadence and posture. Side by side with his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) who as the movie reveals was the director's close collaborator Hitchcock strides confidently into the world of independent cinema for the first time balking at studio heads who demand something more audience-friendly than the gruesome Psycho. Investing his own money into the film Hitchcock risks everything to turn the story of murderer Ed Gein into a high art horror picture. He finds a leading lady in Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) a script in a screenwriter with mommy problems and a closeted actor to portray the sexually exploratory Gein.
And that's about it. Hitchcock disguises the usual stresses of moviemaking as major hurdles even representing Gein as a specter who haunts Hitchcock's every decision. Aside from the brief suspicion that Alma abandons him mid-production for charming writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) which feels stuffed in and meandering rather than intrinsic to the making of Psycho there's little explanation for Hitchcock's anxiety and downward spiral. The film even dabbles in Hitch's well-known infatuation with his leading ladies — explored to a terrifying degree in last month's The Girl — but places the director on too high a pedestal to ever dig deep.
The real star of the show — and perhaps one who would have made a better subject for feature film — is Alma a complex second fiddle overshadowed by the greatness of Hitchcock. Mirren once again delivers a lively performance as a woman desperate to live her own life; the scene when she lets loose on Hitchcock is easily the high point of the movie. But like the audience who unknowingly appreciated her work behind-the-camera Hitchcock is too obsessed with the man at the center of it all to open up and give the character or Mirren the spotlight.
Hitchcock's time period flourishes and camera work are presented simply (Gervasi keeps hat tipping to the auteur's oeuvre to a minimum) while Danny Elfman whips up a score that riffs appropriately on longtime Hitchcock collaborator Bernhard Hermann's works. But there's no hook to elevate the film from a puff piece and even the biggest Alfred Hitchcock fan will be grasping for something more.