Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hemlock Grove - The Complete First Season (Scream Factory Blu-ray) - ReKnowing Your Classic Horror Legends

I gave Hemlock Grove two episodes to try and wow me when it original came out on Netflix. It had a great "cover art" picture and an intriguing story line that seemed to lend itself to classic horror fans who prefer a little gore in their cinema diet. Of course, that was the only way to watch Hemlock Grove at that time as it was an exclusive product to Netflix until now. Scream Factory has taken an Eli Roth produced, Netflix proprietary series and afforded it their Blu-ray treatment. As I previously stated, I gave it just two episodes to stir something in me. That's fair given the amount of episodic programming, horror and otherwise, that is hitting the media streams trying to tease us in. Why did it last only two the first time? How did it fair this time after watching the entire season and extras? Why do you need to purchase it on Blu-ray when you can stream it on Netflix? I think I can help.

Synopsis from Scream Factory:

In a small Pennsylvania town, something evil has come in search of prey. But who is the true monster in Hemlock Grove? The brutal slaying of a teenage girl sends the townspeople of Hemlock Grove into a desperate search to find her killer. But this sleepy community soon finds itself living a nightmare as secrets and rumors threaten to drive them all down a dark path as they struggle to uncover the truth. As they hunt for a monster among them, rumors mount and many of the eccentric residents become suspects, from the newly-arrived Gypsy family to the wealthy Godfrey clan. In the twisted world of Hemlock Grove, everyone hides a dark secret.

Let's go in order with those questions. I streamed it for two episodes only because I didn't give a shit about the characters. Two episodes is way too short a period of time to accurately assess development and direction of any show, and so I was being a bit quick to judge. Mind you I didn't exactly hate Hemlock Grove after those two episodes. I didn't find that the common horror fan critique that it was Twilight with an R rating at all accurate. I don't believe it to be a soap opera in horror clothes (human stories are just as important to the horror stories as, well, the horror). In fact there was a moment at the end of episode two, a wolf transformation, that actually had me give a little cheer sitting in bed late at night to the chagrin of my wife. I simply couldn't see myself watching this story when I had so much to watch with which I was familiar. There was simply no time to fit in Hemlock Grove in addition to everything else I have to watch for the site (ironically I had to spend 12 hours watching this disc now).

This time around I sat through the entire season and extras. I gave it a good once over and let it stew in my brain for a bit. While Hemlock Grove is not a perfect program there are some absolutely wonderful visual elements to it, good performances, interesting gore pieces and twists that create real tension. Of course somewhere mid season the whole thing starts to feel like it has got no direction and is aimlessly dwelling on characters that will still seem undeveloped at the end of the season, but at least you get some skin shots along the way. Hemlock Grove has plenty of gratuitous violence and sex taking inspiration from HBO horror programming to its benefit. Seldom is an episode completely devoid of something visually pleasing. Perhaps the best performance comes courtesy of Lily Taylor who doesn't really take center stage but plays a strong sympathetic and wise "gypsy", mother of the lycanthrope. She's built for horror (forget The Haunting please... that wasn't her fault).

While Hemlock Grove doesn't focus solely on werewolves, the wolf story line does seem to preoccupy most of the storyline with some vamp elements, mad scientist elements, telekinetic themes, supernatural elements, ghost stories and even a serial killer like thread. The wolves are more like common wolves as opposed to the Howling style wolfmen. Their transformation however is a mix of practical and computer with elements from American Werewolf in London lite. Do not expect Rick Baker effects, but expect something unique with plenty of homage to the heroes of the wolf films. Unfortunately, this effective transformation is completely underutilized which is part of the reason you'll be begging for the damn thing to just get on with it midseason. Expect minimal true vamps and more erotic vampirism. Expect a soft focal point on the mad scientist themes. In fact perhaps the best way to view Hemlock Grove is as American Horror Story lite which is strange because AHS is on a cable network with plenty of restrictions and feels like it's more over the top.

Hemlock Grove: The Complete First Season Bonus Features


"Dysfunctional In Every Way,"
"Anatomy of a Kill,
"Fairytales for Adults"
"The Rust Beneath the Surface"
"The Monster Within"
"It Hurts So Good"

Perhaps the best of the extras is the commentary track with Director/Executive Producer Eli Roth and Special Guest Lorenza Izzo. Roth walks you down the creative process to establish Hemlock Grove, some of the adaptation and shooting location details behind an episode he directed. I always enjoy Roth commentaries and this is no exception. 

Now should you buy this release? That's a question I saw posed on Facebook recently. Why buy it if you can stream it on Netflix. I have an answer. If you make it through three episodes and really enjoy what you're seeing then you can be sure to enjoy the rest of the series. It's conclusion is good and the second to last episode of season 1 is really something to see. If you have enjoyed the entire season on Netflix, this is a handsome Blu-ray package with some juicy extras for the fans, a killer commentary and a neat and tidy three disc set for 13 episodes. With a second season greenlit this series may only be in its infancy. Fans of American Horror Story should enjoy this, and if you get tired mid way through the series, just wait it out. The end actually turns the volume back up. 

Available October 7th. 

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